It seems almost paradoxical. We’re told that losing weight is just a matter of striking the right ratio of calories in to calories out. So we go on a diet. We strictly follow its rules. We limit our calorie intake. We exercise. But we don’t lose weight. What’s going on? Here are some important factors to consider.
Your body thinks it’s starving.
When your daily calorie intake is too low, your body switches into starvation mode. Your metabolism slows down because your body “thinks” it needs to conserve energy and use the fuel you give it more slowly. This, of course, makes it harder to burn calories. So your efforts to lose weight may actually be having the opposite effect!
A lack of essential fat can slow down weight loss.
Some healthcare professionals suggest that an imbalance in our intake of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids may be related to obesity. Ideally, we would consume omega-6’s and omega-3’s in roughly equal amounts. But, due in no small part to our increased consumption of processed foods that often contain vegetable oils and other omega-6 fats, our consumption of omega-6 fatty acids is much too high, while our consumption of omega-3 fats, found in foods such as flaxseeds and walnuts, is too low. For many of us, that ratio is at least 10 to 1. Processed diet bars and other packaged diet foods, while they may be low-calorie, can still contribute to this imbalance.
And in addition to a wide range of other health benefits, including some omega-3 fatty acids in your diet often makes meals more satisfying, which in turn reduces the likelihood of overeating!
A lack of protein.
Many people often view protein-rich foods like meat and dairy as “high-calorie” or “fattening.” The result is that they avoid these foods in an effort to lose weight. But the truth is, protein helps build muscle mass, which is indeed our fat burning tissue. And, as with fatty acids, protein often makes a meal more filling, meaning we need to eat less of it to feel satisfied. So, skipping protein may ultimately sabotage your weight loss efforts, rather than boosting them.
Of course, meat and dairy aren’t the only options. There are plenty of vegetarian sources of protein, like rice and legumes, though few of them offer all of the amino acids we need, like meat and dairy do, so it’s best to eat them in combination.
Too much exercise.
Regular exercise is extremely important. A good goal for those of us who aren’t professional athletes is about 30 minutes of moderate physical activity daily. But, there is a point of diminishing returns. If you exercise too much or too intensely, you trigger your body’s stress response. Doing this repeatedly can put your body into a state of chronic stress. When your body is in stress mode, the immune system slows down and the stress hormone cortisol – which can contribute to weight gain – is released. In some people, this constant stress can even lead to autoimmune conditions or hypothyroidism, which is likely linked to weight gain, depression, fertility concerns, and more.
Dieting is stressful.
Excessive exercise isn’t the only aspect of weight loss that can trigger your body’s stress response. Constantly worrying about what you’re eating, counting points and calories, and simply missing out on the pleasure of eating can stress out your body as well. Rather than trying so hard to conform to the strict rules of a diet, try instead eating healthy, natural foods that are fulfilling and enjoyable. It will be much less stressful for your mind as well as your body, and it’s an approach that is much more likely to help you achieve your desired results.
Diets are unsustainable.
The challenges discussed above apply to those who diet over the short-term, as well as those who chronically diet for a longer period of time. But diets also fail because they are simply too difficult to maintain. Since many of them entail demanding protocols, encourage us to eat processed, low-calorie foods, and tend to result in a lack of certain nutrients, it is very difficult to stick with a diet over the long-term. Even if we follow the diet to the letter while we’re doing it, the fact that it is so challenging to keep up means that many of us either quit before we lose weight, or gain the weight back later.
So what is the alternative to dieting? Learning to love and accept yourself as you are. This will help you to approach your eating habits not with the goal of simply losing weight, but with the aim of doing what’s best for your body (namely, eating healthy, whole foods and engaging in physical activity that you truly enjoy). It might seem contradictory, but often, allowing ourselves to stop stressing about our weight is the very thing that helps us shed the pounds.
The Institute for the Psychology of Eating
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