Diet: What does that mean in the 21st Century?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word diet is a noun with the following definitions:
- food and drink regularly provided or consumed
- habitual nourishment
- the kind and amount of food prescribed for a person or animal for a special reason
- a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one's weight <going on a diet>
The term diet has, in my opinion, evolved over time from meaning quite simply what we regularly eat for nourishment to its current meaning, weight loss. Now, I think pretty much all of us in the United States relate to this last definition that a diet is viewed as a method for weight loss. The word diet is usually associated with a negative connotation and words like “calorie counting”, “restrictions” and “deprivation” and the like. There always seems to be a new fad diet popping up. Some of which you may have heard include: the Atkins Diet, the grapefruit diet, the Zone diet, the South Beach diet, and the Hollywood Miracle diet just to name a few. Some are pragmatic and others are outlandishly ridiculous. Regardless of the type of diet, studies show that diets do not work in the long term.
Some of the most compelling arguments I found for why diets don’t work were provided by psychologytoday.com and are listed below.
Diets don't work - Approximately 95% of people who lose weight by dieting will regain it in 1-5 years. The deprivation of restrictive diets may lead to a diet-overeat or diet-binge cycle. Also, since your body doesn't want you to starve, it responds to overly-restrictive diets by slowing your metabolism which of course makes it harder to lose weight.
Fad diets can be harmful - They may be so restrictive as to lack essential nutrients and usually teach you nothing about healthy eating. Dieting, along with the frequent and compulsive weighing that accompanies it, can lead to eating disorders. According to one source, people who diet are 8 times as likely to develop an eating disorder as people who don't. Many dieters resort to diet pills or other supplements that can have negative or even fatal health consequences.
It is quite common for people to lose weight on their diet but after they reach their goal or give up, they many times return to unhealthy eating patterns and gain the weight that was lost. According to UCLA associate professor of psychology and researcher Traci Mann, diets do not lead to sustained weight loss or health benefits for the majority of people. Her research showed that a very small minority of study participants managed to sustain weight loss, while the majority put all the weight back on, and more in the longer term. They discovered that it would have been better for most of them if they had not gone on a diet at all because their weight would be pretty much the same, and their bodies would not suffer the wear and tear from losing weight and gaining it all back.
Our society has a huge preoccupation with weight loss and it is no wonder since it is estimated that more than two-thirds of adults and one-third of children in the United States are overweight or obese. (National Institutes of Health) According to a report in May 2012 by ABC News, the weight loss industry reports sales of more than $60 billion. The annual revenue of the U.S. weight-loss industry, including diet books, diet drugs and weight-loss surgeries is $20 billion. There are approximately 108 million Americans on a diet with the typical dieter making four to five attempts per year.
I have seen first hand the struggle people have with weight loss. I have been a certified fitness trainer for over 7 years and I have seen numerous failed attempts at weight loss. Unfortunately, exercise is a pretty small factor when losing weight. Although, the health benefits of exercise are well known, it is really one’s diet that will make or break weight loss. So, it is important that, although many fitness trainers are not a dietician or nutritionist, we talk to our client about their “diet”. By diet, I mean what you regularly consume and how much. There is not a particular type of food that will make you fat but there are better food choices one can make. Weight loss is a pretty simple formula that is not so simple for people to follow. It’s calories in, calories out. It takes a 3,500 deficit to lose one pound. To lose one pound per week, you must cut your food intake by 500 calories or burn 500 calories through exercise (or preferably a combination of the two) every day for 7 days. So, if you do the math, yes, it takes time but it took a lot of time to gain the weight as well. Lasting weight loss isn’t a quick fix. It entails healthier food choices, portion control and persistence. Many people find it easier to grab some fast food on the run or eat processed food instead of preparing food at home because of time constraints. It is much healthier for people to educate themselves regarding nutrition and modify their eating habits for better health than to go on a diet. Many people give up because it is a lot of work to change habits but you have to decide if you and your health are worth it.
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