It's THAT time of year. January. The time of year where every Facebook post is telling you about a different diet, every TV programme is comparing diets and every women's magazine or section of a newspaper is telling you how to diet for the best weight loss possible.
Whether it's Veganuary, Dry January, 5:2, The Body Coach, Atkins, WeightWatchers or Slimming World, you've a friend on your timeline who is hollering from the rooftops that their diet is the only diet that works.
Anyone who knows Aimi and I knows that we don't promote 'diets' at Spark or in F92 Plodders; in fact discussion or promotion of specific diets in our Facebook groups is against the rules... we just don't allow it.
But why? Is it because they don't work? No...because clearly people DO lose weight on these diets and, as that's the aim, they must work.
The reason we don't like diets is because they're not designed to support YOU as an individual. Very often, they also proclaim some kind of faux science or magic as to why you lose weight on them, or they're focused on just that - weight - which is not actually (or at least shouldn't be) the focus of going on a diet; what you want is fat loss.
The other (really big) issue we have with them is that the rhetoric and literature that accompanies these diets suggests that all your value, happiness and self-worth is neatly tied up with the shape of your body and (even more specifically) how much you weigh. What they don't address is that so many of us will achieve weight loss on the diet and still feel dissatisfied with the way we look. Why? Because who we are is NOT what we weigh. Completely cutting out particular foods, categorising food into lists of good or bad, and using exercise as a punishment for eating the 'wrong' food or 'too much' food is not doing anything for the restrict-eat-guilt-restrict cycle that occurs as a result of these mindsets. All that it does create is yo-yo dieting and (funnily enough) more money for the diet industry.
So let's look at these in more detail...
Fat Loss Vs Weight Loss
Let's start with the science. If you've ever done a low carb diet, like Atkins, you'll have experienced fast, sudden weight loss. In a short time frame of 2-3 weeks, this isn't wholely fat loss. In fact after 2 weeks, you will definitely have lost weight but you may not have lost fat. How? In short (read this for a more in-depth explanation on how diets work), carbs make you store glycogen and water - fluids - when you stop eating carbs, you store less fluids, so you weigh less.
Your weight at any one time is defined by your storage of glycogen, water, food, urine, poo... yep... everything inside your body weighs something. Drink a pint of water and you'll weigh more on the scales than you did before you drank it. 'Weight' is actually relatively easy to lose if you know how, it's just not actually what you want your focus to be!
For this reason, when you focus on weight you won't necessarily see linear progress; despite this most diets out there get you to measure yourself in this way - weekly 'weigh-ins' which leave you feeling great if you lose and guilty if you don't. You feel bad, blame yourself and sometimes even give up. Yet, despite not losing any weight you may have actually achieved what you were looking for - you may have lost fat!
Diets give us such a short time frame and as such offer not only unrealistic expectations but also research into ex-dieters tells us that the majority of people who lose the pounds quickly, only go on to put that same weight, plus more back on again. If you have to keep repeating a diet, does it really 'work'?
There's no magic or 'better way'
Of course, it is possible to lose fat on a diet and, if you remain consistent and stick to the 'rules' for a committed time, you will achieve this. The most important thing to know is that EVERY diet that results in fat loss, achieves this in exactly the same way...
DIETS CREATE A CALORIE DEFICIT.
That's right... no matter what the rules, they are there to ensure that you are eating in a calorie deficit; that you consume less calories than you expend.
a) 5:2 - A restriction to 800 calories a day twice a week creates an overall deficit.
b) Atkins - removing sugar and satiable carbs that are easy to overeat from your diet creates an overall deficit.
c) Slimming World - removing fat from your diet (anything with a higher content of fat in it requires you to 'Syn' it) creates an overall deficit
d) Juice diet - Does this really need saying? You're ONLY drinking juice... you're creating an overall deficit!
The reason we don't promote these is because every single one of these diets requires you to cut a food group from your diet. Some of you will find this really suits you, but it doesn't suit everyone and it's definitely not what they promote - one size fits all, this diet works for everyone, if you can't lose weight on it YOU'RE doing something wrong!
The other problem we have with these diets is the image they perpetuate. Women, in particular, are encouraged to become smaller, lighter, lesser. The more you can shrink the better. Images of skinny women are used to show us way we 'should' look, and 'before and after' photos of successful dieters are used for us to compare ourselves so we can continue to pick at the parts of ourselves that don't match up. You're not good enough and that's why you need the diet.
Except you are. Your weight, your shape, your body fat doesn't define who you are in any way at all. And becoming smaller and lighter won't make you feel any better about yourself than you do right now; it won't create an improved version of you; it won't stop you staring at the mirror and feeling dissatisfied with what you see.
The only thing that will change that is the way you choose to value yourself and that's going to take work. You need to change the way you speak to yourself about yourself - so stop grabbing your 'mum pouch' with disgust every time you look in the mirror. You're also going to have to change the way you speak about yourself - so stop defining yourself as fat; you must have seen this meme, right?!
You're also going to have to stop comparing yourself to unrealistic instagram models... not only do they not look that way all year round, but lighting, filters and posing all create a very different image on the screen to the one in reality. Don't believe me, check out this Insta-lady who posts the difference in her own body.
Finally, you're going to have to accept that your body will look a different way depending on the time of day, the time of the month(ladies), and even the time in your life. Trust me, a big meal and a few beers and my tummy could pass for a second trimester bump!
Start to appreciate your body for what it has done, what it's doing and what it's capable of doing.
Fat Loss AND body positivity
The body positivity movement has gained a lot of traction in the past couple of years and there are now as many women on instagram promoting the 'healthy at any size' mantra as there are promoting the 'nothing tastes better than skinny' line. These are the polarising opposites and I don't subscribe to the former any more than I do the latter. Why? Because there's no reason why you can't 'love your body' AND seek to improve it. Why do we have to punish ourselves for not being at our goal now? If you wanted to learn a new language, would you berate yourself constantly, restrict yourself from anything fun or nice, punish yourself for not learning as quickly as your friend, as you undertook that journey? No, of course not. You'd know that it would take time and that not being able to speak an additional language right now doesn't make you any less of a person. You'd focus on the goal, and take the necessary, logical steps to achieve it.
IF you don't look the way you want to. IF you want to be able to run for a bus effortlessly. IF you want to fit into that gorgeous dress in the back of the wardrobe. IF you want to look different naked... there's nothing wrong with that either. BUT you don't have to hate where you are now in order to get there. And the best thing about it is, if you are kind to yourself on the way you'll not only enjoy the process a whole lot more but you'll also really appreciate it when you reach your goal.
Strong, Fit, Nourished
If you really want to better yourself aim to get strong. Aim to be as fit as you can be. Aim to nourish your body so you can live a long and happy life free from disease. Aim to value yourself as someone who deserves to be taken care of and use food and exercise as a way to do that.
Run because you want to feel amazing and you know it'll make your heart and lungs stronger, forget the number of calories you burn.
Then eat because you want to fuel your body so you CAN run better, play with your kids and look different naked!
Lift weights because you love the muscle tone it creates on your body, because you love the way it changes your shape and because you love the way you now feel like a proper ninja because you're so strong!
Then eat because you want to fuel your body so you CAN lift more, become a badass ninja and look different naked!
Fat loss shouldn't be a punishment and it doesn't have to come with the proviso to hate the way you are now. With some work, it's truly possible to appreciate everything about you now and still work on further improvements... after all, nobody's perfect!