How Dieting Wrecked your Self Esteem and Made you Overweight

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This article is for all serial dieters. If you’ve been dieting on and off for years yet never achieved or maintained your “goal” weight, you’ve been handcuffed to the multi-billion dollar diet industry. I’m here to tell you why you need to break free and how to do it.

Why You Need to Break Free From Dieting

If you are a perpetual dieter, in search of the latest magic weight loss diet or pill, you may be doing more harm than good.

Dieting Slows Your Metabolism
Losing weight leads to a drop in the amount of calories you burn each day so you need to cut your calories even more after you lose the weight to maintain your new weight. This happens even if you preserve muscle (each pound of muscle burns about four more calories per day then a pound of fat) (9). This is termed metabolic adaptation and the reasons for it aren’t entirely clear though the decrease in metabolism is correlated with how many calories you cut and changes in the hormone leptin. Leptin is a hormone secreted by fat cells; it helps regulate body weight and energy balance (7, 8).

The more you cut calories the more your metabolism will drop.

Rapid and massive weight loss seems to lead to the greatest drop in metabolic rate.

Though this happens, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t lose weight if needed for health reasons. However, the “Oprah” cycle of repetitive low calorie dieting followed by weight regain needs to stop.

Diets Over Promise and Under Deliver
Diets promise you’ll get ripped in no time. Research tells us you won’t lose all of the weight you expect to lose (1). And that’s ok. However, unrealistic expectations are a problem because they make you want to ditch the diet or worse, binge eat because you are pissed off that you’ve been lied to.

Reign in your expectations with these validated weight loss calculators:

Pennington Biomedical Research Center Weight Loss Calculator

USDA SuperTracker

Your Life Won’t Magically Change
Dieting tells you your entire life will get better once you lose 10 lbs. Sure, you might need to hem a few pairs of pants and your self esteem may improve a bit. However, you won’t turn into a GQ or Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition cover model. Your boss will treat you the same, your relationships won’t magically improve and everything else in your life might appear to be static if you are waiting for fireworks.

There are many times I run into people who want to lose weight and as I start asking questions and digging I realize they are attempting to control their weight and hyper control their food intake because there is something in their life that is out of control. They are transferring the focus on their body, food and exercise to calm their brain down and decrease anxiety about parts of their life that are raveling out of control.

Don’t use dieting as an excuse to avoid major life issues.

Dieting Tells You “You’re Not Okay”
Many popular diets, pills and programs marketed through airbrushed ads tell you one thing “there is something is wrong with you and this book, program or pill can help you fix it.” They are preying on your vulnerable self-esteem. Taking the bait is like jumping into a dark and depressing pit over and over, attempting to crawl out, losing your grip and getting kicked right back down. Every time you gain a little weight back or judge yourself based on the bathroom scale you’ll feel dejected.

“Where there is perfectionism there is always shame (guilt, regret, sadness),” Brene Brown.

Consistently feeding your mind with a diet of “I’m not good enough” is no way to live. Treat yourself with some respect.

“I’m not good enough” is also a mental roadblock to achieving your goals. One day you’ll have a tough day, come home and say “F this. I’m fat, I might as well eat this whole package of Milky Ways.” Next thing you know you feel like a failure and fall into the ultimate Feedback Loop from Hell. “Why can’t I stick with a diet? I suck.” Once stuck in this mindset, it’s hard to recognize there could be something wrong with the diet itself and the promises (lies) you’ve been told if you just follow it.

I’m here to say you are okay.

Letting Go of the Diet Crutch

If you’ve been dieting on and off for years, recognize that you will have some anxiety in letting go. That’s okay. There are steps you can take to combat anxiety over time and still achieve good health.

What if You Want to / Need to Lose Weight?
If you need lose weight for health reasons, yet you’ve dieted over and over in the past, without reaching your goal, it is time to do something different. Here are steps you can take to a healthier weight and life without dieting:

• Get Support – research shows people who have support are more likely to take weight off and less likely to gain it back.

• Keep in mind moderate weight loss can make a tremendous difference in health. Even small amounts of weight loss can lower blood fats (triglycerides), cholesterol, blood sugar, risk for diabetes and other chronic diseases.

• Start with exercise while focusing on the immediate benefits of exercise – improved mood, improved memory, greater self esteem.

• Be proud of small “wins.” If you haven’t exercised since recess in elementary school, it isn’t necessary to jump right into high intensity interval training three days per week. Start small and be proud of your changes along the way. Even 5 to 10 minutes of exercise each day plus one diet change will help build healthy long-term habits.

