Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard to diet? Why do we have to force ourselves to cut calories or carbs to lose weight? And why doesn’t it always work?
Most doctors, physical trainers, nutritionists and dieticians offer the same solution. It’s like the mantra of the modern age: “You’re overweight. You must be eating too much. You must not be active enough. Everything will fix itself once you start eating less and exercising more.”
It doesn’t help that this often does work… in the short term. In fact, the first couple of diets we ever go on are often our most successful, that is to say, it was painless to cut back on eating, exercise more, and the weight came off easily. By this time it’s ingrained in our heads: eating less and exercising more works. We’ve seen it work. If we’re gaining weight again it’s our problem. We must not have enough willpower, enough determination, enough drive. If we could only stick with the plan better, we’d enjoy that success again. We’d be able to lose weight and keep it off forever. If only we could stick to the plan.
Ever wonder why sticking to the plan is so hard? Most people will say it’s a matter of willpower, implying that laziness or apathy has to do with why you’re not following the eating plan or keeping up with your exercise routine. And on the surface, this seems to be the truth.
But internally there’s a different story going on. You know that frustrating feeling that your body is fighting you every step of the way while you’re dieting? Well, you’re right. To be more accurate, you’re fighting with your body, and your body is fighting back with all it’s got. Why? It’s a natural physiological response. This is the way your body responds to dieting.
Let’s play a short Q & A game:
Q: Why is your body storing more fat weight than it needs?
A: Your body thinks you really do need that fat to survive.
Q: Why would the body think it needed that much extra fat?
A: Because it’s preparing for the next famine.
Q: What famine? If there’s food everywhere I turn, where’s this supposed “famine” coming from?
A: From you. You’re telling your body there’s a famine every time you force yourself to eat less, or deny your body the nourishment it needs from a balanced diet of real food.
Doesn’t it make sense? Our bodies are designed to cope with the elements. Traditionally the most common stressors your body encountered were things like famine and cold. How does it cope when faced with these situations? By storing fat. The appetite goes up and so does fat storage, while energy levels go down so you’re not in the mood to take that three mile jog in the morning. Every single biochemical reaction in your body is then rigged to save every ounce of fat it can.
This is why diets ultimately fail. Every diet that forces your body to do the opposite of what it’s striving for will result in an even more exaggerated response. This is why it’s not uncommon to regain weight lost during a diet, plus a little extra. The body pads on a little more because it’s biochemically convinced this is what’s necessary for survival.
The key is telling your body there won’t be any more famines. There are two primary ways of doing this:
1. Eat real food. When you’re eating quality food and it’s assimilated efficiently, the body begins to receive what it needs to function at its best. This is one very important step in turning off the famine response. The presence of nutrient-dense food in the diet signals to the body that there is plenty of food available and there’s no need to pile on fat stores. Digestion is also an important part of this equation because you want to make sure the real food you eat is assimilated properly. Including raw and cultured foods in your diet on a regular basis can improve your digestive health and ensure you’re getting the most out of your food.
2. Reduce stress. Another folly of modern society is the intense level of stress most of us are exposed to, often since very early childhood. Stress induces the famine response as much as dieting. After all, the body doesn’t distinguish between types of stresses; the same biochemical reactions occur whether you’re stressed by your work, a difficult marriage, lack of real food, poor sleep habits or any number of stressors. So it’s very important to address this and take the appropriate steps to reducing and managing the stress in your life. Read more about the stress connection to weight loss here and here and here.
Without addressing these two components, a healthy body composition is virtually impossible to achieve. Plus, healthy food choices reduce stress, and reducing stress makes it easier to choose healthier food. So making one small change at a time really can add up, and the right choices will come more naturally over time. Granted, this involves patience and won’t produce results like “Lose 10 pounds in one week!” But it will set you on the path to lasting health.
This post is a part of Real Food Wednesday hosted by Kelly the Kitchen Kop.
Elizabeth is the founder and creative director at The Nourished Life. Her mission is to help people find a more balanced (less stressful!) approach to living a happy, healthy life. Read more about Elizabeth here.