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By Shari Wright
West Virginia National Guard Dietitian
In the spirit of the upcoming holiday (eating) season, I wanted to talk about all or nothing “dieting”. Spoiler alert, eating well isn’t all or nothing. Going to an event doesn’t give you freedom to eat as though there’s no tomorrow and massively restricting your intake the rest of the year won’t save your waist line.
One of the most common things I see as a dietitian is weirdly that people don’t eat enough, when dieting of course. I do see a lot of motivated people who get excited about living a healthy lifestyle. Sometimes that motivation causes people to feverishly attend gym sessions six days a week and eat 1200 calories a day. For some reason 1200 is the magic number, I see this regardless of size, gender, or weight loss goals. My challenge is to get people to think about why they’re doing that specific diet and exercise combo and make a long-lasting plan that fits each person. Feel bad for me yet? Well you should! It’s tough.
Let me be clear in saying if you have a severe medical condition that needs a drastic diet and your doctor said 1200 calories or death – you are not the people I’m talking about. Medical nutrition therapy is needed in some weight loss cases and the situation may be grave without it. However, if you have some weight to lose and want to get in better shape, a long-term lifestyle plan is what is needed. A deprivation diet for a brief period so old habits can return once we drop a few pounds, is not. Yoyo dieting isn’t healthy in any way shape or form and that’s what happens when you pick random diets and stick to them for a short time. It’s a lifestyle, not a quick fix. Yoyo dieting can actually lead to an increase in fat mass and make it harder to lose the weight each time you diet.
First things first, do we like going to the gym six days a week? Invariably I hear, no, I hate it! Then why are we doing it? Why aren’t we finding a way to move our bodies that we enjoy! That’s how you stay fit, you like it. You may not like it every single day of your life but you definitely don’t hate it either. I, for example, run, sounds terrible right! I love it! I trail run, I meet a friend most Sundays to run, I sign up for races when possible, love it. Running fits my life so I do it. That is what we should be looking for, something we truly enjoy.
On to the 1200 calories (I took a deep breath and shrugged a little as I typed that sentence). Consuming too few calories can actually cause harm in various ways. I don’t mean a small caloric deficit, I mean an extreme calorie restriction. If you consume too few calories not only are you at risk to regain the weight (if any is lost) you may be at risk for muscle loss. Muscle mass actually increases metabolic rate, we need the muscle! Too few calories can cause fatigue, lead to possible nutritional deficiencies, in extreme cases can cause infertility and decrease bone density. I’ve seen what poor dieting does and have witnessed people struggling with infertility due to dietary restrictions. We all know what happens when we get too many calories, it’s a balance.
If you want to lose weight healthfully and start an exercise program you enjoy, you need a plan to build muscle and eat quality foods. If you have no clue what that means start with the basics: fruits, veggies, nuts, beans, seeds and avoid the junk (ultra-processed stuff), at least for the most part. I’m never in the business of telling folks they can’t enjoy pizza or cake periodically. In terms of exercise, if you feel you hate running, try a different type, hit those trails I was talking about, run some hills, you never know what you might enjoy if you don’t try. Give HIIT (high-intensity interval training) a try as well, you get a lot of bang for your buck with that type of workout. If you need help with lifestyle modification, feel free to contact me!
Shari Wright Pettit MS, RDN, LD
Phone: (304) 352-3620
Cell: (304) 719-8064
Facebook Blog @ShariWrightPettitRDN
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