Diet is one of my least favorite words in the dictionary, but it’s probably not for the reason you think. This word irritates me because of how our society has changed its meaning.
Over the years, we’ve turned the word “diet” into a bad word, synonymous with restriction or elimination. When we say or hear “diet,” it often evokes a negative feeling and makes us feel as if we’re missing out on something.
In actuality, diet simply refers to the food and drink that we consume throughout our day. Whether you’re nibbling on a salad or throwing back pizza and beer, you have a diet. What you decide to put into your body is what makes the difference between a diet and dieting.
My Love-Hate Experience with Dieting
When I started reassessing the food that I consumed every day, I made the mistake of falling into a “diet mentality.” Here’s how I got started:
- For the first month, I restricted my intake to 1,000 calories per day then increased it 100 calories every month after for four months (stopping when I got to 1,400 calories).
- I only allowed myself to eat more if I had performed vigorous exercise, like running, dancing, or hot yoga. If I had, I was allowed to consume as many calories as I had burned.
- I logged every ingredient in my meals so that I could see how much I was consuming in calories and macros (grams of protein, carbs, and fats).
- I drank at least eight 8 oz. glasses of water every day.
- I weighed myself once a week and logged my weight to see my progress.
After one month, I lost 4 pounds. The next month I lost another 3 pounds. During the next two months, I lost 2 pounds each. In total, I lost 11 pounds in four months, but then I started to hit a wall.
During the next year, my weight fluctuated. I was mentally fatigued from always worrying about the food I was eating and not being able to enjoy small treats, like grabbing a doughnut at work. I was 25 and feared going out to eat or to the bar with friends because I’d have to log it in my calorie tracker and face the facts. It was a double-edged sword. On one hand, I wanted to hold myself accountable, but on the other hand, the guilt and regret I felt from letting myself indulge was almost unbearable.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to stick to my health goals if I didn’t change something. I tried taking the weekends off from tracking. I tried focusing on balancing my macros instead of only looking at calorie intake. I ended up tracking my calories and macros for three and a half years before I finally had to call it quits. In the end, it helped me better understand nutrition and the affect it has on my physical and mental health as well as the importance of a regular exercise schedule.
3 Things I Learned about a Healthy Diet
Logging every single ingredient of every meal was eye-opening for me and something I 100% recommend everyone else trying for at least a week. (You’ll be surprised how those quick trips to the refrigerator add up.)
Today, I follow more of an intuitive eating regimen. Every meal I eat has ate least three different colors (unless I’m drinking a protein shake), and I dabble with an intermittent fasting schedule, where I eat between 12 p.m. – 6 p.m. I consume at least 100 oz. of water every day, and drink black coffee as well as green and herbal tea in between meals. Most importantly, I keep chocolate almond milk and a scoop of peanut nearby when I’m dying to have a treat.
Ultimately, I gave up tracking my macros and calories daily for two reasons:
- I felt I learned enough about the foods that worked well with my body and how to eat a balanced diet.
- The guilt factor of occasionally going out to eat or getting dessert was becoming unhealthy.
I learned that a diet needs to have three key qualities in order to make it a successful lifelong habit.
Diets need to be flexible.
Unless you have a personal chef on hand, there is always going to be a point in time when you’re going to have to grab a bite to eat while you’re out. Whether you’re traveling, out with friends, or just simply want to try that new restaurant that just opened up, your diet is going to need to be flexible, but if you’ve taken the time to educate yourself about nutrition, you’ll be able to make smarter choices without the guilty conscience.
Diets need to be sustainable.
Trying the latest fad diet or Arbonne supplements isn’t likely to be the best way to maintain a healthy diet. Make learning about food fun by researching new recipes that incorporate a variety of colorful foods (read: fruits and vegetables), and log the recipes into a calorie counter to learn about individual foods and how many grams of proteins, carbs, and fats are in each one. Understanding how to prepare and cook foods that are healthy is not only more cost effective but is also beneficial to know as you continue refining what foods and drinks you consume.
Diets aren’t all about weight.
This may be the most important learning lesson of them all. Looking back, I wish I had factored my mental health into the equation when I approached my weight loss plan because the way you think about the food and drinks you consume can completely alter your lifestyle. Getting out of the diet mentality is critical to success. Instead, consider how changing what you eat affects your energy levels, sleep quality, and other behaviors that affect your day-to-day life.