Let me start by saying that I’m about to get up on my soapbox and write about something that I’m not necessarily qualified to write about. I’m not a nutritionist or a registered dietitian, and I’m not claiming to have any formal education to back this up, other than my training in the good old school of life. But I’ve lost over 70 pounds in the last 18 months and kept it off, so I figure I must be doing something right. This is based strictly on my own experience and research as well as my observations of others. Boom. Disclaimer over. Now let’s get to it.
Restrictive diets, ladies and gentlemen…that’s what I want to talk about today. I know too many people following some type of crazy fad diet right now and I just want to offer my two cents. Here’s how I feel about diets: they’re great if you’re training for something or trying to hit a short-term goal. If you need to drop weight fast to fit into your wedding gown, then go right ahead and diet for a few weeks leading up to the big day. If you need to make a certain weight to qualify for a fight (MMA, boxing, etc.), then diet away until you hit that magic number. But if you are simply trying to lose weight and get healthy (and STAY that way), for the love of Baby Jesus please DO NOT DIET! The funny thing is that many of us cringe the minute we hear that dirty word “DIET,” but that doesn’t stop us from going on one, no matter how insane it may sound. I’ve had friends tell me about bee pollen, HCG, Atkins, paleo, raspberry ketones, and diets based on grapefruit, cabbage soup, tea, cookies, baby food, lemonade…you name it. Some of these diets involve supplements that are not only unapproved by the FDA but also illegal to sell over the counter. Others are effective in stimulating weight loss because they increase your metabolism, but at the same time they can cause a spike in your body temperature, blood pressure and heart rate. Some are only supposed to be used for a specified period of time (usually a month), and extended use can cause permanent failure to your body’s vital organs. Certain diets require that you restrict your calorie intake to as little as 500 calories a day. That’s malnutrition, folks. Anyone who eats 500 calories a day will lose weight...but that doesn’t mean you’re being “healthy.” You are actually starving yourself! Finally, diets like Atkins, Slim Fast, South Beach, and even my beloved Weight Watchers (which is how I began my own weight loss journey, although I never actually bought any of their packaged foods) actually encourage you to consume their packaged, processed “healthy” “diet” foods in order to “help” you. I call blasphemy.
I’m not saying these diets don’t work. Many of them will give you impressive results if you follow them to the letter. But what happens when you stop? You find those 15 pounds you lost…and then you find 15 more because you have the same crappy eating habits you had before you went on the diet. Okay, I know this doesn’t happen to everyone but it does happen to a lot of people. But more importantly, what happens to your body in the process? You’re packing it full of hormones, chemicals, and supplements instead of real food. You’re literally shocking it into change instead of retraining yourself and establishing better habits like eating a diet full of healthy fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and lots of water in order to lose the weight gradually and healthily. Food is fuel for our bodies, and I firmly believe that what you put in determines what you will get on the outside. If you were about to drive 100 miles, would you fill your tank to ¼ full and drive away, hoping for the best? Not without AAA on speed dial! So why on earth would you eat hardly anything and then try to go work out for a couple hours? The general guidelines for the minimal caloric intake recommended for adult males is 1500 calories per day and for adult females (not pregnant or breast feeding) is 1200 calories per day. You just shouldn’t go under these levels unless you are under medical supervision. Sure, there are situations that warrant fewer calories, but only a qualified medical professional should make that call.
Be kind to your body. Give it what it needs to thrive, make it a point to exercise, be patient, and I swear you will see results. We’re not meant to drop 30 pounds in 30 days, friends. It takes time to gain weight, and it definitely takes time to lose it. Instead of spending money on supplements, packaged “food” or hypnosis DVDs, buy a book on nutrition (preferably one that was written by a registered dietitian, not someone hocking weight loss products) and educate yourself. Learn about macronutrients and how our body uses them. Find out what is in your go-to foods and decide whether or not they are foods you should continue to eat. Try some new foods and learn how to cook a few simple, nutritious meals. If you do the work, you can and will see results. Just be patient, stay focused, and believe!
P.S. Carbs aren’t evil! Complex carbohydrates like vegetables and whole grains are actually great pre-workout fuel for your body.