Let’s be honest here, how many of us have been on diets throughout our life?
As a doctor, I have to give advice about food all day long and my patients are constantly asking my view on the various types of diets around. So I’ll tell you exactly what I tell them. The only diet that you should be on is eating the food that loves your body. Not the food that you love. We are all unique and there does not exist a diet that fits all.
I actually feel the word diet should not exist because it’s a prescription for failure. All diets have an end. And then what? So many diets are restrictive. We’ve tried no carbs, we’ve tried no fat, we’ve tried counting calories, we’ve tried eating next to nothing, skipping breakfast, and skipping lunch. All diets come down to self-deprivation which is not sustainable in the long term.
Research tells us that the secret of a successful diet is how well you stuck to the diet you chose. Diets are just food rules that shape our patterns of eating. So instead of eating your usual diet you follow a new food rule that nudges you towards certain eating decisions, leading mostly to less overeating. We devote to way too much time on thinking about which diet to follow. What we should eat is much more about quality than quantity.
“Eat your vegetables” – is advice that we got from our mothers and grandmothers, but we do not pay attention to it especially when we are young. Numerous studies have shown that whole plant food nutrition prevents, treats and cures a wide range of disease and illness, with little or no side effects (unlike drug therapy). Benefits of whole plant foods begin within days and continue for a lifetime. So a diet rich in plant based unprocessed food is a smart diet. And many people make the excellent point that the burden on our planet is less with a plant based or local diet.
Keep in mind that sugar is sneaky and lurks everywhere, even in things that we think are healthy, such as cereals and granola, energy bars and energy drinks, yogurt and even fruit juice. Remember that I told you previously that starches consist of poli-saccharides (poli means lots and lots; saccharides is sugar)? So that salty snack that you are eating right now is mostly sugar.
So what about fats? I think the narrative has changed from all bad and ugly to more of a continuum. Bad and ugly are trans-fats that we find in fried fast foods and processed foods. We must cut down on this. Saturated fats that we find in dairy and meat are not good in vast quantities, but OK in moderation. Then we have mono unsaturated fatty acids (MOVA). Avocado, nuts, seeds and dark chocolate show health benefits. The Mediterranean diet - which I will discuss shortly - is pretty high in MOVA. Lastly we have poly unsaturated fatty acids (POVA). These are the longer fatty chains we find in oily fish, nuts and beans. Research suggest that they have some advantages so we should try to eat at least two servings a week. Persons replacing trans-fats with MOVA and POVA fats seem to be healthier.
Let’s look high protein diets. Again it is more about quality than quantity. Protein comes in several forms, think about a salty ham versus a piece of salmon. Research indicates that if you eat healthy proteins like white meat, beans and fish – you are healthier.
So if there is no magic formula, is there a diet that actually does work? The answer is yes, although this diet is more about culture and small behaviours and aimed more towards healthy outcomes such as less cancer, heart disease and dementia, as well as focused on a longer life, and less on weight loss. This diet has the most proof – it is the Mediterranean diet. Instead of food rules it is more about moderation, less meat, more veggies, and fruits for dessert. It is more of a lifestyle than the hated diet word. It’s about lots of physical activity, regular meals, and good social support.
I also tell my patients about my wise grandmother that told me years before *mindful eating* became mainstream, to eat mindfully in order to lose weight. Her words were different though, she said that if we should be grateful and say grace for every bite that we put into our mouths. Maybe it is time to step back and be more grateful for food. Perhaps we can create opportunities for healthier eating and better relationships by promoting cooking with our family and friends as an alternative of filling up with pre-packaged, processed foods. After all, eating brings families together, shapes communities and gives us life.
So for long term healthy eating – keep in mind that society surrounds us with unhealthy choices: fast foods, as well as computer games and television to keep us sedentary. Changing your eating environment will make it easier to make the right choices day after day. We do need to remind ourselves that we feel better when we eat better. We need to re-program ourselves by taking daily small steps to move us from mindless over-eating to mindful better eating.
So that is why I think that we need to start with small changes, and nudge our behaviour in the right direction. Let’s leave fruit on the kitchen counter instead of cookies. Eat out of smaller plates. Or just change your fizzy drinks to water. These are simple nudges to reduce mindless eating. As you continue on this journey of nudging yourself and your family in the right direction, you will eat healthier in the future.
Physical activity is remarkable when we look at it in context of eating. Studies showed that people who are active even when they are obese live longer than skinny, sedentary people. So when my patients tell me that they failed in losing weight but are active, I tell them that they have been successful, they are active after all. People who exercise are also more able to maintain their weight.
I hope I made you think a bit differently about food in the past weeks. Instead of a restrictive diet, think about a whole range of behaviours: small tweaks in the right direction over time, choosing single ingredient foods over multi ingredient and processed foods, eating with your family at the table instead of in front of the television, mindful eating, depending less on willpower and tweaking your weaknesses to make mindful, healthy eating more likely.
Now is the time to start your own better life experiment! Our wish for you at Zenzile Life is to be mindful of your eating, move more and start thinking about what is healthier to eatinstead of thinking what not to eat.
(*See more on mindful eating in previous posts)
This post is for informational purposes only. It should not be considered therapy. This blog is only for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered therapy or any form of treatment. We are not able to respond to specific questions or comments about personal situations, appropriate diagnosis or treatment, or otherwise provide any clinical opinions. If you think you need immediate assistance, call your local doctor/psychologist or psychiatrist or the SADAG Mental Health Line on 011 234 4837. If necessary, please phone the Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567 or sms 31393.