From weight loss and cancer prevention, to lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels – the benefits of diet and exercise are widely recognised and there’s no denying that for people who are overweight, the results can be life-changing. However, not all diets are created equal and it’s important to remember that for the majority of people, the healthiest diet is a balanced diet. That means no more counting calories, no more cutting out food groups, and no more missing out.
Why? Dieting disrupts normal eating behaviours and can often lead to binge eating, disordered and chaotic eating. It can be impractical and unhealthy, not only damaging for our mental health but our physical well-being – the lack of nutrients leave many dieters feeling faint and lightheaded, and often gaining more weight than they originally lost.
So before you embark on the latest celebrity diet or extreme food fad, read on to find out whether your relationship with food is a healthy one and if you really are dieting for all the right reasons.
Be Aware, Not Obsessed
Losing weight is addictive but even innocent attempts to lower cholesterol and achieve a gradual weight loss can quickly escalate to a fixation on righteous eating or ‘orthorexia nervosa’ – a new term used to describe those with an unhealthy obsession for food quality and purity. Because while eating healthily is important, it shouldn’t take over your life or come to define you as a person. Be aware of the foods that you consume, but also be aware of the dangers of extreme dieting and avoid any diets that will cause large physical and chemical changes in your body.
Quit Counting Calories
Many of us have grown up with the myth that to lose weight, you have to eat fewer calories. But that simply isn’t true. Your body processes the energy (calories) from different foods in completely different ways, and when a diet is based on calorie content alone, the nutritional quality of food becomes side-lined. Different food types also have very different effects on appetite. Protein, for example, takes double the energy (using double as many the calories) to process as carbohydrates, and generally reduces appetite more per calorie than both fat and carbohydrates. Fat has also been unfairly defamed, with naturally high-fat foods such as nuts, fish, and oily fish not only reducing our risk of chronic illness but helping to absorb nutrients from other food as well as keeping us full and even boosting our metabolism.
Balance It Out
If you find yourself craving salty snacks and sweet, slushy drinks – don’t deny yourself completely. Go for it, but simply in moderation. By not designating foods as off-limits and instead adopting a ‘mostly and sometimes’ mantra, you can still enjoy the foods you love and won’t end up feeling deprived. Consider using the 80/20 rule, ensuring 80% of your food choices come from natural, whole foods allowing the remaining 20% to be saved for treats. You should also try to add variety to your diet as much as possible, including five or more portions of fruit and vegetables as well as plenty of starchy foods, protein and dairy. Looking to lower cholesterol and your blood pressure levels? Your body needs a certain amount of cholesterol to work properly, but not too much. Try replacing foods high in saturated fats with those containing unsaturated fats (mono- and poly-unsaturated), cutting your salt intake, and exercising for thirty minutes a day.
Slow and Steady
A healthy weight loss is a steady weight loss and when you lose weight too quickly, you’re likely to end up losing water and muscle rather than fat. A moderate approach may, on first glance, seem ineffective, but small changes and long-term goals are not only the best approach in terms of motivation, but the healthiest way to lose weight, lower cholesterol, and protect yourself from chronic disease. Think of it as an investment in yourself, with consistency the key to your success. Because, in the end, slow and steady really does win the race.