Women no longer know how to eat properly, and the fault lies everywhere you look. From ads to magazine articles to blogs to your friend next door, we are exposed every day to an absolute barrage of conflicting information that is supposedly “the way” you should be eating. Now I can only give another voice to this overwhelming chorus, but hopefully you’ll be able to sort out my sweet tone from the rather off key notes hit by some to find a tune you can sing along to as you get ready to make dinner tonight.
Problem 1: Dieting, AKA cutting calories, damages your metabolism. In short, your metabolism is the speed at which your body burns through calories. An individual who is maintaining their weight is doing so because they are consuming the amount of calories their body can burn off; one who is gaining weight is doing so by consuming too many, and on the other side of the spectrum, one who is losing weight is doing so by under-consuming. This simple premise is the most basic principle behind a diet – to eat fewer calories than you need so that your body is forced to use its own fat stores for energy. The problem is twofold in that most diets today take this to an extreme both in terms of calories cut and length of time they remain in that deficit.
Our bodies are incredible machines that adapt quickly to their environment, which means that when your internal workings discover that they are getting fed less on a regular basis, they will turn down the heat to consume less fuel. In short, your body learns to run on less until you’re forced to cut calories again and again to keep up with this adaptation and your metabolism has slowed to a crawl. This doesn’t really make sense from a weight loss stand point; think of a fire burning wood. If you were trying to go through wood (or fat, in our case), you’d want a roaring fire, not a puny one struggling to survive.
Problem 2: Diets vilify food. Carbs are bad, fat is bad, sugar is bad – the list goes on and on. The truth is, every one of these “forbidden” foods plays a role in a healthy lifestyle. Carbs, which have been getting a bad rap for years, are the body’s preferred energy source and a must for active women. Fat plays an important role in many body systems and is actually necessary for fat loss, and sugar is a useful tool in an exercise program. My point is that like anything in life, too much of any of these can be bad, but each has a place in a healthy diet.
For instance, I often eat a doughnut or two after a workout. The simple carbs and rush of sugar is used by my body to replenish the energy stores it’s just burned through to help me make muscle gains. Would I eat this late at night sitting in front of the television and expect the same results? Not a chance. But even doughnuts have their place. Timing and moderation is everything.
Problem 3: Try sustaining a diet that makes you feel starved and deprived for the long term, and
you’ll find out why the statistics show that most dieters fail and regain lost weight within short order. There is only so long you can eat nothing but salad and chicken before you lose both your mind and willpower and find yourself face first in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. Food is fuel and absolutely should be viewed as such – but it’s also joy and pleasure. It’s the dinner out to celebrate a promotion, or s’mores around the fire pit inyour backyard with your kids, or an impromptu lunch with friends. Food is a cornerstone of many occasions, and it shouldn’t be regulated to a guilt ridden corner of your world that leaves you in constant flux between deprivation and binging.
Now, before I let you hear my own little ditty about food, let me tell you why you should hear this particular jam. I’ve been a personal trainer for five years. I’m a perpetual learner, so I have a college background that focused on psychology and then later biology and nutrition; in other words, I understand the many facets of the human body. I have two kids, own a gym, lead a very full life and still manage to keep a six pack on call, and have more than a handful of satisfied clients who’ve seen what I’m about to tell you work in their own lives.
So, here’s how the song goes…
Your goal should be to have a healthy lifestyle that keeps everything in balance and allows you to look and feel your best. When you begin focusing on food as a tool, either for pleasure or growth, everything else should fall into place, including that number on the scale. Think of it this way – you’re trying to fuel your life. The “magic” formula, the “secret” to finally looking and feeling the way you want is this simple truth: eat more, do more. Climb off the diet bandwagon, load up your plate with nutrient-dense food (and the occasional doughnut), find a workout program that challenges you to be better and start living as your body was meant to. Instead of starving yourself in an effort to lose fat, try to create that deficit by being more active – you’ll be happier from both the added endorphins and full belly, you’ll be adding lean muscle to your frame to create that “toned” look everyone is always searching for, and most importantly, your metabolism won’t take a hit, but will actually fire up and burn even hotter!
It will take time and work, especially if you’ve been dieting too long and your metabolism is damaged. I have my own personal story about my journey back from diet hell, and I can tell you from experience that it isn’t easy – but it’s worth it.
About the author…Tawny McVay is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and mother of two who owns The Asylum Gym and occasionally finds time to blog as The Asylum Girl. She’s incredibly passionate about helping women lead their best lives and can be reached at 406.696.7925.