Ack! Any woman who's ever tried to lose weight can identify with those three little letters. Standing on a scale, reaching for a donut or trying on a bathing suit all bring that familiar refrain to mind.
Even though I was never a big fan of the comic strip Cathy, it still made a big impression on me. In fact, thinking back, my impression of what a diet was supposed to be mainly came from Cathy's continual struggles to maintain one. A diet, according to the Cathy universe, is when you stop eating everything fun. Of course, you can't keep this up for long. Sooner or later, when you are tired of depriving yourself, you'll break down and reach for that donut, and then, because it's been so long, you'll eat another, and another, and when the whole box is gone you'll remember why donuts aren't so much fun after all. Then you'll feel guilty and go stand on a scale. Ack!
What if this idea of a diet as deprivation never even entered our minds? There's nothing in the word that's inherently bad. Merriam Webster defines diet as "habitual nourishment." That sounds like a good thing! Who doesn't want to be habitually nourished?
Dr. James O. Hill, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado in Denver, explains that while cutting calories helps a person lose weight, the best way to keep that weight off is to make moderate, long term, realistic changes.1 Dr. Hill co-founded the National Weight Control Registry and has been studying the habits of people who successfully stay at their target weight for fifteen years. His advice is to eat high-fiber, low-fat foods while maintaining a regular exercise routine. Eating a plant-based diet is a great way to meet Dr. Hill's diet criteria, and starting a garden or helping at your local school or community garden would be a great way to get your exercise.
Plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains are naturally high in fiber and low in saturated fats. The American Heart Association confirms that vegetarian diets are "usually lower than non-vegetarian diets in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol" and lead to a lower risk of obesity.2 In addition, the AHA assures that you can get all the essential and non essential amino acids needed for protein formation from plant sources. Plus, vegetarian diets are fun! Fresh, organic fruits and veggies are sources of a delicious variety of new colors, tastes and aromas.
Try a root bake with purple sweet potatoes, orange yams and red beets tossed with olive oil and garlic, or a breadfruit and banana pudding with coconut milk. For a main dish, taking the meat off the plate makes more room to experiment with healthy alternatives like lentil loaf, crunchy yuba BLT's or tofu scramble.
To see a great collection of vegetarian recipes check out the Recipe page on Down to Earth's website.
The most important thing to remember is not to psych yourself out by setting unrealistic goals. Many doctors stress that even modest weight loss can have a beneficial effect on your health. Losing as little as four and a half pounds can significantly lower blood pressure. Study participants who lost ten pounds reported a 20-30% reduction in aches and pains.3 Losing ten percent of your body weight can alleviate sleep apnea. Finally, sustained weight loss can balance blood sugar levels, correct structural heart damage and decrease risk of developing diabetes.4
So next time you're starting to panic about your weight, take a deep breath and remember that the goal of losing weight is to support your health. You don't have to be a bikini model tomorrow, and if you take even a small step in the right direction today, your body will thank you for it. (See more of Caitlin's writings and commentaries by other thoughtful writers by visiting "Let's get down to earth" a blog by Mark Fergusson and friends: http://www.downtoearth.org/blog )