A beautiful book about grief called The Year of Magical Thinking won a lot of awards about a decade ago. It's a great title that still resonates with me. However, this year, I ask you to join me in making 2015 the year we end magical thinking about dieting and weight loss. What do I mean by this? "Magical Thinking" characterizes nearly every diet and weight loss narrative we follow in this country and, clearly, it does not help most of us lose weight. Magical thinking can be helpful for people recovering from a loss, but it has no place in the world of weight loss. Here are some of the magical thoughts that peeve me most and new 2015 thoughts to replace them.
Magical thought: A healthy diet means everything in moderation. This term is massively overused and clearly an ineffective means of weight control given our national obesity rates. I love this quote from Lauren Slayton of Foodtrainers upon being asked if her advice to break up with certain foods for good was too strict: "No. I think 'moderation' has left many people feeling moderately well at best." The moderation mantra allows people to snack on empty calories without guilt as long as they eat healthy most of the time (although I find people who trust in the moderation mantra only eat well half the time at best), but many of the foods and beverages people believe they can enjoy in moderation and still be healthy contain inflammatory, possibly carcinogenic and neurotoxic artificial ingredients that we really shouldn't consume at all if possible.
2015 thought: A truly healthy diet is one mindful of quantity and quality, and moderation is too broad of a term to be of any use. I try to eat veggies in abundance and foods like rice and beans in moderation because of their carbohydrate content. I would only have an empty calorie food if I was ravenous and nothing else was available. However, most people think if something is good for you, more of it must be better (we have only gotten fatter since we replaced fat calories with loads of "whole grain" calories) and they use the moderation excuse to eat empty calorie foods like cakes and sodas. Healthy vegetarians and Paleos (you can be an unhealthy versions of these as well) have different foods they avoid or consume in abundance but they certainly don't follow the "everything in moderation" strategy, and you better believe the athlete, actress or random person at the gym whose body you envy doesn't either. A truly healthy diet is heavy on nutrient-dense foods and very, very light on empty calories. Instead of everything in moderation, I use a traffic light image with my clients. If it's a whole, fresh food that is also low in calories, fat and carbs, GO for it. If it's a whole food that is relatively high in fat, calories or carbs (cheese, nut butters, quinoa), use CAUTION – eat it, but don't overdo it; and if it's an empty calorie food (bread, pasta, soda) STOP and decide if it's really worth it. Occasionally it is, but most of the time it's not.
Magical thought: If a diet helps me lose weight, it's a healthy diet. The media and the food industry continually perpetuate this line of magical thinking. I am dumbfounded by a "sample day in her diet" feature I saw in the new Us Weekly about a celebrity who has lost 35 lbs following Nutrisystem (I know, my NY resolution should be to stop reading crap like US Weekly, but I was reading it on the treadmill). By my estimation her diet was 80% carbohydrates, 15% protein and 5% fruits and veggies. The celebrity and the magazine referred to her diet as "healthy" because it was low in calories and she had lost weight. Never mind that it was high in sugar and gluten, which contribute to inflammation and increase risk factors for health issues ranging from diabetes and heart disease to arthritis and auto-immune disease. Magazine articles, blog posts, Twitter feeds and news stories often feature great advice about nutrition, but unfortunately it gets buried among the stories that promote poor and outdated advice. Americans love quick fixes (you can lose weight on a low-quality, low cal diet but your health will suffer) and the food industry and media know this. Crap, whether it's a tabloid or a bad diet, sells. You have to wade through the junk and choose weight loss plans that make sense for the long-term and boost your health. My rule: if you wouldn't feel comfortable recommending the diet to someone you love (a child, an aging parent), don't follow it.
2015 thought: My diet is not healthy unless it is full of nutrients. Your diet needs to be full of good things, not just free of bad ones (who knows what will be bad from one minute to the next anyway). Nutrient dense foods include vegetables, fruit (particularly berries and avocado), nuts and seeds, wild fish and animal protein from pastured animals fed their natural diet (eggs and chicken from cage-free birds, grass-fed beef), low-fat and full-fat Greek yogurt and olive oil among others. Other than vegetables, you don't have to eat every single one of the above to be healthy (you can be a healthy vegetarian or a healthy meat eater), but a healthy diet contains a range of nutrient-dense foods. Green vegetables top the list so try to eat at least one cup daily (in raw or lightly cooked form or in a fresh juice or smoothie that does not contain a lot of sugar).
Magical thought: I can have the perfect body I dream of if I just find and follow the right plan and don't cheat. I just got back from a beach vacation in Puerto Rico where I was surrounded by people of all shapes and sizes and nationalities in swimwear. I was reminded that their are 100 different types of thin bodies and 100 different types of overweight bodies and thousands between the two. Someone repeated something their trainer said to me recently "Genetics loads the gun; lifestyle pulls the trigger," and this excellent quote brings us to the most important new thought of 2015.
2015 thought: If I eat nutrient dense-foods that give me energy, I will become the best version of myself and that will be real and beautiful. Eating a nutrient dense, plant-rich diet like the one I recommend in The Get Real Diet and is recommended by health experts from Dr. Oz to Michael Pollan, will lower inflammation, improve your skin and give you a ton of energy. If you are mindful of portion size and/or limit inflammatory and bloating foods like gluten, sugar and dairy, it will also lead to achieving a healthy weight for your body, perhaps even a fabulous figure. However, a healthy weight for a 5'4 woman can be anywhere from about 115 to 145 depending on muscle mass, bone size, breast size and other factors. You might still be slightly pear shaped or have arms that flap when you wave. You might still have jiggly skin around your tummy or weight that accumulates around your chin; however, you will have less of whatever it is that genetics "cursed" you with than you would if you followed a poor diet. Dressing right for your body type and exercise can do wonders for the rest, but chances are you still won't be mistaken for Giselle from behind. The "Get Real" in the title of my book has dual meaning. The first is about focusing on real foods, the second is about clearing the white noise created by the media and the food industry and getting real by striving to be the best version of you, not some airbrushed or genetically blessed (or borderline obsessive) "ideal."
Here's to being your best, more real self in 2015!