Restrictive Eating - Part 1: What is Restrictive Eating?

Restrictive Eating - Part 1: What is Restrictive Eating?

Everyone I know has tried a diet at some point in their lives. It is common to lose weight at the beginning of a diet and then hit a plateau where progress halts and you stop losing weight. It can end up being extremely frustrating when you aren’t seeing progress and might think “why should I keep restricting myself when it’s not working?!”; resulting in quitting the diet and going back to old eating habits. In the long run, most people end up gaining all or more weight back after stopping a diet. So how do people lose weight and keep it off?

Keep reading to find out why fad diets and restrictive eating don’t work in the long run and how you can start making lasting changes that will help you lose and keep the weight off!

What is restrictive eating?

Our society is obsessed with weight, and more specifically, losing weight. There are hundreds of diets out there to choose from: Keto, HCG, Atkins, and Weight Watchers, to name a few. All of these diets (and more) have the same thing in common, they tell you to cut out certain foods and/or to drastically cut back on the amount of food (calories) you are eating. This is restrictive eating - not allowing yourself to have certain foods or cutting your calories back drastically. 

Why does it seem like restrictive diets work?

It would appear that these diets work because they do actually help you lose weight - that part isn’t a lie, you can lose weight on a diet and most people do. Some diets really do work for people and become their lifestyle, but most of the time people use a diet for a set amount of time. Ultimately, losing weight comes down to calories in vs. calories out. You need to consider the long term goal - before starting a diet it’s important to ask yourself:

  • Is this diet sustainable for the rest of my life? 
  • Is this diet healthy for ME?
  • Does this diet fit into my lifestyle and what I want out of life?
  • Have I consulted with my doctor about starting a diet?
  • Will this diet teach me what kind and how much food I should be eating to optimally nourish and energize my body for the rest of my life?
  • Will this diet help me create the skills, behaviors, and habits I need in order to make healthy nutrition decisions and reach my goal of losing weight and keeping it off?

Why don’t restrictive diets work long term?

  • Restrictive eating isn’t sustainable:
    • If you are craving a certain food that you aren’t allowing yourself to have and you decide to ignore the craving, most likely you will ignore it for a little while (a few days, or maybe even a few weeks), but eventually give in and end up bringing on that food. This is an unhealthy cycle to be in; your body has cravings for a reason, it could mean your body is missing a certain nutrient in your diet.
    • Instead of completely cutting out foods that may not be the healthiest, try having just a little bit once in a while when you are really craving it. One cookie or an order of French fries won’t ruin your progress or goal.
  • Diets have a start and end date:
    • One of the problems I have with diets is that there is always a start and end date. People do them for a short time to lose a certain amount of weight and then stop. This can cause a lot of stress for our bodies. Our metabolism is always adjusting to how much food we are eating - this is called metabolic adaptation; I will go into more depth about metabolic adaptation in next month’s article, so stay tuned! If we are constantly changing the amount we eat, our body struggles to find a balance with metabolizing the amount of food we consume. 
    • When we dramatically change the number of calories our body is eating, whether it’s an increase or decrease, our body does it’s best to keep up with that change. However, a drastic change in calorie intake can have unwanted outcomes. For example, drastically decreasing the number of calories we are eating can leave us feeling restricted, lethargic or lacking energy, and unhappy overall. 
    • Diets are designed to have a start and end date, but what happens after the diet is over? I would challenge you to change your definition of the word diet to mean everything you eat in your day to day life and not something you go on to lose weight. There is room for all foods in a diet, even donuts, and you can still lose weight by changing your everyday eating habits in a sustainable way. 
    • The important part is figuring out how much energy (calories) your body needs to function optimally and then determine the right balance of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. 
  • Diets are not individualized:
    • Most diets require you to cut down the number of calories you are consuming per day, sometimes as low as 500 calories a day. The amount of calories your body needs is going to be individual for you and your activity level. Diets don’t tell you how to figure this out, they assume everyone should be eating the same amount of food.
    • Your body processes food differently from other people. It all comes down to chemistry! Some people are lactose intolerant, some have issues digesting certain foods while others don’t, some people feel better on a high carb diet, while others feel best on a high fat diet. Everyone is different, diets don’t take this into consideration. 

How can you start making healthier choices today?

Here are six things you can start doing today to make a diet lifestyle change that will get you moving towards your goals, whether it’s gaining or losing weight. 

(1) Track your food
    • If you want to make changes to your diet, you have to know where you are starting from.
    • Use an app like MyFitnessPal to track all your food to see how many calories you are currently eating and what percentage of the calories are carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. 
    • Make sure to measure and accurately track your food. Most people under or overestimate the amount of food they are eating when they don’t measure it out. 
    • Track everything! Yes, even that bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos you had last night. There is no judgement and there is room for those things in your diet, in moderation. Changing your diet is about finding what fits with your lifestyle, not forcing yourself to completely cut out a certain food you enjoy. 
    (2) Hire a nutrition coach
    • Find a nutrition coach who will teach you how to create healthy meals and make healthy choices while also teaching you how to incorporate the foods you enjoy. 
    • A nutrition coach should always ask for a 3-5 day food recall before giving you any recommendations. If they don’t, ask them how they know what recommendations to make if they don’t know where you are starting from?
    (3) Knowledge is power, action comes first
    • If you can’t afford a nutrition coach, set some time aside (even just 5 minutes a day!) to do some research about making healthy diet choices. 
    • It can be overwhelming to try and find accurate information on the web, here are two places to start:
    • Remember that having the knowledge to make healthy choices is a good start but it takes putting that knowledge into action to see results. You don’t have to be perfect 100% of the time, even a 10% effort can yield results. Start with a 5 minute action item each day - a 5 minute action item is an action that will help you take small steps towards your ultimate goal. If your goal is to make healthier nutrition choices and change your eating habits try:
      • 5 Minute Action Examples:
        • Planning out meals for the week
        • Practicing cooking
        • Read an article about food 
        • Tracking your food for the day
        • Drinking more water
    (4) Meal plan and prep
    • It takes time, but it is worth it to have a plan for the week. It makes each day a little easier and less stressful when you have meals planned out and have all the groceries you need.
    (5) Food sources
    • Get most of your food from natural sources - this doesn’t mean organic, it means most of your food should naturally occur in nature. 
    • Avoid processed and packaged foods. Don’t beat yourself up if you decide to get a frozen pizza from the store for dinner occasionally. Try adding a salad on the side to make it a little healthier and then get back on track the next meal. Often whether or not we make progress is not about getting off track, but how we react to getting off track. Do you throw everything out the window if you eat the cake at the marathon finish line? No, enjoy the cake and then make sure to have healthy nutrient dense foods the rest of the day.
    (6) Find what works for you
    • What works for someone else may not work for you. If Keto works for you and you feel great, and your doctor agrees that it is the right diet for you, then by all means eat a Keto diet! 

    It takes time to find the right combination of food, be patient with yourself and remember that getting off track happens and will happen again and again. It’s normal, decide how you want to respond and practice the discipline of getting back on track. 

    Happy Training!
    Tunnel Marathons Personal Trainer