LSR #2: Dodging Diets

An estimated 75 million Americans diet each year, contributing to an over $70 billion industry.  – U.S. Weight Loss & Diet Control Market

Dieting first gained mass appeal in 1829 when Reverend Sylvester Graham launched the Graham diet. By limiting caffeine and meat and snacking on graham crackers, the plan promised to stave off added pounds and masturbation. (Yes, you read that right.) Since then, the weight loss industry has grown into a $70 billion-per-year industry, with an estimated 75 million Americans dieting at any given time. And the methods are no less whacky.

Regardless of the plan, more than 95 percent of dieters gain lost weight back (and usually more) within five years. Many of us have heard a rendition of this statistic. So why are more people dieting than ever before?? So glad you asked!!! 😉

Some of the reasons:

1) We’re bombarded with images of “perfect” bodies—physiques unattainable to most of us, including the models and celebrities depicted.
2) The diet industry invests millions of dollars into research on consumer palatability. (What will make us buy, and keep buying, particular plans and products?)
3) We live in an instant gratification society. We want results and want them NOW.
4) Food is more available and flavorful than ever before. Most low-nutrient foods are cheap. And many of us are sedentary. Overeating and inactivity lead to weight gain, which leads to dieting, which leads to MORE weight gain…
6) Diets seem exciting, and a balanced diet paired with exercise, bo-ring.
7) Dieting can seem like a solution not only to our weight problems, but ALL of our problems. (“I’d be happy/beautiful/successful if I just lose __ pounds…”)
8) Many diets are disguised as “lifestyle plans.” So even when we know the risks and failure rate of DIETS, we can be led astray.

Dieting contributes depression, stress, binge eating, a slowed metabolism, weight gain, obesity, nutrient deficiencies, bone loss, memory loss, insomnia, low self esteem, heart problems and more. Why is dieting so harmful? Yet another GREAT question. 😉

Some of the reasons:

1) Dieting forces the body into starvation mode—a state in which calories—units of energy reaped from food—are stored.
2) Our bodies are designed to run and thrive on sufficient amounts of calories and nutrients. This is why eating too few carbohydrates, our body and brain’s main energy source, causes fatigue, depression, constipation and food cravings. Extremely low-fat diets interfere with brain function, appetite control, nutrient absorption and even hair health. (Dietary supplements, while useful in some cases, are not suitable replacements.)
3) Food and eating are more than nutrition. What would holidays, weddings and other celebrations be without food? Humans are hardwired to enjoy food. Mess around with that and the results aren’t pretty. Depression, for example, befalls most people who lose normal eating capabilities. (Dieting = not eating normally.) Diets are also tough to maintain in social, family and work settings.
4) We aren’t clones. Our taste preferences, personalities, genes, activity level and overall health play important roles in our food choices and eating habits. Most diet plans run on the one-size-fits-all philosophy, which is best limited to stretchy gloves.

I don’t know about you, but I find all of this depressing…

Onto the GOOD stuff!

(Notice I didn’t say, ‘Weight Loss Strategies.’ Unless you have a genetic condition, such as Prader Willi Syndrome, eating well—mostly healthy foods, not too much and not too little—promotes a healthy body weight and countless other benefits.)

If ‘calorie’ seems like a cuss word and dieting’s become your norm, it’s time to shift gears… Try one or numerous of the following – whichever resonates with you.

1. EAT MORE healthy food. Focusing on what you “shouldn’t” eat is a mainstay of many diets. It’s also one reason they fail. Instead, stock up on healthy foods you enjoy. Seek tasty ways to prepare fruits, vegetables, fish, legumes and whole grains. Check out health food restaurants and grocery stores. Dine with health-minded friends. And begin substituting low-nutrient foods with nutritious. Swap white bread out for 100 percent whole grain bread, for example, and fatty red meat for leaner cuts, legumes or fish.

2. Color your plates. At each meal, load half of your plate or bowl up with colorful produce. Or incorporate fruits and vegetables into conventional dishes, like pastas, soups, pizzas and baked goods. Diets rich in fruits and vegetables promote positive weight control, digestive health and cardiovascular health and a reduced risk for heart attack, stroke, certain forms of cancer and chronic disease. For overall health, the American Dietetic Association suggests aiming for at least 2 cups of fruit an 2.5 cups of veggies per day.

3. Aim for 80/20. Perfect eating doesn’t exist. Eating primarily (80 – 90%) nutritious fare and cutting yourself some slack (10 – 20%) guards against feelings of deprivation and the risk of going off the dietary deep end once your “perfect” eating falls to the wayside. Registered dietitian Robyn Goldberg recommends eating “play foods” daily—foods consumed for pleasure purposes only.

