So how is your New Year's diet going? Are you tired of carb cutting, calorie restricting and eating kale salads?
Don't feel bad if you're ready to give up on your attempts at the latest trendy diet.
Research continues to confirm that diets don’t work in the long term. Even more startling, repeated weight loss and regain - or “yo-yo” dieting - can increase our risk of chronic disease, says Alison St. Germain, an Iowa State University dietetic internship instructor/clinician.
“I’ve been a dietitian for 25 years, and the whole world is still preaching weight loss, weight loss, weight loss,” St. Germain says. “And if that were useful or sustainable, people wouldn’t have to keep repeating it.”
That’s why more and more nutrition experts, including St. Germain, are now recommending that we adopt an intuitive eating mentality.
Based on the widely respected book “Intuitive Eating” by registered dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Eylse Resch, intuitive eating encourages us to develop a healthy relationship with food and not restrict our food choices.
“It’s learning how to eat all types of food — and still be able to eat your sweets or candy or whatever — and make it fit into a balanced way of eating,” St. Germain says.
She says the first principle of intuitive eating is to reject the diet mentality that permeates our culture.
Research shows that developing healthy habits, such as eating more fruits and vegetables and regular exercise, are more beneficial to our long-term health than the number on the scale, St. Germain says.
“So much energy and time is spent just thinking about food and weight loss that it is just sort of sad,” she says. “Our talents are not being used to our fullest because we are worried about something like (weight).”
Admittedly, it’s difficult to resist the temptation to diet when you see friends and family members on Facebook sharing about all the weight they lost on the Whole30, keto or fill-in-the-blank diet.
Yet research shows that 95 percent of people regain the weight, and often more, within five years.
“As a dietitian, I do not ever prescribe weight loss, because it’s unethical from my standpoint because it’s 5 percent success rate,” she says.
"If people really enjoy food ..., then food isn't the enemy, and they are going to find themselves being happier. And if they are happier, they are going to be more respectful of their body."Emerging research is finding that it’s impossible to micromanage your body to change its shape and size, St. Germain notes.
Alison St. Germain, Iowa State University dietitian instructor/clinician
For example, we all have different levels of hormones that control hunger and satiety. People who are obese may have less of the hormone that helps them feel full, she explains.
In addition, researchers are discovering that the different bacteria, or microbiome, in our digestive systems may alter how we metabolize food.
“People are so quick to blame the individual, and the individual themselves is quick to blame themselves, but ... the calories that are stored (in the body) could be completely different, even though two individuals ate the exact same thing,” St. Germain says.
Plus, many of today’s popular diets are difficult to stick with in the long term and, in some cases, could be dangerous if not followed without medical supervision, St. Germain says.
She notes that the keto diet, which emphasizes high-fat foods and eliminates carbs, was originally developed as a therapeutic diet to help kids who suffer from seizures.
If your body goes into “ketosis” for too long and at too high a level, it could be fatal, she says.
“So those diets can be dangerous, and the result usually is more weight gain,” she says.
Instead of making, and breaking, another New Year’s resolution to lose weight, St. Germain recommends focusing on overall health and well-being.
She encourages people to choose foods based on three criteria: nutrients, taste and body function.
So ask yourself: Is the food nutrient-dense? Does it taste good? (If not, you aren’t going to continue eating it.) And how does the food make you feel?
St. Germain says intuitive eating means there are no “bad” foods. We can eat treats like ice cream or candy as long as we balance them with nutrient-dense foods like vegetables and lean proteins.
“One meal or one holiday isn’t going to make you unhealthy,” St. Germain says. “If people really enjoy food and like it, then food isn’t the enemy, and they are going to find themselves being happier. And if they are happier, they are going to be more respectful of their body. And if they are more respectful of their body, they are going to feed it better and treat it better.”
And even though it’s difficult, try to ignore the diet culture on Instagram, Facebook, magazines and television, St. Germain adds.
“I would encourage everyone to do what I did, especially around the holidays. You can unfollow people. You don’t have to see that. And then what I also do is mostly follow dogs on Instagram,” she says with a laugh.
“I have so much fun looking at these cute dogs, because social media can really mess with you. Limiting yourself to that information and what you are looking at can help.”