6 Signs Your “Lifestyle Plan” Is a Risky Diet in Disguise

The number of people who say they are dieting is at an all-time low, according to research released in 2013. To anyone who realizes how risky dieting is, fueling everything from nutrient deficiencies to obesity, this could seem like spectacular news. But here’s the thing:

Many people are now dieting without realizing it.

The weight loss industry is extremely smart from a financial standpoint. (They must be, to profit over $60 billion per year.) As dieting’s risks and almost zero percent success rate became widespread knowledge, many diet makers have responded by changing their packaging. “It’s not a diet,” many claim. “It’s a lifestyle plan!”

While this may be true in some cases, I’ve come across loads of “lifestyle plans” that are merely risky diets in disguise. If you’ve developed one or more of the below problems since adopting a dietary plan, it’s time to make some changes.

An unhealthy diet can take many different forms.

6 Signs Your “Lifestyle Plan” is a Risky Diet in Disguise

1. You have wretched breath. Halitosis is a common side effect of ultra-low carbohydrate, aka ketogenic, diets. Without enough carbs, the body releases chemicals that stink up your breath—and that’s only one of many known risks. When I was working as a consulting nutritionist, I could almost always tell if someone was “low-carbing” with one whiff.

2. You’re lethargic and grumpy. There’s a reason psychologists coined the term “Atkins Blues.” Carbohydrates are your body’s main fuel source—and the cells in your brain need twice as much as the rest of your body’s cells to function normally, stay energized and produce the feel-good chemical serotonin. (Ideally, most of your carbs will derive from nutritious sources.)

3. You’re anxious and stressed. Stress and anxiety are two of the most common downsides of dieting, and derive from physical and emotional factors. Without enough carbs, your body can’t efficiently produce calming brain chemicals. The highly restrictive nature of many diets also brings a sense of deprivation, which is stressful. You can’t dine out with ease or end up fighting perpetual hunger—which is another red flag.

4. Sleep is a problem. The same chemicals that promote positive moods make way for restful sleep. Consuming too few carbs or calories can make it really difficult to snooze restfully. Stress and anxiety from dieting (aka “lifestyle planning”) can also fuel insomnia. You could also end up exhausted over all, feeling as though all you want to do is stay in bed.

5. You’re prone to diarrhea, constipation or kidney stones. High-protein diets commonly contribute hugely to constipation and kidney stones, especially if you skimp of fiber-rich carb sources, such as legumes. If you can’t stick to a diet plan without taking laxatives (including herbal forms, such as senna or “detox tea”), it’s not a sound plan. Juice fasts that promise detoxification often also cause digestive upset, along with a slew of other complications.

6. Your sex life is suffering. Risky diet plans lack balance. They’re often way too high in protein or far too low in calories, carbs and sometimes fat. All of this can tinker with blood flow, which is crucial for arousal and sexual function, and brain chemicals linked with turn-on and orgasm. Low moods and bad breath from dieting can also make the naked tango less appealing.

So what’s the answer? Listen to your body. Respect it, rather than starve it. Aim for a diet based on whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Eat when you’re slightly hungry, stop when you’re comfortably full. Avoid diets that make grandiose promises, while, of course, avoiding any foods you’d don’t tolerate. Incorporate enjoyable activity into your lifestyle, cultivate a healthy sleep routine and pursue your passions. (Stress and unhappiness play a huge role in physical health.) Allow some wiggle room for foods you eat purely for enjoyment, keeping in mind that no one eats perfectly. The good news is, you don’t need to.

*If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms and they don’t seem diet or lifestyle related, or if they’re severe or long-lasting, seek guidance from your doctor. 

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Can you relate to this post? What have dietary plans taught you? What steps do you take to gain wellness without losing your self? I love hearing from you! ♥

Does Dirt Have Calories? My Story

“The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman is seen in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides.” — Audrey Hepburn

Today I’m taking a brief detour from my Monday series to share a story I posted last year about an important turning point in my life. It’s one of the inspirations behind the Beauty of a Woman BlogFest, which will reoccur on February 22nd. If you’d like to participate, pop back here Thursday for details. I can’t wait to sing, dance, laugh, shout and think about beauty again with all of you.


