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Mindful Eating: Ditching Diet Culture

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Healthy foods and mindful eating sign

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention we spend A LOT of money on diets. Approximately 60 million Americans spend about $30 billion per year on diets, supplements and other tools touted to drive weight loss. In fact, in 2022 nearly 40% of New Year’s resolutions were based on weight loss.

Given the amount of interest, money, time and energy being invested in creating weight change, consider these questions before taking any next step:

  • Does this diet or strategy prioritize health for both your body and your mind?
  • What kind of weight is being lost? Preserving muscle (your heart is a muscle, too) should always be a goal.
  • Is it sustainable for you? The “best” diet is one you can sustain and maintain given your unique lifestyle.

Thin does not equal healthy
Keep in mind being thin doesn’t always equal healthy. In Cooper Fitness Center’s summer Fit & Fun Camps for kids, we talk with campers about fueling their bodies to be healthier, stronger, leaner, faster, smarter and happier. To achieve that, the Cooper prescription includes committing to:

  • An evidence-based, varied and “colorful” eating pattern
  • Movement and exercise
  • Consistent sleep
  • Nurturing strong social connections

At Cooper Clinic, we also encourage small, regular changes that can lead to the 1-2 pounds of sustainable weight loss per week—a recommendation that helps preserve muscle and overall health. While there can be increased risks for those who carry excessive weight, people who are thin should not assume they are immune to health issues or that they don’t need to follow a healthy eating pattern.

Good or bad?
Today’s diet culture, fueled by TV, magazines and social media, would have us believe certain foods are “good” or “bad” (and imply we are “good” or “bad” for eating them). This is simply not true. All foods can fit into a healthy eating pattern and a registered dietitian nutritionist can help guide you on how to make them fit in a way that aligns with your diagnosis or health and fitness goals. And as a gentle reminder, there is no “right” body size. Our bodies vary considerably based on genetics, family history, race, age and ethnicity.

Red flags
When considering a dietary strategy, the following “red flags” can alert you to what will likely be an unsustainable effort and an ineffective use of your time and resources. The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics along with its British counterpart, the British Dietetic Association, encourage us to watch out for:

  1. Claims of a magic bullet for weight loss. If a diet claims to offer a magic bullet that will result in weight loss without any real lifestyle change, it's likely a fad and should be avoided.
  2. Severely limiting entire food groups. If a diet tells you to cut out entire categories of macronutrients such as carbs or fat, it may not only be unbalanced from a nutrition perspective, but could also be hard to maintain.
  3. Rapid weight loss. If a diet promises drastic weight loss in a short period of time, it's likely to be unsustainable. The safe recommendation is to strive for 1-2 pounds of weight loss per week.
  4. Detox plans. Unless someone is critically ill, our bodies are capable of detoxing naturally via our organs—specifically the kidneys and liver.
  5. “Fat-burning” foods instead of exercise. The only way to lose fat is create a subtle calorie deficit, consuming less energy than your body burns over the course of the day. To counteract a slowing metabolism—and improve sleep and mood—exercise and the maintenance of muscle mass are necessary components of any health strategy.
  6. A lack of scientific supporting evidence. If the diet can't link to a body of evidence-based scientific research (a consensus or meta-analysis is preferable) to support its claims, then it is wise to steer clear and invest your valuable time and energy into a plan that does.
  7. Questionable sources. A recent survey of 2,000 adults by CharityRx says 1 in 5 Americans consult TikTok for health advice before their doctor while 33% turn to YouTube and 37% to influencers. There are so many details and possible consequences that only a medical professional can comprehensively address, so before making any major decisions, make an appointment with your doctor or a registered dietitian nutritionist to discuss the best plan for YOU!

Healthy eating habits for life!
Changing your diet to meet weight or other health goals does not mean rigid restriction or food deprivation. A mindful eating practice that focuses on slowing down while eating, giving some thought to food choices that both taste good and support your health goals is possible. Small sustainable additions and substitutions will help you maintain a healthy body weight and nutrition plan for the long run!

Article provided by Meridan Zerner, MS, RDN, CSSD, LD, CHWC, and Cooper Clinic Nutrition.