4. Take baby steps. Small, gradual changes are generally the most effective when it comes to reaching and maintaining wellness. Take an inventory of your eating habits. What areas could use improvements? If you currently eat fast food three times per week, cut back to once per week. If you eat less than one serving of whole grains per day—Americans’ overall average—bump it up to two per day. If you avoid your favorite snacks or desserts like the plague only to overeat them later, start eating a single portion daily.

5. Dig deeper. Food and weight concerns often symptomize deeper issues. If you feel desperate to change your weight or appearance, ask yourself why. (Are you happy with your work life? Social life? Relationships?) Addressing the answers may be all you need to jumpstart healthy changes. To read one couple’s weight control success story, check out my article at Bartlett’s Health: The Fulfillment Diet: Pursuing Passion FIRST.

6. Eat mindfully. Remember those mindful driving tips from last week? Similar principles can enhance your dietary lifestyle. Mindful eating is associated with improved appetite and weight control and a low risk for depression, digestive problems and obesity. To invite mindfulness to your meals, dine in a pleasurable atmosphere, free of distraction (no phone, computer or TV). Eat slowly, observing the colors, texture, flavors and aromas of your food and how you feel physically and emotionally. For more pointers, visit The Center for Mindful Eating.

***Don’t be afraid to seek support from a qualified professional, particularly if you have a long history of dieting, weight problems or disordered eating.***

Whew! That was a mouthful. 😉 And a lot to fit into one post. I want to support you all in any way I can, so please speak up! Post your questions, concerns and related topic requests in the comments. If you’re already wellness/nutrition-savvy, what strategies have I missed? Which would you like to learn more about?
Leave a comment


  1. Lance

     /  January 9, 2012

    I’m gdoing 1, 3, and 4. I have some heart problems that make it imperative I stay in good shape. I’d like to lose 10 lbs, but more than that, I just need to stay healthy.

  2. Great info August. I should be doing mote of these.

  3. Great tips! I cannot diet. If I do, I feel hungry all the time and eat more. I believe in moderation. (slips away from computer to have very small sliver of chocolate pound cake….)

    • LOL! Good for you, Susie. I eat chocolate most days… (It is a BEAN after all, right? ;))

      Dieting isn’t fun or something we should aspire to master. Thrilled that you have your sights set higher.

  4. Great post! I don’t diet either. When I find my clothes feeling a bit tighter than I’d like, I up the exercise and down the junk food. Works every time. 🙂

    The important thing is to be healthy!

    • Ah, to be one of the reasonable ones… What’s it like, Julie?? 😉 Kidding! Though I definitely took the unhealthy path, okay pathS, previously.

      It’s liberating to eat in a way that fuels the body and our health. And to know that what we eat or weigh doesn’t determine our self worth. So glad you’re on the right track!

  5. Fantastic tips and tricks August and I love how you focus on being healthy more than losing weight. Hubby and I have definitely stepped it up this new year with some major changes – no pop, whole grains, eating at home, exercise, eating more fruits and veggies and a lot more water. It feels great. I love the energy! I also started recording everything I eat in a journal (not recording calories). It’s like you said – so I can be more mindful about what I am eating which makes all the difference! GREAT post!

    • Sounds like you and the hubs have made super positive changes & are reaping the benefits. Awesome! 🙂

      Food journaling definitely boosts mindfulness. So eye opening, right?? I have clients track their emotions and other notes in their journals as well. Your journal will also serve as tool down the road if you need a healthy-eating refresher.

      As a side note, I love that you say ‘pop!’ Everyone in Minnesota uses the term. ‘Soda’ is the norm in Cali.

  6. August,
    This is great advice.
    I used to be a petite little thing way back in the day. But after two children, and a boat load of other crazy events in life, I gained a bunch of weight. I’ve struggled time and again to lose it just to gain it all back, plus some. Diets don’t work for everyone. But it is very true that when you eat healthier and stay active, you will feel better physically and mentally.
    Thanks for sharing these great tips!

  7. Coleen Patrick

     /  January 9, 2012

    I agree diets are depressing. I remember starting my first one when I was 12–it was from the National Enquirer–crazy. I don’t do them anymore, just the thought of one actually makes me want to hunker down and eat more. I strive for the mindful eating approach.
    Great post August!

  8. Thanks for the Center for Mindful Eating link! I think the biggest problem is we are all looking for a quick fix with a diet instead of concentrating on eating/being healthy with weight loss as a side effect of that.