I awoke that morning as I did most mornings while living in Paris—woozy, exhausted and determined. During what should have been a pinnacle in the modeling career I’d held dear, I was enraptured and controlled by an eating disorder. Where logic would’ve told me to get some rest, nourish my body and tend to the day’s work responsibilities, E.D. commanded I wake up and run! Breakfast, castings, agency meetings and photo shoots would have to wait; my sole priority was the upkeep of my disease.

My emaciated body had been surviving on carrots, sugarless ice tea and Coke Light, yet felt gigantic and punishable. If I could eat as little as possible and burn far more than I chewed, I might finally reach thinness—i.e., happiness, success, perfection. I had to run.

I slipped my feet into my worn out, blood-stained sneakers, stepped out of my tiny Parisian flat and headed toward the Seine. The Eiffel Tower came into full view atop the pastel haze of the sunrise—a living, breathing Monet. It’s beauty could’ve taken a blind man’s breath away, I wrote in my journal. I didn’t deserve it.

The dewy earth squished beneath my feet as I ran to the rhythm of calorie-counting. Forty-five plus six plus ten…plus five plus ten plus three… I estimated the previous day’s “damage” then plotted an itinerary of exercise and occasional food bits to compensate. So accustomed to ignoring the dizziness and fatigue accompanying me, anything else would’ve felt foreign. But this time was different.

Pushing aside the added sense of off-ness in my gut, I observed the dip in the ground ahead: It looks like an adult-size cradle... Perhaps I knew what was coming.

I ran with increasing dizziness and pain, as though a metal clamp squeezed my brain. RUN. Don’t stop! You can’t. Tears stung at my eyes as I tried to outrun the inevitable. I fell to the ground, as though in slow motion. For a brief, savory moment, I felt weightless.

I awoke later, lying in the grassy cradle, the taste of blood and dirt in my mouth. Rather than contemplate how long I’d been there or if I’d been hurt, one thought filled me with terror: Does dirt have calories?

I don’t recall who found me or how I made it to the medical center, only the words of the British doctor: “You have anorexia. Do you understand what that means? You could’ve died. You…could die.”

Her words blurred together like fog on a windshield as my thoughts went wild. She’s crazy! I can’t have anorexia. Please don’t make me eat… I felt neither thin nor “skilled” enough to have a disorder characterized by starvation. Sure, I had problems—the “cancer in my soul” I’d journaled about. I felt physically and emotionally rotted and weak, but couldn’t make sense of anything. I only knew I had to go home.

The week after I arrived in Minneapolis, I began treatment and fought harder to remain ill. Once I accepted my diagnosis, anorexia seemed the one special thing about me. If I let it go, what was left? The word ‘recovery’ seemed synonymous with ‘fatness,’ ‘failure’ and ‘mediocrity.’

As my starving measures increased, my emotional and physical self tolerated them less and less. My therapist repeatedly threatened in-patient treatment. I lied, promising I would eat more and gain necessary weight.

Finally, one of my worst nightmares came true. In a moment of despair, I gave in to my longing for a single bite of chocolate ice cream. As I placed the dollop of creamy cold sweetness into my mouth, my entire body trembled. I felt intoxicated, a sense of danger, head-to-toe orgasm and temporary relief. But one bite turned into two, then six, then all that remained of the half gallon. The fatty cream sat like a putrid rock in my shrunken stomach. I’d never felt so ashamed.

The bingeing/starving roller coaster that followed was the most excruciating and important occurrences in my recovery. At its worst, I entered what my therapist called a “bulimic trance.” The bingeing took over and I had little awareness of all I’d consumed until I found myself sobbing amidst wrappers and crumbs.

As weight returned to my body, friends and family told me how healthy I looked: “You’re filling out so nicely!” The well-intended comment haunted me for months.

Desperate to stop bingeing, I decided to take my treatment more seriously.

