What is the difference between dieting and healthy behaviours? (And why does it matter so much?)

How many diets have you done?
How many times have you restricted food groups in order to lose weight?
How many times have you declines a cookie with, No thanks, I’m trying to be good?
If your anything like me, your answer will be too many times to remember!
What I have come to learn on my journey to food freedom and vibrant health, is that in order to feel good from the inside, nutritious food plays a huge part in that. But how do we adopt a healthy lifestyle without being ‘on a diet’ or obsessing over our weight…? Read on my beauties…

Diet-related behaviours are limiting

I believe that most people by now have got the message or figured out for themselves that dieting is bad and doesn’t work long term, but many of us still participate in diet-related behaviours.

As I see it, dieting is ultimately about deprivation — focusing on what you shouldn’t have.  It’s often driven by a set of rules where foods are either good or bad and people become good or bad for eating them.  How often do you hear someone say they were “good” or “bad” based on what they ate that day?

Another hallmark of dieting is its focus on weight.  Dieters weigh themselves frequently and feel more motivated with each new pound lost.  The problem is when the weight plateaus, as it always does, the motivation to follow the diet plateaus right along with it.

Worst of all, dieting is often met with the eventual period of binging (on the ‘bad’ foods) and the lost weight is often regained and sometimes more.

95% of people who diet gain the weight back and most of the time end up weighing more than when they started the diet…!

But why do we still do it…?!

Media, culture and marketing companies are mostly to blame as they are always selling us a ‘quick fix’ to all our problems. Drink this shake every day and your fat will melt away! Take these tablets before bed and you will burn fat in your sleep! Drink this ‘detox’ tea to get a flat belly!

This, along with the fact that celebrities support these fads and show off their ‘outstanding results’ standing as role models for the general public, encourages us to try the diet or product. We all want results yesterday and this one might be the answer!

So we start a new diet or eliminate food groups or count calories or take a shake or whatever it may be and before long, we end up feeling deprived and restricted. We start off with all the best intentions because we want to lose weight so desperately and denying ourselves is quite liberating at first.

Then our animal brain takes over and we so desperately want and wish we could have the things we have been telling ourselves we’re not allowed to eat. Then we start resenting the fact that we can’t have the brownie or the pizza or whatever it may be. THEN WE GIVE IN AND BINGE! And then start another new diet because this time, you’ll definitely stick to it…

We all know too well, I’m sure, what a diet and deprivation feels like. But what does it mean to be healthy without dieting?

Healthy behaviours are liberating

I see healthy behaviours as small changes that occur over time.  Instead of following rules about good or bad foods, the person learns how to balance all foods in their diet.   The small steps allow them to make changes that work well for their lives.  There are a constant shifting and re-prioritizing that never stops.

The first thing people would benefit from when embarking on a healthy lifestyle over a diet is to CHANGE THEIR MINDSET.

People that continue lifelong healthy behaviours are not motivated by weight.  Instead, they see how much better their lives are, and, as a result, are internally motivated.  Weight is still part of the equation but far from the most important factor.  Healthy behaviours become a preferred way to live instead of an obligation. This is because the motivation behind the change is to FEEL BETTER and to IMPROVE THEIR HEALTH, not to lose weight or get skinny quick.

So when they are at a cafe and wondering whether or not to have cake, they have a choice that doesn’t come from restriction. Because they haven’t banned anything from their diet they are ‘allowed’ to eat the cake if they want to. If they have a goal of health they may choose to skip the cake because they know that they feel better after eating something else instead. On the other hand, they may choose the cake, enjoy it and then unconsciously choose a healthy nutritious dinner at their next mealtime.

Eating for health comes from an abundant mindset, not a restricted one.

Choosing health over dieting requires us to put our weight on the back burner and focus on making changes in our diet and our lifestyle that make us feel good. This entails us to check in with ourselves and listen to our body, something that most of us have become so detached from for a long time. But practice makes progress.

I believe that learning to eat well in modern society is more of an art than science.  The choice of what to eat is a careful balance between taste, nutrition and how food makes you feel — what I call the powerful three.

How to adopt a healthy lifestyle

If you are serious about wanting to become the healthiest version of yourself, unless you have the will of steel and you don’t want to be miserable, you need to change things slowly. I like to think of these changes as baby steps and they are exactly that, baby steps towards the person you want to become.

Even if you decided that you don’t want to go on a diet or cut out food groups, you still need to introduce healthy behaviours into your life slowly but surely. There is no point in joining a gym, forcing yourself to drink 3 litres of water, eat 5 portions of veggies and 2 portions of fruit a day, walking 10k steps and getting 8 hours sleep all in one go because it will be almost impossible to stick to.

The best way to become healthy is to choose one new healthy habit a week or a month depending on how quickly you adapt and only when you have made that healthy behaviour a habit, then introduce a new one. And keep repeating this until you look back in 6 months to a years time and you have become that healthy person you had in mind and most likely you will be at your body goal or at least well on the way to it. The most important thing is that losing weight this way is sustainable and enjoyable because you make it about your health, not about your weight!

Every choice you make is a vote on who you want to become.

Which means you can still make choices that defer you away from your goals if you so wish, but as long as you vote the majority towards that healthy you, that’s what you will ultimately become.

The bottom line: Dieting is limiting, leaving people with few choices, while healthy behaviours expand choices, increasing the likelihood of success.


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