  9. Finally… some “weight loss” advice I can appreciate!!
    Diet is truly a four-letter word in my household. After nearly losing my life (twice) to severely disordered eating, I now eat what I want… although years of watching what I eat has conditioned me to the healthier side of “normal.” I haven’t weighed myself in more than 10 years (and even turned around when the doctors took that particular measurement during pregnancy), but manage to maintain a consistent weight through regular exercise and generally healthy eating.
    My goal this year is to further reduce the amount of time I spend on meal planning, cooking and just plain THINKING about food… with severe allergies myself and two children who follow suit, it is a challenge (and full-time job) to think of, shop for and create meals and snacks that everyone can enjoy! Finding passion and satisfaction OUTSIDE of the kitchen is key to this effort… thanks for the advice and suggestions!

    • You are such an inspiration, Jana! Your kudos mean so much.

      I’ll make a note to share time-saving eating/cooking tips. In the meantime, you’re are absolutely right: Life shouldn’t revolve around food, hunger or eating… Ideally, we take pleasure in and respect food and our bodies and use the energy reaped from both to further our passions.

  10. You know, this was a lot of good information about the psyche of dieting and allowed me at least to consider what myths or extremes I could fall into. I did make a resolution to exercise at lease 1x a week, which is pretty low, but a vast improvement over what I had been doing which was nothing. Healthy diet is in there too for me. The plus side is I have been buying lots more produce, so I eat veggies for snacks/lunch. My goal is to cook at home more, but most of my go to recipe books seem to involve so much cream/butter in the ingredients. Damn me for liking rich tasting food! If you are looking for blog ideas, I wouldn’t mind simple recipes that are just as delicious as they are good for you. Maybe create a couple mock routines beginners like me can practice. I’d sure appreciate it. But you know I’ll love whatever you write!

    • Congrats on your wellness goals, Jess! Exercising once per week is much more reasonable than going from 0 to 60 in an instant. 😉 And your veggie eating habits sound stellar.

      Rich foods have a place in all healthy diets… I’ll happily share simple recipes and a basic mock routine. Thanks for the great ideas!

  11. Excellent post, August! For the past year, I’ve aimed for balance and health–and am still at it. I’m grateful I’m not dieting and setting myself up for failure.

  12. Very good advice, August! My mother was big on having lots of colors on the dinner plates. A monochromatic meal was not healthy.

    I like the baby steps advice. We do live in an instant gratification society and it’s bringing us down. Rome wasn’t built in a day after all. Take time to enjoy the food and exercise along the way.

    As always, a very nice post. Thanks for offering cyper support too. Sometimes that’s the thing that makes a difference in succeeding.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    • Sounds like a savvy mom! I hated monochromatic meals as a kid, simply because they looked boring. (Mac ‘n cheese and carrots – no thanks.)

      Growing up with fresh, homemade and colorful meals is such a blessing, right? My parents both taught the same in the best way—by example.

  13. I fought anorexia through most of my early twenties. Looking back, it’s frightening how skewed my perspective of healthy weight and healthy eating had become. Even now, when I’m at a healthy weight, I struggle to see it that way. Everyone else sees healthy, and I see fat. Thankfully, I now know how to deal with it. (And even though I haven’t fully dealt with all the issues that caused it, I’m working on them.)

    • I’m so sorry you endured anorexia, Marcy. I know from personal and professional experience the pain and hardship involved… I also know that EDs can linger on in other ways—the misperception of your own body is a common one.

      One school of thought regarding eating disorders is that once you’ve had one, you always struggle. I’m in the other school. 😉 You can move from recovering and surviving to thriving. That’s my wish for you.

  14. I love the idea of “play foods”. I love ice cream and I find that if I try and not eat it, it becomes all I think about. The ice cream I eat is good quality with natural ingredients and I use ramekins as ice cream bowls because it is so rich that I don’t need a lot. It feels great to know that is still considered healthy. I just can’t be one of those people who eats egg white omelets and only bakes plain chicken. Blah! I eat a lot of vegetables because they are something I like. My concern is whole grains because I am gluten intolerant, but I still like bread. Gluten free breads are made from rice and tapioca flour. Is there such a thing as whole grain gluten free bread?

    • Your small dessert dishes sound terrific, Emma! Much prefer you eat the “real” stuff in modest portions than fat-free ice cream, which tends to provide ample and sugar other additives, and less enjoyment.

      Gluten free whole grain breads are available. Whole Foods and other health food stores carry WG, GF brown rice, spelt and oat breads. (Spelt and oats are typically fine if you’re gluten sensitive. If you have celiac disease, however, purchase only breads clearly labeled gluten-free.)