“I will do anything to stop this,” I told my therapist.

“Good,” she said. “It starts with eating. After you binge, don’t skip your next meal.”

Anything but that. I resisted her instructions, holding staunchly to the belief that if I were just strong enough, I could attain the thinness I desired and stop bingeing at once. It sounded Utopian. Meanwhile, I mourned the loss of my anorexia like a lost soulmate.

One night, after a fast ended in a gargantuan binge, I hit a new bottom. I considered gulping the poison I’d used on occasion to vomit, aware of the life-threatening risks. I didn’t want to die, but I couldn’t bear life as I knew it. In a fury, I scavenged the house for the tiny bottle. When I couldn’t find it, my heart raced. I struggled to breathe.

Then something remarkable happened. Incapable of purging in any of my viable methods, I calmed down. That calmness, paired with tired frustration and an inability to foresee life continuing as Hell, brought clarity. Try something new. You have to.

I walked with trepidation to my wall mirror, as though nearing a fatal cliff. For the first time in too long, I looked not at my hips, belly or thighs, but into my eyes. The head-on stare punctured the swollen balloon of hurt inside me, releasing sobs.

“You can’t live like this anymore!” I told my reflection. “I won’t let you hate yourself so much. This is not who you are.” I didn’t know what I was fighting for, but my instincts said, Don’t give up.

My anger at ED and proclamations in the mirror were the first signs of self-love I’d displayed in years, the light switch in the dark cave I lived in. If I managed to turn it on, I knew my life would change. But the decision was only part of it… Rather than plot restriction strategies for the coming days, I had to plot a future free of ED.

The night became a Good Riddance Ed rampage. I threw my “skinny clothes” and scale in a dumpster and removed the size tags from clothes that fit. I trashed every fashion mag, food journal and diet book, sang my feelings into made-up songs. I vowed to myself that for one year, I would not diet, starve or make any other attempts at weight loss. If I gained weight during that year, so be it. The next morning, with trembling hands and tears flooding my cheeks, I ate breakfast, forcing thoughts of I love you, You deserve this, You’re going to be okay, with every bite.

Though I wanted to forego my commitments frequently over the subsequent weeks, I held fast. The bingeing continued at first, as did my weight gain, until I nearly doubled my lowest weight. If I have to start over every day, I will, I wrote. And start over again and again I did. I had nothing to lose by trying and everything to lose by not.

Gradually, I fought less with myself and slip-ups drew further between. Months later, I was no longer dieting, starving or bingeing and my life was beginning to feel like a life. I was in college, making friends, writing songs and even, on occasion, laughing. But my recovery had reached a plateau. I felt awkward eating around others, anxious about eating too much or too little. The slightest pangs of hunger or fullness put me on edge. I saw plates of calories and felt guilty when I indulged. And though I resisted, I longed to diet. ED hadn’t left. He’d merely grown quieter.

One day over steaming cups of Indian tea, my mom handed me a CD with a song she and my dad wanted me to hear: Lee Ann Womack’s, “I Hope You Dance.”

“It’s time to find joy,” she said. (And here I’d thought I had everyone fooled…)

The song’s message about “dancing,” which I took to mean many joyful things, hit me with profound force.

That evening I sat at a park watching a group of friends picnicking, captivated by a woman around my age. After a bite of her hearty sandwich, she closed her eyes, tipped her head back, exclaiming, “This is so good!” I longed for an ounce of her joy.

I’d been eating because I was “supposed” to, promised others I would and never wanted to go off the bingeing/starving deep end again. In order to fully recover, I had to manifest joy around eating.

I knew it was possible because I’d experienced it. My childhood love affair with food seemed insatiable. Family photographs portray a bubbly, smiling girl holding an ice cream cone, sitting before a luminous birthday cake or about to take a chomp out of a fresh red apple from our backyard tree. Before bed, I often asked my parents what the next day’s breakfast would entail, “so I could dream about it.”

Food for my family meant togetherness, birthday celebrations, picnics by the lake, nightly home cooked meals—a special bond and clay with which we built memories. Until fear and ED had creeped in. No more, I decided.

