Happy New Year! Hard to believe 2018 is already two weeks old. Are you among the many that started the year with a new year’s resolution? And did that new year’s resolution involve your diet? Are you hoping to lose weight, get fit, and eat “healthier”?
How’s that going?
US News and World Report stated 80% of new year’s resolutions fail within six weeks. We’re just two weeks in now, so maybe you’re not ready to call it quits yet, but it’s probably getting harder to stay on track, and your resolve may be slipping.
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, the definition of the word diet is food and drink regularly consumed or habitual nourishment. The origin of the word comes from the Latin word diaeta, and the Greek word diaita, meaning manner of living. It first appeared in English in the 13th century and meant both, habitual nourishment and way or manner of living. It wasn’t until later that the definition of diet included “a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one’s weight.”
Diet meaning the way you eat, not restricting yourself in some or many ways, is unmistakably an essential part of health and wellbeing. (Although I think relationships matter more.) There is so much noise around diet, food, and eating that if you want or are trying to eat better, it’s hard to know what to think. Everyone seems to have a preferred method and often that way is restricting something be it fat, carbs, or meat. Sometimes it’s all food as with intermittent fasting.
And some of these methods are successful for some people. Those who subscribe to them are happy and satisfied with the way they eat. But many are not. Some try one thing for a while, it might work or it might not but usually the change is hard and when motivation and willpower wear out- and they always wear out- you go back to your old habits.
Instead of making diet about restriction and what you can’t have let’s remember the old definition and make it about your way of life.
With all the different ways to live and eat well, you can find one that works for you. Your diet should improve your life because the food you eat contributes to how you feel and when you eat good, healthy food you inevitably feel better. It should also allow you to have the things you enjoy, even if those things are not considered healthy food.
Give your body what it needs.
Eat in a way that gives your body what it needs to feel well but also what it enjoys.
I don’t believe in any specific way of eating. I include everything in my diet. Fresh, whole foods that you prepare at home is the best way to eat. I eat bread and pasta. I eat meat and fish. I eat ice cream. I require my food to taste great. I eat as many vegetables as I can in a day. When I think about my meals, I think about what vegetables are going to be in it. I eat a lot of beans. I eat a lot of greens. I usually end up meatless a few nights/week.
This is what works for me. What works for you might be very different from what works for me. I feel well and am satisfied. I sometimes have sweets: ice cream, chocolate, blueberry pie. But I don’t usually want them because I am full and satisfied with most of my meals.
Is the way you eat working for you?
If my experience with patients is any indication, the answer is no. Many women I see want to make some dietary changes. Your eating habits are either not as healthy as you want or you want to lose weight, have tried various things and have not been successful. So I ask: what are you doing now? Your answers tend to be quite vague. Often people say that they eat well. So what does that mean for you? Again the answers are vague.
The truth is our recall regarding what and how much we eat is terrible. Plentiful studies, including this 1992 study in the New England Journal, show that we think we eat smaller portions of healthier food and move more than we actually do. According to the New England Journal paper, we are off by as much as 50%.
If you think you will just remember, you won’t.
To find a way of eating that works for you knowing what you are doing now is a critical first step. Become a scientist and collect data, in other words, a food diary. No one, including myself, wants to do this but it improves your chances of success, and there’s some science to back it up.
It’s not just about counting calories, and it doesn’t have to be fancy. Pen and paper work well but there are numerous apps and online options too.
A food journal helps you to understand what you are doing now. Someone said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing but expecting different results. How can you know what to change if you don’t know what you are doing now?
Since our recall is dreadful when it comes to what and how much we eat, writing it down is a much more reliable method.
In addition to writing down what and how much, record how you feel. This allows you to connect how certain foods contribute to symptoms like bloating, constipation or low energy.
After a week or even a few days of documenting your eating habits, you will notice patterns. You will discover the times of day or days of the week when you make good decisions and when you don’t. Consider those not so good decisions.
What was happening at the time?
Maybe it’s in the afternoons that you find yourself in need of a pick-me-up. Perhaps after specific meals, you are still hungry and crave sweets. Possibly it’s a stressful work situation, or unpleasant interaction with a friend, co-worker or family member. Or maybe you do well at the beginning of the week but start to fall apart by Thursday. Find the patterns so you can prepare for those days, times or circumstances. When you know where your trouble times are you can make a plan for how to deal with them.
Keeping a food diary builds in a little mindfulness. Make conscious decisions about your food. When you know you have to write it down, a journal provides a moment of hesitation to consider if you really want those chips or that cupcake. And if you do, eat it and enjoy it. Indulge or choose to continue eating something because it’s delicious. Make it a conscious choice. Don’t eat just because there is food in front of you.
Once you know what you are doing, look for places to make changes. Some changes may be obvious, like cutting back on processed food or sweets. Other changes may be more subtle. Find ways to add vegetables which are nutrient and fiber-rich while being calorie light. Adding vegetables usually will allow you to eat less of foods higher calories.
After making small changes see how you feel. Frequently people think they need to make drastic and restrictive changes to their diet. Yet it is the small incremental changes that are more likely to succeed, are sustainable over time and maybe all you need.
As with most things, especially those things associated with change, it can be hard at first. I know already you don’t want to do it. Think of it as a science experiment. You are collecting data. And who doesn’t love data? It is only as precise as you make it, and it doesn’t come with any cool graphs like your Garmin or Fitbit. But it is data nonetheless. And data, in the form of a food diary, could be the elusive element you need to make this the time you succeed.
What’s your experience with food journals? Have you tried it? Did you use an app? Did you hate doing it? Did it workfor you? Please let me know!