      Also, Bob’s Red Mill makes GF baking mixes, including one for breads. Hope that helps!

      • I am on a wheat-free diet and I bake my own bread, using “Pamela’s” bread mix. It is a very simple thing to do and I bake a large batch at once, slice the breads, and freeze in ziplock bags.

  15. Hi August.

    A great write up of the many factors which influence us and our diet. I’m a vegetarian, and people often think that’s naturally healthy, but its needn’t be. In fact, its probably easier to eat unhealthy foods as a veggie than as an omnivore 🙂

    I think you hit a good point with eat more healthy items. I see people who will eat a giant steak and tiny portion of vegetables “because they’re healthy.” If they ate a reasonable size portion of vegetables (or even more) they wouldn’t feel they need to fill up on steak (for example).

    The entire food industry is against heathy diets, because all they want to do is get you to buy THEIR product. So everything they do is gear to make you want to eat more of their product, the advertising, the flavor enhancers, adding gluten. It’s not in their financial interest to serve simple foods, because they’re not, by comparison, addictive.

    Most of all though I have to thank you for expanding my decidedly lacking knowledge on Graham crackers – who knew they would “stave off the pounds”! 😉


    • LOL! If I accomplish nothing else, at least I can rest easy knowing I converted you into a graham cracker fan…

      Terrific points regarding vegetarianism and product marketing ploys. I watched a documentary on taste science recently. Scientists put extensive research and funds into creating the “perfect” (i.e., most tantalizing and addictive) flavor “enhancers.” Marketing heads argue that such science merely meets the demands of consumers. (A whole other topic…)

      The one thing we can all do is create a healthy environment in our homes. Whole, natural foods are tough to argue with from any standpoint. Enjoy those crackers. 😉

  16. mgmillerbooks

     /  January 10, 2012

    I’ve never officially dieted, just cut down the junk food and upped the workout when my jeans tell me I’ve been a slacker, although I do realize the importance of the types of fuel for the body. Healthy body, healthy mind, yes? Thanks for another installment of this great series. You’re our guru, August 🙂

  17. A very informative, comprehensive, and written in an easy-to-understand post. Your advices are smart and practical.

    I consider myself lucky, being blessed with a slim figure but my metabolism has slowed down in the recent years. I need much less food then before to keep my weight at the same level. Exercise is crucial to me but not exactly to keep the pounds melting down. Working out gives me a nice tone, more energy and a better attitude.

    I stay away from a fast-food, and watch my sugar intake. It really isn’t all that complicated when you commit to a healthy living and keep your diet consistent. I only eat when I’m hungry and never just because it’s time to eat. I trust my body to tell me when it needs fuel and that’s when I opt for a healthy meal or a snack.

    Drinking a lot of water and tea is a-must for me. I often add a bit of honey to my decaf black tea, since in my country honey is believed to be a “brain food” 🙂

    • Sounds like you really know yourself and your body, Angela. Trusting the body is a precursor to most other benefits—so happy to hear you do so!

      I’d love to hear more about brain-food honey sometime… 🙂 Thanks for your kind words and visit!

      PS That homemade bread sounds fabulous. Planning ahead makes healthy eating much easier.

  18. Great post with tons of brilliant information. I’ve always thought the idea of ‘play foods’ is a good one. That way, when you’re eating mostly healthy, you still have something that mentally you think is a treat. I like dark chocolate for my play food. I’m a big fan of clean eating and now that the holidays are over and my cold is subsiding, it’s been fun cleaning out the crap and getting back to colorful, healthy meals. I think we are all feeling better for it.

    • You’re so right regarding play foods, Tameri. And you bring up a great point: eating well leads to feeling well. Somehow that big gets missed, particularly when the focus is restriction or the general dieting mentality.

      Spring cleaning takes on a fab new meaning when applied to our kitchens and eating behaviors. So happy to hear you and yours are benefiting!

  19. WOW–what a post! You’re such a resource. So glad to have found YOU too! (Thx for visiting today.) 🙂

  20. Great advice there!

  21. Your blog is always chock full of information, August. Eating is a pleasure and a pain for so many people. High protein has always worked well for me. Whenever I up the carbs too much, my weight takes off. When I decrease them, it goes down. Very good post!

    • Kind of you to say, MJ! Glad you’ve found a regime that works for you.

      As a side note, remember that not all “carbs” are created equal. 😉 Seems as cuss word-esque as ‘calorie’ nowadays.

      Stay well!