I began studying food with a velocity I’d only previously applied to treadmills. I wanted to discover its goodness and stop dreaming of ways to avoid it. What did particular foods do for me? If not for managing weight, why did people eat them? How could I eat healthfully, and not by diet book standards of what that was?

I began addressing a self-compiled “I’m afraid of” list: Eat in public. Eat at a restaurant, alone. Eat a meal prepared by others without demanding particulars. Eat the ice cream that triggered my first binge, one serving at a time.

I traded my diet books for medical and dietetic texts that defined food as fuel, a necessary means of nutrients, and obtained my first certification in nutrition. I cooked, experimented with foods I’d never tried and volunteered at soup kitchens. I stopped aiming for dietary perfection. Multiple studies had convinced me that such increased my risk for bingeing, obesity, anxiety, depression and sleep problems—pretty much everything on my “No, thank you” list.

It took numerous attempts of arriving at an upscale restaurant alone before I dined there and several more before I enjoyed the food sans heavy sweating or heart palpitations. I wept over a homemade candlelit dinner for one, served on my grandmother’s china. I stocked my kitchen with food until it felt warm, loved and lived-in. Rather than cold and frightening, it felt like home. I took a Buddhist philosophy course and applied its principles to my meals. Eating slowly and without distraction soon went from mortifying to pacifying. On difficult days, I asked myself what I’d feed a dear friend then treated myself to just that—until gradually, finally I became her.


On a cool spring evening, I sat at my kitchen table with a bowl of spicy chili and fresh-baked corn bread. An unexpected breeze blew through my apartment window, carrying a flower from outside into my bowl. Plunk! As the pink petals swam amongst the diced tomatoes and cannelloni beans, I laughed. Struck my own amusement, I realized that nothing but goodness sat at my table. All anxiety, shame and feelings of inadequacy had dissipated, leaving me with a palpable sense of peace.

I returned to Paris that summer to celebrate my recovery. Near the grassy patch where I’d fallen, I buried a capsule filled with cards from loved ones, photographs, under-sized clothes and copies of my songs and journal entries. ED’s funeral, I called it—a memorial service for my self. I ran along the Seine, this time grateful for the strong legs that carried me, the absence of pain and my second chance at a happy, healthy life.


What events or decisions have helped you turn your life around? If you have thoughts or questions to share, I’d love to hear them.

Health Benefits of Desserts

Ever feel like this?

Dessert deprivation is not a happy, healthy state.

In a culture that places excessive value on dieting and thinness, yet struggles increasingly with weight gain and obesity, it’s easy to view dessert as a tantalizing enemy. But according to many health experts, recovered dieters and studies, negative attitudes and avoidance of desserts—and other foods—can be more detrimental to our wellness than indulging.

But that’s not all. Desserts can actually boost our wellness. (Did she say boost?) Yep! Consider the following…

Benefits of Incorporating Desserts into a Healthy, Balanced Diet

Improved weight control.

In a recent study published in the journal Steroids, 195 obese adults followed calorie-controlled diets for 16 weeks. Both plans contained the same amount of calories and namely healthy foods, with one difference—one group consumed dessert daily. The dessert eaters lost slightly more weight than the non-dessert eaters and were significantly more successful at keeping lost pounds off.

“Most people simply regain weight, no matter what diet they are on,” Daniela Jakubowicz of Tel Aviv University and lead author of the study told the New York Times. “But if you eat what you like, you decrease cravings.”

Reduced unhealthy food cravings.

Dessert benefits are particularly acute for non-dieters. Why? Because routine indulgences and some amount of flexibility in your diet prevents feelings of deprivation, which can stimulate the weight gain that prompts dieting. And viewing desserts as savory treats rather than “bad” or “junk” foods can help diminish sugar cravings while making sugary fare less tantalizing.

Another study featured by Better Health Research showed that daily intake of dark chocolate helps keep cravings for unhealthy foods at bay. Participants who ate dark chocolate also ate 15 percent fewer daily calories compared to non-chocolate eaters.

