The Opposite of a Diet
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/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2023

The Opposite of a Diet

If you are a person who has tried dieting or exercising to lose weight without long-term success, you are not alone. Placing a lot of emphasis on diet and exercise or putting yourself under a lot of pressure to change all at once, especially for superficial reasons (like reaching a specific weight or size), can backfire.

“Many people find themselves in a cycle of over adherence to the unrealistic rules of their diet or exercise plan followed by overindulgence and guilt,” said Kristin Irace, RD, a registered dietitian at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. “The guilt fuels recommitment to plan, and the cycle continues, sometimes for many years. Even if someone is acting in the name of health, this cycle can actually do more harm than good.”

What if we were to try the opposite behavior instead? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Reinforce positivity. “If you are accustomed to criticizing yourself, this may be difficult at first; but try giving yourself a compliment about how you look,” said Lori Vadakin, Director of Outpatient Mental Health and Substance Use at United Counseling Service.Monitor your interior monologue. Reverse negativity you hear about yourself and others,” Vadakin adds. Be aware of the media to which you expose yourself. Get more of media sources that support body inclusivity and steer clear of those that portray larger people in a negative way.

Let enjoyment be your guide. Plan a few favorite meals. Try a new recipe for fun. Get a food you’ve never tried before, just out of curiosity. Don’t worry about whether the food is typically labeled “healthy” or “unhealthy.” “When foods are entirely unrestricted, you may find yourself judging what to eat based on how nourishing it is in a wholistic sense,” said Irace. “which is a fantastic way to decide whether or not to eat it.”  

Note: People with certain health conditions—like diabetes and congestive heart failure—put themselves at serious risk by disregarding their prescribed diets. It may take a little more effort, but find ways to enjoy foods that meet your specific nutritional needs. For help, contact your primary care provider for a referral to a registered dietitian.

Apply the same principle to exercise. “How do you feel when you do nothing but sit on the couch? Not very good, I expect,” said Dawn Petit, PTA, a physical therapy assistant who works with patients at Twin Rivers Medical, P.C. in Hoosick Falls, NY, and SVMC Northshire Campus in Manchester, VT. “How do you feel when you make yourself exercise out of obligation? That’s no fun either.”

To start, just do fun stuff, whether it’s associated with exercise or not. Visit a museum on a free day, go to a sporting event, make some art, invite friends for a game night... Be yourself and do what you love. “Then, begin trying new things. Doing so may lead you to one of the many forms of movement you may genuinely like. The goal is to have fun and feel alive,” said Petit.

Forsake numbers as measures of health. “It is possible to be healthy even at a body weight or size that falls outside the medically recommended range,” said Lisa Downing-Forget, MD, an internal medicine physician at SVMC Internal Medicine. Rather than paying attention to the scale, focus on other measures of wellness, like getting good sleep, managing stress, fostering healthy relationships, and feeling great. “If you must rely on numbers, use blood pressure, A1C, and blood cholesterol as measures,” said Downing-Forget. “Eating and moving with joy may put healthy levels well within reach, regardless of your size or weight.”

Goal setting. A lot of people associate success with achieving goals. Toxic diet culture manipulates this quality by encouraging you to set a weight- or size-related goal. “Instead, let’s associate our goals with enjoyment and feeling great,” said Irace. A SMART goal might be something like this: I will try a new food or a new activity every week,” or “I will aim for 64 ounces of water 5 out of 7 days this week.”

Banish guilt. You are a human being aiming to have a fun and fulfilling life.Instead of thinking of yourself as a judge handing down punishments, consider yourself a scientist,” said Vadakin. “Scientists approach their work with curiosity. They don’t berate themselves if the experiment doesn’t go as planned. They learn as they go.”

Every choice you make is a part of a massive experiment. It either makes you feel good or not. “Knowing the right time to eat one food over another or do an activity or not is highly nuanced. It takes practice,” said Irace. “Repeat those actions that make you feel genuinely good, while moderating those that leave you feeling less well. Learn as you go.”

If you find ways to love and respect yourself as you are and to choose fun and feeling great, you are going to have an amazing 2023.

Lori Vadakin MA, LADC, is director of CRT, Outpatient and Substance Use Services at United Counseling Service in Bennington. 

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