• Realize that nobody is looking at you in your bathing suit on the beach and judging your body. We are the harshest critics of ourselves. Someday you will look back and regret not wearing that bathing suit and enjoying the water.

• Go on a diet from the media. Constantly viewing “ideal” body images reduces body satisfaction. In other words, the more you look at popular magazines with airbrushed pictures the worse you will feel about yourself (2, 3, 4). This is true for both men and women.

• Find a physical trait you love and focus on it daily. You will feel better about your body when you focus on the parts of your body you like the best. Conversely, focusing on the parts of your body you do not like will increase body dissatisfaction (5).

• Check out the Happiness Trap – an empowering self-help book based on behavioral psychology.

Follow This Approach
There are two approaches to not dieting and both go hand-in-hand. The first one is Intuitive Eating. Intuitive eating breaks the dieting cycle and teaches you how to feed your body based on hunger and satiety cues. There are number of intuitive eating counselors who can help you with this.

The second approach is Body Kindness. This book is about creating a happier and healthier life. The focus is on spiraling up, the idea that your mindset and mood influences your choices and vice versa to help you stay more positive, optimistic and open to bring the best you to the world — and it has nothing to do with what you weigh. Author Rebecca Scritchfield, RDN, a former chronic dieter who broke free from the cyle of dieting and emotional overeating, believes dieting creates a downward spiral because it enhances your negative emotions. Body Kindness is based on three pillars: Love Connect Care. Make choices from a place of love, connect to your body to find out what you really need, and fully commit to your self-care plans.

I use diets, when warranted, and prescribed the right way for those who are not perpetual dieters. I do not recommend them for people who have gone on and off them for years and have a poor body image. I will never forget the time I counseled a woman in her 30s who had been on and off Weight Watchers since she was a pre-teen. She said, “it works for me.” And she was surprised at my response “no, it hasn’t worked for you because if it did you wouldn’t be sitting in front of me today.” She said she was ashamed about how she looked. My response, “let’s work on that. It’s time to let go, break free, give up emotional overeating and body shame.” That’s no way to live.

References

1 Dhurandhar EJ et al. Predicting adult weight change in the real world: a systematic review and meta-analysis accounting for compensatory changes in energy intake or expenditure. Int J Obes (Lond) 2015;39(8):1181-7.

2 Morry MM, Staska SL. Magazine exposure: Internalization, self-objectification, eating attitudes, and body satisfaction in male and female university students. Can J Behav 2001; 33: 269–279

3 Grabe S, Ward LM, Hyde JS. The role of the media in body image concerns among women: a meta-analysis of experimental and correlational studies.
Psychol Bull 2008;134(3):460-76.

4 Agliata D, Tantleff-Dunn S (2004) The impact of media exposure on males’ body image. J Soc Clin Psychol 23: 7–22

5 Smeets E, Jansen A, Roefs A. Bias for the (un)attractive self: on the role of attention in causing body (dis)satisfaction. Health Psychol 2011;30(3):360-7.

6 Lowe MR et al. Multiple types of dieting prospectively predict weight gain during the freshman year of college. Appetite 2006;47(1):83-90.

7 Zhou Y and Rui L. Leptin signaling and leptin resistance. Front Med 7: 207-222, 2013.

8 Knuth ND, Johannsen DL, Tamboli RA, Marks-Shulman PA, Huizenga R, Chen KY, Abumrad NN, Ravussin E, and Hall KD. Metabolic adaptation following massive weight loss is related to the degree of energy imbalance and changes in circulating leptin. Obesity (Silver Spring) 22: 2563-2569, 2014.

9 Johannsen DL, Knuth ND, Huizenga R, Rood JC, Ravussin E, and Hall KD. Metabolic slowing with massive weight loss despite preservation of fat-free mass. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2012; 97: 2489-2496.

Sleep – a Critical Component to Sports Performance

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Years ago hitting the gym and throwing around some steel was considered the most critical aspect of sports performance training. However, in more recent years a more comprehensive model of performance has developed based on decades of research on nutrition, sleep, psychology and several other critical components of an athlete’s training regimen. As a sports dietitian with an Exercise Science degree and CSCS, I focus mainly on food & supplements though I sometimes discuss training. But lately I’ve found that I’m also talking about the importance of sleep with my athletes. This topic comes up once I realize they are too tired to plan and prepare their food. Days of sleep deprivation also leads to poor food choices. If an athlete is tired and hungry, caring about good nutrition will be thrown on the back burner while finding food fast becomes the main priority. Quick and cheap turns into a double cheeseburger with fries. And, aside from failing to implement all aspects of their nutrition plan, skimping on sleep also interferes with an athlete’s training and performance. Studies show chronic sleep deprivation leads to:

  • decreased sub max and maximal lifts in the weight room
  • delayed visual and auditory reaction time
  • slowed decision making
  • impaired motor functioning
  • reduced endurance
  • increased fatigue, decreased energy
  • exercise feels harder than it normally is (increased rating of perceived exertion)
  • less efficient glucose metabolism
  • reduced leptin and increased ghrelin
  • decreased growth hormone secretion
  • increased risk of injury
  • elevated cortisol levels which may interfere with tissue repair and growth
  • impaired insulin sensitivity in fat cells = more fat in your bloodstream (over time this may contribute to obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease).
  • decreased production of leptin, a protein produced in fat cells that tells your brain you have enough energy (fat) stored away so there’s no need to gorge yourself on food. Low leptin = you get hungry and eat.

According to research presented by Cheri Mah,a Stanford University sleep expert:

  • one night without sleep is the equivalent of being legally intoxicated
  • 4-5 hours of sleep for 4 days = 24 hours awake = legally intoxicated
  • 4-5 hours for 10 days = 48 hours awake

Mah’s 8 Strategies to Improve Sleep and Recovery:

  1. Adults should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep. Athletes need 8-10 hours of sleep (and getting in bed at 10 and waking up at 6 doesn’t mean you are getting a full 8 hours since it takes a while to actually fall asleep).
  2. Establish a consistent sleep schedule.
  3. Sleep like a caveman. It should be dark, quiet and cool. All electronics should be off and silent (or program in numbers for emergency calls only and set your phone for these emergency calls). All small lights on electronics should be covered up as these can interfere with sound sleep.
  4. Adults should only sleep when tired. If unable to sleep after 45 minutes, it is wise to get up and do a non-stimulating activity for 15 minutes (reading) then return to bed.
  5. Establish a 20-30 min routine before bed that includes non-stimulating activity. No computers, TVs or video games.
  6. Refrain from alcohol which impairs your sleep quality and fragments sleep preventing the deep sleep that is so critical for recovery (this is why people complain of being exhausted the day after they drink).
  7. Avoid heavy food, any foods that could cause heartburn, spicy foods etc.
  8. Take 20-30 minute power naps and pre-game naps (unless these interfere with the ability to sleep at night). Mah has found this improved alertness by 54%, improved performance by 34%

Matthew Edlund, M.D. takes it even further with the notion of morning people performing better during the day, night owls performing better at night, and both having to combat jet lag (each 1 hour time zone change takes a person 1 day to adjust; this is why West Coast teams beat East Coast NFL teams on Monday Nights). Check out Edlund’s article here. Sleep affects several aspects of training and performance (as well as body weight). Any athlete who wants to feel their best and reach peak performance should take a comprehensive approach to training which includes sound sleep habits.

Is Stress Making You Fat?

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Short-term stress is good and prepares our bodies to respond to physical, emotional and psychological stress. However, long-term chronic stress has many negative effects on our bodies.

You may have heard that stress interrupts our sleep patterns, which is true. In addition to needing sleep so we feel refreshed and can think clearly, we need 7-9 hours of sound sleep a night to maintain a healthy weight. How? Sleep influences our body’s production of hormones, which influence our appetite (leptin and ghrelin).

Ghrelin is produced in the GI tract and stimulates appetite whereas leptin is produced in fat cells and tells our brain we’ve had enough to eat. Sleep less and leptin levels go down so we keep eating and eating but don’t feel satiated (full). And, like a double edged wammy, ghrelin levels rise so your appetite really kicks into full gear.  And at least one study found that men who slept less than 8 hours a night had lower levels of leptin and higher levels of ghrelin and higher body fat than those men who slept 8 hours or more per night. And, the men who slept the least weighed the most.

Aside from it’s affects on sleep, chronic stress hurts our waistline in other ways as well:

  • Triggers the constant release of cortisol, which keeps our blood sugar levels high so we have fuel to fight against stress.
  • Stimulates appetite
  • Stimulates the production of fat
  • Stimulates the enzyme lipoprotein lipase which inhibits the breakdown of fat in our body
  • Contributes to apathy, anxiety and depression. And, when we are more apathetic we don’t care what we eat. Call it soothing the soul, comfort foods or just increasing your levels of the feel good hormone serotonin through a high carb diet, this type of eating can pack on the pounds.

So, how can you de-stress? Find the root cause of your stress first and see what you can do about it. Meditate, try yoga or Tai chi. And, whatever you do, find something else to do to calm your nerves besides eating.