  22. Thanks for your tips; I love reading how to keep healthy. I’m a Type 1 Diabetic. If you don’t know what that is exactly, it means when I was 13, I trained for two hours every morning with my swimming squad, most people thought I was anorexic, and I developed diabetes. I couldn’t help it and I refuse to gain weight just because I am “diabetic”.

    I was invited to do a guest post over on Newsic To My Ears’ blog. I’m so happy I got the chance to share the things I’ve learnt. Here’s the link, and summary I did, through my blog:

  23. I have to admit that I eat deplorably; my mainstays are the things they scrape off the slaughterhouse floor. I’ve started eating fruits and veggies for snacks and have lost 25 pounds in two months. I still cheat now and then, but moderation is the key. Imagine where I could be if I exercised…

    • So glad you’ve upped the ante in regards to fruits and vegetables in your diet, Rich. That alone goes a long way for many. And you’re absolutely right about the importance of moderation.

      FYI, I try to avoid words like “cheat” when it comes to diet. The more we shift to positive thinking, the more successful and enjoyable our efforts become… 😉

  24. I’m going to read all the comments tomorrow but wanted to tell you…FANTASTIC article! If you want to do a follow up to this one, you might look into food additives and how they affect our appetites.

    I do want to add something that most people aren’t aware of. I wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago. We always hear about how dieting affects our metabolism, but nothing about how it negatively affects our thyroid…and how it can contribute greatly to metabolic syndrome.

    As one who was diagnosed with hypothyroidism last spring and, according to the doctor, has metabolic syndrome, too, I’m learning more than I ever wanted to know.

    What that means is you can eat a very good diet (calorie-wise) and still gain weight because your system is so screwed up. It also means you’re going to have to really increase the nutritional density of your diet to turn things around (be nice to know HOW LONG that will take).

    I really dislike the diet industry and Hollywood. Repeated diets to try to lose a few pounds have made my life more difficult than it has to be. Apparently genetics plays into it a little, but diets even more. Fortunately I’m always up for a good challenge, and willing to ingest things like swamp sludge (powdered greens). Whatever it takes to get these things under control.

    Sorry…lol, dieting is a sore spot with me these days. 🙂

    • Hi Kristy! Thanks so much for your warm words and fantastic insight. I’ve worked with many ‘o woman, and a few men, with thyroid disease…many of whom have or are moving toward metabolic syndrome. When your metabolism is already compromised, dieting can act magnify the damage several fold, increasing the risk for obesity, heart attack, etc., and many of us know what added pounds and frustration can do for our moods. Fortunately, the difficult work you’ve been doing promotes overall health in ways many people never find.

      In addition to increasing the nutrient density of your diet, there are particular foods and habits that can further enhance your efforts. Guessing you’re aware of many of these. Regardless, please consider me a resource and supporter anytime. 🙂

      I’d love to address appetite in regards to food additives (have access to lots of studies to share and explore…). Thanks for suggestion! In the meantime, stay well and passionate. We can use our distaste (ha, pun!) for the dieting industry as fuel for making positive change.

  25. Kourtney Heintz

     /  January 16, 2012

    Awesome advice. You really get how to explain things so I don’t just understand them, I incorporate them into my life. 🙂

  26. Why so many dieters? Losing touch with that inner self. So many people using the diet as an excuse to deal with the problem (over eating), as opposed to other issues (relationships, work stress, time stress, or other personal issues). I ask” What is your First Change that get in touch with the self”. Make one small change at a time. Your only “quick fix” is that one small change. Perfect that and your on the right path. Thank you for the great platform you provide. I will continue to follow yours and others words.

  27. malindalou

     /  March 20, 2012

    I have one more tip to add: Every time you go to eat, ask yourself WHY you are eating. If it is for hunger, go ahead and do it. If you are not hungry and are instead bored, happy, proud, sad, socially obligated etc, take care of that need in a different way. We are hardwired to be able to eat almost all the time, but as you stated our modern lifestyles can make that tendency very harmful. Great post!

  28. Great tip, Malinda! That’s a pillar of intuitive and mindful eating. The more we hone in one what we’re really hungry for, the more likely are to eat appropriate amounts and stay healthy—inside and out. 🙂

  29. Hi there! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a
    quick shout out and say I genuinely enjoy reading through your blog posts.
    Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that deal
    with the same topics? Thank you so much!

    • Thanks for stopping by, and for the sweet words! Touched that you’ve enjoyed my posts. Are you looking for healthy living/anti-diet type sites and forums? Or varied topics (like my all-over-the-place style ;))? Let me know, and I’ll happily share some links. Cheers.

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