The Lazy Guide to Dieting Like a Genius
Yesterday, my friend said, "My head thinks all the right things about being healthy. The problem is it does it while I'm eating a box of Girl Scout cookies." This is all of our realities. We know all there is to know, but we can't get our brains and our decisions to match up.
So are we all stupid? Is Oprah, the Master of the Female Universe, stupid? I mean, if anybody has the resources to lose weight and keep it off, it's her. And yet here she is, trying again, this time with Weight Watchers, and earning $70 million in one day to get the rest of us on board. Stupid she is not.
It's time to change the game. Maybe dieting is the thing that's stupid.
The Scientific Reasons Dieting Is Stupid
Our brains and bodies are intricately connected, way more than Dr. Oz ever told us. Luckily, there are a lot of smart people in this world who have scientifically discovered the following:
- Pleasure boosts metabolism. If you enjoy your meal, it metabolizes better. That counts equally for burgers and broccoli.
- Displeasure lowers the effectiveness of digestion. If you don't like the food you're eating, you absorb on average half of the nutritional benefits. HALF. So if you eat a head of braised kale and hate every bite, your body absorbs the nutrients from only half the kale. You just ate double kale for no nutritional reason. That is not genius.
- Beating yourself up emotionally tells your body to stay fat. If you make yourself feel badly for eating "bad" foods, your body releases hormones that hold on to fat like Miley wishes she'd held on to Liam. I mean, why you gotta do me like that, Body?
- Eating too fast stalls your metabolism. When your brain notices you're eating really fast, it assumes you're stressed out and consequently releases stress hormones that hold on to fat, slow metabolism, and decrease pleasure endorphins. So that's why when I angry-eat seven cookies at once, I feel gross, not full, and don't really enjoy it!
- Being obsessed with our bodies saps energy to focus on things that matter. If you measure, count, and deliberate over every bite of food, you probably spend much of your non-eating time still worrying about it. Worry triggers stress hormones, and stress hormones like fat cells. Aka worrying about getting fat kind of makes you fat.
So let's break this stupidness down.
You go on a diet. After all, it's January. Grilled lean meats, lots of salads with lemon juice for dressing (insanity), and a small dessert once a week. Sounds terrible, but I guess we're into torturing ourselves? Sometimes the chicken is extra good or you add avocado to your salad, but for the most part, you have to psych yourself into believing you're "really enjoying this new way of eating! it's not hard at all! I have so much energy! hello best life!" while your insides are screaming for cookies and bread like Godzilla.
That's the diet cycle. Here's the diet math.
- You don't get much pleasure from eating = you now have hindered metabolism.
- You actively dislike most of these raw vegetables and unsalted almonds you're supposed to snack on = your body absorbs a fraction of the nutrients you're force-feeding yourself.
- You have a hard afternoon, eat a cookie on a non-dessert day, and beat yourself up about it = your body is now hoarding fat cells.
- When it's finally dessert day, you swallow it whole like you're a python = metabolism and pleasure hormones both drop, basically negating the very thing you were looking forward to.
Conclusion: Everything we think we should embrace about dieting actually puts our bodies at a disadvantage, i.e. WHAT IS HAPPENING WHY HAS NO ONE EVER TOLD US THIS?!?
The Real Way to Diet Like a Genius
- Don't diet. Restricting, measuring, and holding certain foods in higher esteem just increases their power over you, like the One Ring getting closer to Mordor. And that whole "eat like it's a way of life" thing is also misleading since most of us don't plan on eating only lean meats, whole grains, and fresh produce until the end of days. Not calling it a diet but still holding yourself hostage to certain restrictions is still a diet.
- Listen to your body. We assume that trusting our instincts means we'll only eat sugar and carbs with the same ferocity as a Dickens orphan getting a real meal. We don't trust ourselves with ourselves. But the reality? There are foods you love that also give your body energy and nutrients. I could eat roasted broccoli and grainy toast with mashed avocado until Leonardo wins as many Oscars as Meryl, but I rarely slow down enough to hear my body asking for them. Eat what brings you pleasure no matter where it falls on the food pyramid. You'll be surprised at how well-rounded your food choices are when you just listen. Plus you're eating things that taste good to you! Imagine that...
- Eat slowly. It does two things. It encourages efficient digestion and metabolism, and it gives you the opportunity to experience the food's pleasure, i.e. your body's hormones don't get out of whack and cause fat hoarding. Just slow down, y'all. Have you ever tried to binge-eat slowly? Yeah, it doesn't happen.
- Don't label foods as "good" or "bad." If you say a hamburger is bad, every time you eat a one, you trigger a stress response in your body because your brain thinks you're doing harm to yourself. And even labeling a food as good can be dangerous. Grapefruit is "good," but if you hate it and force yourself to eat it, you're not reaping its full benefits. Food is food and not inherently good or evil.
- Be kind to yourself. We say the worst things to ourselves. If I had a friend who talked to me about my body the way I do, I'd go all Olivia Pope on her and "handle it." Instead I sit and listen to the poison coming from my own brain without flinching. No one deserves to be spoken to the way we speak to ourselves. And then to find out our self-talk makes our bodies hoard fat cells? Are you kidding me?! Kindness, friends. You are not your weight. Your value has nothing to do with how your clothes fit or the number on the scale.
I know it feels like a lot to undo. Our brains are dangerously entangled with stupid lies about dieting that we've believed to be true for so long. But here's the thing - if dieting the way we think we should doesn't work for most people, the people aren't the problem. You are not the problem. Dieting is the problem.
Aren't you tired of trying to be a genius about something that not only doesn't matter but also doesn't work? It's such a waste, like the Twitter Moments tab. Don't give up anymore of your moments by wasting them on trying to lose weight. Because guess what? Skinny people are unhappy, too. Apparently being a size two doesn't solve all of life's problems. Who knew.
Trust yourself. Listen to your body. Enjoy your food. Take your time. Be kind.
Maybe you'll lose weight and maybe you won't, but being content with who you are and not being obsessed with food sounds like a lazy diet I can get behind.
If you have more interest in the connection between our brains and our bodies, I highly recommend a podcast called "The Psychology of Eating" as well as books by its host: Nourishing Wisdom and The Slow Down Diet: Eating for Pleasure, Energy, and Weight Loss. This is a weight loss journey you'll enjoy.