It’s January! It’s a time of year where there is a big focus on resolutions, goals and ways to improve your health.
One of the most common ways people think they can improve their health is by going on a diet.
But I have to level with you: going on a diet should NOT be part of the goal to improve your health.
- increases stress on the body by depriving it of the energy it needs and by-passing your body’s signals. Chronic stress has a negative impact on your immune system.
- causes increased cravings for foods you’ll be depriving yourself of – and what you’ll likely do at some point is binge on them (or continuously graze in a fog of mindless eating). These foods (usually the high-sugar high-fat foods) aren’t bad for you to eat alongside a variety of other foods. It’s only unhealthy if that’s all you eat. And this black and white on-again off-again cycle isn’t good for your mental or physical health.
- causes weight cycling (yo-yo-ing) in almost all people who diet and this has been linked to cardio-vascular disease, stroke, diabetes, immune function and early death.
- encourages over-exercising (by not listening to your body) which is also stressful on the body – and can also compromise your immune system! When the backlash to the diet happens (and it almost always does) this also means exercise goes down the drain too. This doesn’t support health…
I think I know the words on your lips right now… but I have to lose weight for my health! You may even have been told this by your doctor. If the above hasn’t convinced you that dieting isn’t going to make you healthier, then perhaps this will:
- There’s no evidence that weight loss prolongs life.
- Most people regain the weight they lose through dieting – and the majority regain to a higher weight. This is an evolutionary safe-guard against death by famine. So IF being smaller really was going to make you healthier (and there’s no evidence of that) then dieting isn’t the way to go about it because within a year to 5 years, it’ll have had the opposite effect.
If you really want to improve your health, there are evidence based things that you can do, if you have the means.
If not dieting, then what?
Evidence suggests that, in terms of what’s in our direct control, health-promoting behaviours are what improve health, regardless of the impact on one’s weight.
What are those behaviours?
- Surprise surprise, washing hands!
- Practising safe sex
- Not smoking
- Drinking alcohol within government guidelines
- Moving your body in ways you enjoy and that honour any limitations you have
- Getting enough sleep
- Eating fruit and vegetables
- Being hydrated – but not over-hydrated! Go on your thirst cues and the colour of your pee (dark means drink!)
- Get regular check-ups
- Floss your teeth (gum disease can cause all sorts of health problems)
Remember that your body is a whole system. The separation between mental and physical health is not a real one. Hormones impact emotions, thoughts and behaviours. Exercise impacts memory and mood. Psychological stress impacts the immune system and so on – it’s all connected.
So if you’re concerned about your health, pay attention to your mental health too!
- Get support for psychological stress (formally or informally) if you possibly can
- Connect with people in any way you can
- Explore what interests you and generates feelings of calm, peace, inspiration, excitement and joy – and do those things
I bet you already are aware of many or all of these recommendations. They’re not very sexy, I know. Going on a diet is probably more appealing, because it gives you a sense of taking massive action and a false sense of control.
Health is a long game. And my experience is that small, consistent actions, practised over the long term are more likely to be sustainable and support your overall health outcome. And… there are no guarantees! Sorry to throw that cold water on you, but it’s true.)
Do you want to stop struggling with food and eating?
I help my clients create a joyful and sustainable relationship with food and deal with their eating issues. Learn more about hiring me as your coach.