Improved nutrient intake.

We crave dense foods when our bodies are lacking nutrients or calories. And eating too little is one of the top contributors to food cravings, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center.

In some cases, a rich dessert is just the fuel your body and brain needs—particularly if you consume too few carbohydrates. Are desserts the healthiest source of carbohydrates? Not usually. But consuming enough carbohydrates from any source is healthier than severely restricting or skipping them altogether.

Desserts can also provide essential nutrients from whole foods, such as whole grains, nuts, fruits and even vegetables. Consider the following:

  • Pumpkin pie contains rich amounts of fiber, calcium and vitamins A and C. One standard slice provides of 260% of adults’ recommended daily intake of vitamin A.
  • This strawberry rhubarb crisp with an oatmeal crust provides a full serving of fruit per serving and valuable amounts of B-vitamins, fiber and healthy fats.
  • Cheesecake provides valuable amounts of protein, calcium and vitamin D.
  • Blueberry pie provides plentiful antioxidants and about 8 grams of fiber per slice—about one-third of women’s daily minimum and one-quarter of men’s.
  • Dark chocolate is high in antioxidants and can have a positive impact on blood sugar control and heart-health. (The darker, the better.)
  • Oatmeal raisin cookies provide valuable amounts of fiber, B-vitamins, calcium and iron.
  • One cup of slow-churned ice cream provides 12 percent of adult’s daily calcium needs and as much protein as an egg.

Desserts should not replace nutritious whole foods in your diet, of course, but it’s nice to know that they aren’t devoid of nutrients. If you love sweets, the following tips can help keep your sweet teeth happy without compromising your wellness.

5 Ways to Have Your ‘Cake’ and Stay Healthy, Too

1. Go for quality, not quantity. It can be tempting to stock up on affordable or “diet” style desserts that seem oh-so-healthy. In reality, desserts made from natural, high-quality ingredients tend to be more satisfying. Artificial sweeteners and desserts that taste “diet-y” can leave us hungry (and reaching) for more.

2. To prevent blood sugar imbalances, pair sugary sweets with fiber or protein-rich foods. Because fiber and protein have a mellowing impact on blood sugar, foods like whole grains, berries, low-fat milk and yogurt, help keep us fuller longer and guard against dreaded crashes. Top ice cream with raspberries, for example, or have sorbet after a balanced meal.

3. Don’t torture yourself with dozens of accessible faves. If your one donut tends to bring along friends and one cookie seems foreign, keep tempting fare out of reach. Like our diets, our kitchens should contain moderate amounts of sugary sweets at most. Recovering dieters are especially prone to the “feast or famine” mentality. As your attitudes about food and eating improve, the tempting nature of desserts will reduce, leaving you more capable of portion control. In the meantime, take yourself out for a single ice cream cone or slice of pie rather than rushing to Costco.

4. Top it with fruit. Or fruit with it. Most Americans fall short of the daily recommended 2 cups+ of fruits per day. (More is better.) There’s no time like dessert-time to start changing that. You’ll likely end up eating less of the cake/cookies/ice cream/pie, feel more satisfied—without feeling stuffed, and take a leap toward your antioxidant and fiber needs. A sweet win-win, in my opinion.

5. Eat more whole foods. The more whole foods we eat, the more our taste buds love them. As a kid, I ate sugar cubes from the bowl and plowed through my Halloween candy in days. Now that I eat namely whole foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fish…), sugary sweets are too sugary. Some seem darn near flavorless. If you don’t currently eat healthy variations of conventional desserts, such as whole grain cakes, all-fruit pies and pumpkin tofu cheesecake (YUM!), I suggest trying it. And the more whole foods you incorporate into your overall diet, the better.

What do you love most about desserts?  Do you enjoy them with ease or grapple with guilt?  As always, I welcome your thoughts and questions.  I’m having so much fun with this, I’ve decided to carry the dessert party on via Twitter (#HealthySweet) today—sharing factoids, tips and more. Hope to see you and your sweet-teeth there. 😉