Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Dieting for diabetics

There was an interesting interview on NPR a little while back, about why diets don't work.  I found this story compelling because the world, or at least my little part in it, seems obsessed right now with dieting.  I'm getting pretty sick of reading status update after status update on Facebook about dieting, exercise, and everyone's weight obsession -- usually promoting some sort of product or pyramid scheme, of course.

And I can't help but notice how no one seems to be losing weight.  Seriously.  I watch everyone I know struggle with this day in and day out, obsessively restricting calories and foods and just as obsessively working out, and no one loses any weight.  I don't think that's a coincidence.

So I was extremely interested in what Traci Mann had to say about why diets don't work:

Diets don't work for a variety of reasons, from biology to psychology. Mann points the finger, first and foremost, at human biology. "Genes," she writes, "play an indisputable role in regulating an individual's weight: Most of us have a genetically set weight range. When we try to live above or below that range, our body struggles mightily to adapt."

Second to biology, Mann blames a combination of neuroscience and psychology. Our brains are hard-wired to want food for survival, she explains, so restricting calories creates a psychological stress response, which facilitates weight gain, not loss. Also, she adds: "Studies show that willpower, the thing we all blame ourselves for not having enough of, is in many ways a mythical quality and certainly not something that can be relied upon for weight loss."
So, biologically, we all have a set point, or range, and we can't starve or jog ourselves out of that set point without causing a lot of psychological stress.

A lot of people would say that is a depressing way to look at it, but why?  It's not about our health, not really, but about society's views of what is beautiful.  Instead of focusing on what we look like, we should be focusing on health -- and toned abs, bulky muscles, and lack of cellulite have absolutely nothing to do with whether we are healthy.

So instead of dieting, Mann recommends doing things like making healthy snacks easier to get to than unhealthy snacks, taking smaller portions, using smaller plates, and eating your vegetables first at a meal, when you're the hungriest.

The thinking is that by changing the way you do things, you can create long-term, healthier habits, improving your health over the long run instead of simply losing weight in the immediate future, the way diets generally do.  In addition, you avoid the unhealthy yo-yoing back and forth that dieting causes.

Sounds like a much better plan to me!

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