Updated: Mar 22, 2021
Dieting vs Lifestyle Changes
Atkins, intermittent fasting, the South Beach Diet, Nutrisystem, the raw food diet—the list of diet fads is longer than a Wisconsin winter. With an estimated 45 million Americans dieting every year and $33 billion spent on weight-loss products, why are 2 in 3 Americans overweight or obese? The answer is simple: rapid weight-loss is not sustainable. Sure, having a grapefruit with every meal doesn’t sound too challenging at first, but after a week or so, odds are you’ll never want to see the fruit again. Although fad diets may allow you to shed a few pounds in no time, your ability to keep the weight off usually diminishes as soon as your diet does. Looking at weight management as a lifelong journey will allow you to make sustainable choices to keep your body, mind, and spirit well. Generally, rapid weight-loss diets share a handful of key characteristics:
Weight-loss happens over a short, allotted period of time
Foods fall into categories, either “good” or “bad”
Excludes or severely restricts food groups
Defines progress by the scale
If you’ve tried a diet that fits this mold, it may have gotten you beach-ready in just a few days, but at what expense and for how long? Not eating enough and cutting out key food groups often leaves you feeling tired, cranky, and well, hungry (no surprise there). Having "off-limits" foods leaves leads to cravings and when you do give in, you're more likely to binge instead of enjoying in moderation, leaving you discouraged. Not to mention, you may be missing out on key nutritional benefits that come from a balanced eating plan, which may cause health complications in the future. The Sustainable Switch Just about everything in life is about moderation and balance, and what you put on your plate is no exception. So what is it that makes lifestyle changes so much more successful than dieting? Focus on gradual modifications to your daily behavior that you can stick to for the long haul. Leave any all-or-nothing attitudes with the grapefruit. Adapt your diet and exercise regime (bring on the Pilates!) over time with changes that you know you can maintain. To really make a lifestyle change, you need to have a goal and ways you plan to reach it. First, define your overarching goal. Maybe it's to lose 5 pounds. Now, think about how you can break this goal into actionable behaviors.
Cut out sugary drinks.
Find a replacement for your favorite soda (you could try flavored sparkling water, unsweetened tea, water with fruit)
Eat 2 servings of vegetables every day.
Purchase more vegetables at the grocery store
Find recipes you're excited to cook (bring on the Pintersting!)
Try different dishes so that you have variety in your meals
Cut down on sweets.
Find healthier sweet alternatives (frozen banana slices dipped in almond butter and dark chocolate?! Yum!)
Stop buying desserts (you can’t be tempted if it’s not around)
Tell your friends and family about your goal (accountability and support!)
You can see that this overarching weight-loss goal has many actionable behaviors related to it, and these are a starting point. While brainstorming, you may create a much longer list of actions that can bring you closer to your goal. Don't let a lengthy list discourage you. Begin by selecting a couple of actions to adjust until they are habitual and routine, then move on to another behavior to prevent yourself from becoming overwhelmed. Each one you cross off your list will fuel your motivation to conquer the next one! Everyone's lifestyle is unique, and adjustments must be as well. Maybe your journey begins by switching from soda to sparkling water or cutting your snack allotment from a heaping mound of chips to just a handful and a piece of fruit. The goal is to create a lifestyle that is both sustainable and effective without leaving you hungry and discouraged. Sounds pretty doable right? Check out these ideas to create your own actionable behaviors and jumpstart your lifestyle changes:
Load up fruits and vegetables
Focus on natural, unprocessed foods
Opt for lean meat, fish, and poultry
Cut sugary drinks and snacks
Hydrate! Aim for 8+ glasses daily
Exercise regularly (may we suggest Pilates?)
Practice moderation, not restriction
Measure progress with markers beyond the scale
Be conscious of your alcohol intake
According to the American Council of Exercise, just 5% of dieters find success in keeping off the weight lost from dieting. Making gradual, sustainable adjustments instead of taking on a restrictive diet will allow you to create lasting change. Though your goals may take more time to reach, the effects will be more permanent and so much more rewarding!