It is a pleasure to introduce Jake Edmiston who is the author of this week’s post. Jake came to my attention with an article he wrote for the Las Cruses Sun-News. In it he proposed a secret diet which attempts to nudge people to a healthier lifestyle that incorporates more fruits and vegetables. In an era of extreme solutions, I found his approach refreshing. In the interim we have had several email exchanges. He believes that “processed foods are rarely better than whole foods” while I contend that his “definition of processed food is much more narrow than mine.” We agree to disagree about such issues, but we continue to engage each other in a civil dialog.
In today’s society, people are constantly surrounded with new and improved ways to lose weight. The “Secret” Diet details this phenomenon—the repeated search for a break through diet that will solve everyone’s weight problems. Of course, this doesn’t exist. However, it remains true that supermarket shelves at checkout counters are flooded with magazines about how to drop 15 pounds by a certain date or how this celebrity lost 20 pounds using their own special diet. The world is full of diets marketed to make the consumer believe buying their products is the answer and their diet is the one true diet.
As an ultramarathoner, nutrition and diet became just as important as training for distances such as 50 mile and 100 mile cross-country races. My coach, Sonni Dyer, once told me early during training for my first 100-mile race that, “The secret is there are no secrets.” This statement rang true for me then, and it rings equally true for me now. The truth with dieting is there are no secrets. I whole heartedly believe in this statement. Yes, people may not know every macro and micronutrient or what role they play in the body, but I do believe most people are able to identify basic unhealthy foods. For example, most people know that fruits and vegetables are healthy while sodas and double cheeseburgers provide little nutritional value.
People tend to eat unhealthy options because they have developed a lifestyle which influences their choices. Which is why the idea of a “diet” should be redefined. Numerous studies show people on diets tend to gain weight they lost back—while typically tacking on a little extra in the process after stopping the diet. A “diet” should instead be defined as what a person puts into their body daily. Using this definition of diet, making practical changes means making practical lifestyle changes. People do not lose weight by dieting—they lose weight by altering their life and the surrounding environment.
A study by Reyes et al. (2012) performed an analysis on participants who either successfully lost weight and kept it off (maintainer) or gained the weight back (regainer). The study found the “regainers” typically decreased the activities that helped them lose weight while the “maintainers” kept up with their activities supporting weight loss. These results demonstrate successful maintenance of weight-loss being continued implementation of sustainable lifestyle changes. The standout character traits of those people successfully implementing sustainable lifestyle changes are: productive problem-solving techniques and adaptability to change in daily life schedules. Looking at these key character traits, it is no wonder people struggle with diets. Changing a person’s environment and life are hard. People tend to be creatures of habit and not everyone likes change, let alone sustainable change.
The question comes down to, what is a person willing to do to make the necessary changes to accomplish their goals? As a registered dietitian, I hear all the time, “I love what I eat… I don’t care if it’s bad for me” or, “I live to eat—not eat to live.” Everyone has a right to choose what they put in their body. The important thing is to live your life the way you want. However, if you’re a person who does want to make lasting change in your life then start making changes today. The key is to make small changes, master those changes, then make a few more. Change is a process and slow and steady wins the race.
Lifestyle changes are not always easy. It takes thought, planning, support, and self-motivation. Success begets more success. People who lose more weight tend to set higher weight loss goals and achieve higher self-satisfaction, resulting in weight-loss maintenance (Calugi et al., 2017)2. The natural tendency when one achieves a goal is to have greater motivation to achieve our next goal. This cycle builds self-confidence.
Again, lifestyle changes are not always easy. Here are some tips that can make changing your diet—and lifestyle—a little easier:
- Create meaningful change. Lifestyle changes only work when people are motivated for the right reasons. If it’s not important to you, then change won’t stick.
- Construct a solid support system. Solicit the help of family and friends. Even if they do not want to make the same changes you are, talk with them about why making these changes are important to you so there is mutual understanding. This prevents potential conflict at social gatherings when food is involved. Include professionals when necessary such as a therapist, dietitian, or someone who has accomplished similar goals to yours.
