What are you focusing on in 2021? Close to 70% of Americans are overweight or obese, with 38% reported trying to lose weight in 2019 (1). There were probably not this many during the covid year of 2020!The numbers aren’t in for this past lockdown year but diet culture is still an enormous part of annual expenditures. An astonishing 72 billion dollars is spent annually on weight loss products (2)including diets – DIY or programs, diet pills, diet products, gym equipment and memberships.
Fads are also part of the diet culture in the continued quest for the perfect approach, whether it’s keto, low carb, magic juice or herbal supplements. If we’re spending so much on weight loss why are so many Americans still overweight?
There are many reasons Americans are overweight including the 24/7 availability of unlimited foods, genes, hormones, gut bacteria, activity level, general lifestyle and medical conditions along with meds to name a few.
Another reason is how we think about weight loss and diets. A common thought process of diet thinking that typically backfires is dichotomous which means an “all or nothing” or “on/off the diet” thinking pattern. Generally speaking being “on” the diet means restricting and losing weight and “off” the diet means eating whatever and how much of foods desired. Restrictive dieters tend to end up gaining the weight back over time (3) with lowered self esteem and confidence since restrictive diets are not easy or pleasurable to stick with long term.
A more realistic and long term approach is to focus on health rather that the number on the scale along with learning to develop and make small sustainable changes over time. This means the scale is not the only sign of success and instead a focus on energy levels, mood, how clothes are fitting and overall vitality come into focus. And what a relief not to bow to the scale god anymore!
While the weight might not come off as fast, the weight that is lost tends to stay off over time. Here are some tips to consider for the health over diet approach.
- Find tried and true healthy meals and snacks that work for your lifestyle. Aim for the 3-5-7 plan of 3 breakfast, 5 lunch and 7 supper choices to begin with that are easy, healthy and enjoyable. Add more choices over time.
- Bounce back quickly. Getting off track with food and activity is NORMAL! Instead of beating yourself up about it and giving up, look objectively at what happened and get back on track quicker.
- Monitor portions. No matter the situation or type of food, portions are something you can always take control of. American culture teaches us to stuff ourselves but focus on filling to 80% fullness which means eating until satisfied instead of stuffed.
- Add in splurges. Life will always include times when you may not eat as healthy – instead of cheating and being “bad”, think of it as a splurge or treat which is something we all deserve. The 90/10 or 80/20 rule can give you more accountability – if you eat 3 meals/7 days a week = 21 meals, this means 2-4 treat meals and 1-2 treat snacks per week is still an 80-90% healthy meal range!
- Find physical movement you enjoy. Our bodies were designed to move and finding ways you enjoy movement make it a pleasure instead of a punishment. Walking, dancing, stretching/yoga, strength training as well as active chores – gardening, washing the car, mopping, raking leaves are all ways to get more active.
- Celebrate non scale victories – the scale is not the major sign of success when health is the goal. Energy levels, being able to do more, less meds, clothes getting too big, lower blood pressure or blood sugar are all non-scale victories that help promote improved health.
- Focus on weight maintenance when stress is high or feeling burned out. Losing weight takes time and energy and sometimes in life our time and energy is necessary for other things. If life is throwing non stop challenges, time and energy is diverted. Focusing on weight maintenance can help keep you feeling more stable until the stress lessens.
Focusing on overall health is also better for mental health since it’s a priority of self care and feeling better overall instead of feeling good when losing and feeling bad when gaining weight. If you’re on the diet culture rollercoaster, take yourself off by changing your mindset to focusing on health instead of weight. Losing weight can still be a goal but its part of a more holistic approach to your health that can last a lifetime.