15 years ago, I embarked on a health and wellness journey which resulted in a 120-pound weight loss result. If you re-read that sentence, you’ll see I didn’t say it was a weight loss journey. It wasn’t my aim to lose weight, it was my goal to improve my overall health because I was pregnant.
Previously, focusing on weight loss always backfired. I’d start a very strict regimen, only to sabotage my efforts after a week or two. This habitual pattern is displayed by Chronic Resistant Dieters, one of 3 dieting types I’ve observed over the years (more on that later). This was my pattern until I found out I was pregnant. Being pregnant forced me to look at the bigger picture regarding my health and wellness. Once I tapped into that, I easily shifted into a mindset that supported a seamless weight loss transformation.
Fast forward several years. Following my success, I became consumed with fear that I’d gain all my weight back. This fear, coupled with people’s comments regarding the loose skin on my body, triggered some unhealthy patterns of eating for the sole purpose of controlling my weight and “fixing” my perceived imperfections, rather than maintaining my health. I began falling for fad dieting narratives, which would work in the short-term, but had long-term ramifications. I developed some unhealthy habits in the name of health, only for my health to suffer in the long-run.
Years ago, at a health fair sponsored by my then employer, I talked with a dietitian about my weight loss success. She asked me about some of the strategies I was using to maintain my results. I shared some of what I was doing and included that I was swapping my unhealthy vices for “healthy” variations, like trading regular soda for diet soda.
When she heard that I was drinking diet soda, she looked concerned. She said, “Studies have shown that artificial sweeteners impact your insulin* levels the same way regular sugar does, which can lead to weight gain over time.” You know what I did with that information? I ignored it.
Yep, I flat out ignored her, because 1) I felt as though I had already given up so many of the foods I loved which made me obese to begin with and resented having to give up yet another food item; and, 2) I was addicted to soda. I used to consume at least 3 liters of Pepsi every day. Switching to diet soda seemed like a fair trade, and it worked at first. It was a step in the right direction in terms of reducing the amount of sugar I was consuming. But it didn’t address my addiction to soda. I was still feeding this addiction and refused to pay attention to the health-related ramifications of continuing to satisfy this dependency. (Read more about Diet Soda addiction here).
Years later, I realized that she was right. Despite eating well most of the time and exercising consistently, I found myself gradually gaining weight. This angered me because I was still plagued with a “black and white” narrative regarding food (I’ll address this later). This mindset results in resentment, resistance to change, and self-sabotage.
When I finally made this connection, I stopped drinking diet soda. Within my first week of doing so, I lost 4 pounds.
I still use Stevia to sweeten coffee and tea. So far studies support the theory that Stevia does not impact blood glucose levels. But even still, I use it in moderation and stay away from diet sodas. Do I miss my Coke Zero? Sometimes. Then I realize that’s all in my head. For years I satisfied my thirst with soda rather than water. The sweet taste activates the reward center of the brain. Also, my brain was trained to associate thirst with a need for soda. It may take a little time to undo that pattern, but I know from years of studying the science of behavior change, it can (and will be done). So, for now, I keep a jug or glass of water with me. Giving up diet soda has increased my water intake tremendously. Adequate water intake has a million and one benefits, one of which is weight loss!
*A note about insulin – everyone’s insulin response (or sensitivity) is different. People with higher insulin sensitivity (meaning, their body’s ability to remove sugar from the blood) may not experience the same impact from consuming sweets and sweet tasting foods (like diet soda) as someone with decreased insulin sensitivity. Diabetes Type II runs in my family, and insulin insensitivity is a precursor to the onset of this disease. Since I have a genetic predisposition for diabetes, I believe this may impact my insulin response. As such, I can gain weight more easily by consuming sugar and artificial sweeteners.
Low-Carb Fad Diets
Not all carbs are created equal, yet somehow, mass hysteria around consumption of carbs, promotion of fad diets, and the internet’s penchant for viral misinformation, has caused most people to believe that to lose weight, they need to “cut” their carb intake.
Now, reduced carb intake DOES have several benefits on body composition. Reducing added sugars and decreasing ingestion of starches can: 1) stabilize insulin levels throughout the day; 2) force the body to convert more of its stored fat for energy; 3) lessen water retention; 4) create a calorie deficit; and, 5) reduce cravings for sweet foods—all of which will result in weight loss. However, many people abuse this method for the sake of losing weight quickly. I was one of these people DESPITE KNOWING BETTER.
Why would I ignore the downsides of abusing low carb diets, even as a seasoned health coach? Well, because of that fear of gaining weight back, along with a general sense of “I’m not good enough,” and leaning on a “black/white” dieting narrative.
Reducing sugar intake alone improves health. This includes sugars added to various processed foods, yogurts, and grains. But there is no need to eliminate your intake of carbs. Whole grain foods, potatoes, rice, fruit and vegetables contain water, fiber, and valuable nutrients which improve health and feelings of satiety over time.
So, how does abusing low carb diets contribute to weight gain over time? They “can adversely affect metabolic flexibility and impair carbohydrate metabolism.” (Source) What that means is, your body’s ability to use carbs for energy weakens, so that if/when you do start consuming carbs again, they’re more likely converted to and stored as fat, causing rebound weight gain. This is especially bad if you are one of the millions of people who carry a variant in a gene called ankyrin-B. This variation “causes fat cells to suck up glucose faster than normal, more than doubling their size. When an aging metabolism or high-fat diet is added to the equation, obesity becomes all but inevitable.” (Source) Low-carb diets often result in higher fat intake to compensate for the reduction in calories. Low-carb diets are also extremely restrictive, and studies show restrictive dieting leads to increased binge eating behaviors.
When I look back on what I did to lose over 100 pounds 15 years ago, I was following the advice of my dietitian–I stuck to a low/moderate fat diet, and consumed healthy carbs. When I began implementing this practice again, the weight began to fall off of me like magic. But I know it’s not magic. Eating a healthy balance of carbs, fats, and proteins, moving your body, and maintaining a calorie deficit, those are the practical ingredients of losing weight and sustaining your results. Everything else is temporary. I think as human beings we’re impatient, controlling, and make things harder than they need to be for the sake of getting quick results. But in the long run, it’s not worth it.
It’s also not healthy.
“Black and White” Thinking
Black and white thinking is the cause of something I call “chronic resistant dieting.” Chronic Resistant Dieters have a hard time sustaining health changes because they take an “all or nothing” approach to health and wellness. They believe that to attain their desired fitness goals, they must forgo all the foods they love for the rest of their lives and live in the gym. I attribute this mentality to our overall culture and the fat-shaming messages we receive in the media.
I touched on this a little in my intro to this piece. Whenever I focused on losing weight, I couldn’t sustain my efforts because they were almost always very restrictive. But when I focused on the bigger picture, weight loss happened with ease and effortlessness.
Following my transformation, I let that old “all or nothing” narrative creep back into my attitude and that resulted in years of yo-yo dieting and rebound weight gain, DESPITE being a certified fitness professional with scientific knowledge to prove what works and what doesn’t work.
And the reason we can “know better” yet fail to “do better” is because we can’t outrun our subconscious beliefs, values, and attitudes.
I talk about these harmful beliefs in my free 3-day program, “The Diet-Free Life: Eat with Peace, Purpose and Freedom.” In this program I address the 3 most common types of chronic dieters, what they all have in common, and 3 principles for breaking free from the mental distortions keeping us stuck in patterns of chronic dieting.
As you can see, my chronic dieting pattern is Resistant. There are three patterns in total, and we often tend to carry the traits of at least 2. Find out more here.