- Make long-term and short-term goals. Ex: Long-term – In 12 months I’ll be eating 4 servings of fruit and 5 servings of vegetables 5 days a week. Short-term – This week I am going to add 1 serving of fruit to breakfast 3 days a week.
- Short-term goals should be stepping stones to long-term goals. Once you achieve the short-term goal of adding 1 serving of fruit to breakfast 3 days a week, the next week do 4 days… then 5 days.
- Plan how to accomplish your goals. Planning can be as simple as including additional vegetables and fruit on your grocery list.
- Think positively. Think about what foods you can add to your diet, not what foods you “can’t have.” The truth is no food is off limits. By adding healthy foods like vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and whole grains there is less room for french fries and double cheeseburgers.
- Challenge Yourself! Reduce the number of nights you go out to eat. Learn new cooking skills such as cooking a different vegetable each week to include in meals.
- Assess your progress. Identifying advances and barriers to your goals can make all the difference. What helped advance you towards the accomplishment of your goal? What were the barriers if you didn’t? Be honest—there is no shame in failure.
- Evaluate. Take what you have learned and continue to push the limits of your success. Diet is a process, not a product. Continue to evolve and make new changes to meet your current needs… and enjoy yourself along the way.
Jake Edmiston is a Master of Science in Dietetics from New Mexico State University. He is currently a contract dietitian for Global Nutrition Services in New Mexico. In his spare time, he enjoys running in the mountains with his wife and three dogs and competing in ultra-marathons. His passion for nutrition developed through his love of running. He is a lifelong learner because, “The more you know—the more you realize the less you know.” He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reyes, N. R., Oliver, T. L., Klotz, A. A., Lagrotte, C. A., Vander Veur, S. S., Virus, A., … Foster, G. D., (2012). Similarities and differences between weight loss maintainers and regainers: a qualitative analysis. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 112, 499-505. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2011.11.014
Calugi, S., Marchesini, G., Ghoch, M. E., Gavasso, I., Grave, R. D., (2017). The influence of weight-loss expectations on weight loss and of weight-loss satisfaction on weight maintenance in severe obesity. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 117, 32-38. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2016.09.001
5 thoughts on “The No Nonsense Guide to Dieting”
I think the statement “devoid of nutrients” is a little stronger than my reference. As you state there are the positives and negatives to double cheeseburgers. My point is not to say a person cannot eat a double cheeseburger. The reference is the problem for most people when trying to change their lives is not adding double cheeseburgers to their diet but vegetables. There are prospective and retrospective studies that correlate eating more meat/red meat with higher risks for cancers and overall mortality. It is when these foods start to be eaten in excess and not part of a balanced diet is where the problem lies. It then does not help that our food infrastructure is set up so access to foods higher in calories, fat, and added sugar are more convenient than fruit, vegetables, legumes, … etc. This is where the tips would be incorporated to make sure people have a plan to eat a balanced diet that includes a variety of foods.
I’ll try one more time. I like your approach. Dealing with a diet from a lifestyle-point-of-view is the way to go. The weak point of your argument is when you abandon the dietary approach to start labeling specific foods as good and bad. Double cheeseburgers contain protein which is complete and a bounty of essential vitamins and minerals. They have many more “nutrients” than an equivalent mass of a fresh vegetable salad. It is the context of an overall diet that determines whether a specific food provides a positive or negative effect on that diet. I would agree that it is more likely that double cheeseburgers, particularly when consumed frequently, are less likely to be part of a healthy diet than a vegetable salad. A diet composed strictly of vegetables, however, is unlikely to provide sufficient protein and be deficient in iron and calcium. To declare any food that contains a complete protein, vitamins and minerals as “devoid of nutrients” or one that lacks sufficient protein, calcium and iron of “little nutritional value” makes a mockery of the concept of nutrition and nutrients. Nutrition does not equal healthiness.
I like your general approach, particularly the idea of diet as lifestyle. I must disagree, however, with your statement that “double cheeseburgers provide little nutritional value.” Double cheeseburgers may contain excess calories and fat, but any food that is a ready source of a complete protein and numerous essential vitamins and minerals should not be considered devoid of nutrients.