It’s January, the season of diets and good intentions. Many people resolve to go on a diet, only to lose their willpower within the first few weeks of the year. Seeing healthy eating as an all-or-nothing endeavor, they quickly end up throwing in the towel and going back to their old ways.
Sound familiar? You’re not alone.
But diet doesn’t have to be a four-letter word – metaphorically speaking, of course.
If you’re thinking about a New Year’s diet, start by reframing your view of what a diet is. Changing your perspective may help you develop an approach to eating that works for you over the long term. As a result, you’ll become a healthier, happier version of yourself.
Disclaimer: The following is intended as information only and should not be used as, or in lieu of, medical guidance. If you have questions about your health, including your diet, talk to your doctor.
The Common Understanding of Diets
The very thought of the word “diet” may send shivers down your spine. Maybe for you, the word conjures up images of sad days spent eating boring lettuce and bland chicken. With this in mind, starting a diet already sets you up for failure. No one wants to eat tasteless food for the rest of their lives just to shed a few pounds.
Of course, not every fad diet requires severely limiting your calorie intake the way you would on a lettuce-and-celery plan. But most diets do involve restrictions, including sorting foods into “good” and “bad” categories.
A low-fat diet tells you to choose foods with the fewest possible grams of fat. A keto diet shuns carbs while celebrating high-fat foods. The paleo diet focuses on meat and produce but restricts sugar and grains.
There’s a common thread running through each of these eating plans. The “good” foods can stay, but you’d better not touch the “bad” ones if you want to succeed at weight loss.
The Problems with Diets
There’s value in being careful about what you eat. Some foods do offer higher nutritional value than others. But the popular approach to dieting doesn’t work for very many people. You may start a diet with great intentions only to find yourself feeling like a failure a few weeks later.
Restrictions are rarely effective. By labeling certain foods as never-ever options, you may be limiting your own success.
Cutting some items entirely out of your life can enhance your cravings for those foods. If your stomach is growling because you’ve also reduced your food intake, the cravings can be even stronger. The thought of being cut off from your favorites may erode your commitment to a particular eating plan.
Restrictive diets tend to be short-term affairs. You might lose a few pounds – or even a lot of pounds – while you’re on them, but you’re likely to revert to your habits pretty quickly. Once you do, the weight might come right back.
For many people, dieting becomes a cycle.
You spend a few months trying a new diet plan before you go back to your old ways. Frustrated by the creeping scale, you do a little research and find out about a new dieting phenomenon. You sign on for that approach but give up after a while.
And so the cycle repeats, again and again.
The constant weight fluctuations could be hard on your body and your self-esteem. You might beat yourself up over the weight gain you experience or your seeming lack of willpower.
Plus, diets often encourage you to think about food in black-and-white terms. In truth, though, food doesn’t hold moral value.
All types of food have something to offer. In some cases, that’s nutritional density. In other cases, a dish may provide comfort or a sense of nostalgia. A restrictive diet could cut you off from foods that hold a special place in your life.
A Different Way to Think About Diet
Sure, “go on a diet” might be the first association that springs to your mind for the word “diet.” And in American culture, that’s often how the word is used.
There’s a broader meaning for this word, though. It can simply refer to overall eating habits. The Greeks used the noun diatia to refer to a person’s way of life. That’s where our word “diet” comes from.
What if you started thinking of your diet in such terms?
Doing so could help you shed the idea that a diet is a thing that restricts you. Rather, you could view your diet as the way you choose to eat, day in and day out.
And just like you don’t have to live your life quite like anyone else, you also don’t have to eat just like anyone else, either.
You can find a comfortable approach to eating that includes space for nutritious items as well as foods that simply bring you joy. In your way of life, there can be space for all types of foods.
The Advantage of This Approach
It’s not that fad diets never work. Some people can get into a comfortable routine and find great success with them.
But everyone has different nutritional needs and personal tastes. What works for one person isn’t necessarily right for everyone. If you jump on the bandwagon of a diet that doesn’t suit your eating style, you may find yourself swimming upstream.
Giving yourself a new frame of thought for eating has the potential to transform your relationship with food and your body. You can aim for a balanced life, rather than one focused on dos and don’ts.
Thinking of your diet in these terms may help you view food as just one part of your life — and a necessary one, at that. You can learn to view filling your plate as an activity that both nourishes your body and brings you joy.
Setting the Right Goals for Your Diet
If you’re ready for this to be the year of changing your relationship with food, think about making a diet resolution. That doesn’t mean resolving to go on a diet. Rather, it involves transforming your attitude toward eating and improving your overall health.
#1) Increase your intake of nutrient-dense foods.
When it comes to boosting your diet, think addition, not subtraction. Instead of focusing on what you’re going to remove from your regular diet, start thinking about what you’d like to eat more of this year. Example: find ways to add more fruits and veggies to your diet.
Perhaps you’d like to set a goal to consume a certain number of vegetables each day. You could also “eat the rainbow” by filling your plate with an assortment of colors. Another idea is to sample one new produce item each week.
#2) Invest in your meals.
Sure, food costs money, but that’s not all that’s involved in investing in your diet.
For one thing, resolve to invest your time. Set aside time for three meals a day. Let yourself focus on — and enjoy — the process of eating rather than multitasking at your desk between bites.
You can also invest brainpower by planning ahead. Penciling out your meals for the week will help you include more variety and greater nutrition. Plus, it can save you from last-minute scrambles for ideas or ingredients.
#3) Talk to a professional about your diet.
Some people have specific health needs, such as diabetes, that require careful eating. Others have personal preferences, such as wanting to stick to a vegetarian diet. And even those without special dietary needs can still benefit from professional insight.
This year, make it your goal to meet with a licensed nutritionist or a registered dietitian. You’ll receive personalized advice that you can incorporate into your daily eating habits. If seeing someone in person isn’t in your budget, consider an online class or program. Eating Well offers a roundup of online nutritionists and programs to get you started.