It’s almost that time of year again. January 1st marks the beginning of a new year, and for many, an opportunity for change. With the two biggest indulgent, food oriented holidays of the year behind us, the beginning of the new year is the perfect time to wipe the slate clean and make those new years resolutions. The most common new year’s resolutions have to do with our health; weight loss goals, giving up smoking or drinking, exercising, and dieting. But as many of us know all too well, sometimes those goals are easier said (on New Year’s) than done.
With over 1/3 of the US population considered obese  and even more overweight, probably all of us have been on a diet at one point or another. For most, the word diet evokes feelings of mental anguish and deprivation. When people think of diets they think of calorie restriction, eating salads, and making the switch to flavorless “diet” and low calorie products. To add insult to injury, while you eat your plain salad and aspartame ridden, cardboard-flavored “diet” food products, you must deal with the inner torment and yearning for the foods you once loved. For many, the thought of seeing someone else eating the food you really want is simply too painful to bear, and while on our diets we turn ourselves into reclusive hermits, counting the days until our captivity ends.
Which brings me to my second problem with the word diet- the implication that diets are temporary. Often times the diets people go on are so unbearable they don’t last more than a few months. Feelings of relief that the diet has ended usually leads to a rebounding of poor choices that causes the person to eat especially unhealthy foods, and thus the stage is set for the weight to come back on hard and fast. This called yo-yo dieting; periods of diet and exercise induced weight loss followed by periods of falling off the wagon and weight gain. This fluctuation is not only counter-productive because it typically leads to weight gain over time, but it’s downright unhealthy. The psychological and physical stress of yo-yo dieting may very well be more deleterious than being at a constantly unhealthy weight. That is why it is crucial to identify areas for improvement from past experiences, make a plan, and take the steps that will help you achieve your goals.
Dieting doesn’t have to be torture, because torture is merely a state of mind. If we can all learn to feel empowered by our choices, rather than imprisoned by them, we can start on the road toward true health. Of course the first step toward changing how we diet is to change how we define the word diet. There are four primary definitions of the word diet on the merriam-webster dictionary website , only one of which fits the profile I just painted. I much prefer this definition:
Two words. At first glance this definition is so simple, but in truth it represents so much more than those two little words ever hoped to convey. To fully understand and appreciate these two words we need to shift how we see our food as well as our relationship with that food.
Habitual. Many of us don’t realize that our eating patterns are, in fact, quite habitual; something that is done with regularity and predictability. Yes, it’s easier to look at that trip to Burger King in isolation (“one burger is no big deal”), but if you look back on the last few months can you pick up on a habit? Maybe it’s not always BK. Maybe it’s that popcorn every time you go to the movies, that desert when you went out to eat with friends, those sodas every time you gas up your car, or the constantly stocked stash of Betty Crocker in the pantry. Sure, no one thing is a big deal on it’s own and hardly constitutes a habit, but make no mistake- this is still a habit and your body is still feeling the effects of this pattern.
Nourishment. All too often we forget that that which we consume has a greater purpose- to nourish us. Each and every day our cells replicate, get injured, heal themselves, live and breathe. Their busy lives require a multitude of different vitamins, minerals, amino acids, anti-oxidants and other nutrients… none of which can be found in it’s usable state in the vast majority of the “food” on grocery store shelves. Putting unhealthy food into your body is like putting WD40 into your car’s gasoline tank. Sure, it’s still a petroleum-based liquid and given enough of it your car might even make it a few miles down the street, but you know it’s not the proper fuel for your car. Just as using improper fuel in your car will cause it to age and breakdown prematurely, so the same will happen to your body if you don’t give it the nourishment it needs.
So, as you consider your goals for the new year I hope that you re-think your definition of the word diet. Make the healthy changes in your life positive and long-lasting, not torturous and short-lived. Your 2013 self will thank you for it.
Looking forward to 2013.
Nikki Cyr, D.C.