Hello January, the month of diets and detoxes. It’s everywhere you look, have you noticed? The UK diet industry is worth an estimated £2bn a year. The industry’s success is based on two things: to foster the belief that health has a specific look and size, and offer a solution that has a 95% failure rate, so that they get repeat customers. My biggest issue with diets is that they promote disconnection from our bodies by encouraging us to ignore our primal body cues such as hunger, fullness and satisfaction.
However, bodies are built for survival; this is why diets have such a low success rate. For our body, diets represent famine—this perceived lack of nutrition and energy results in life-preserving adaptations.
Our energy-saving mode
Our metabolism determines our energy needs for the day. 60-70% of our energy is spent on fueling our vital organs. Even as we sleep, our heart beats, our lungs breathe, our liver is at work, and our brains are functioning (our body’s top priority). Intentional and unintentional movement accounts for between 15-30% of our energy expenditure. Our digestive process accounts for around 10%. These numbers don’t add up to 100% because the ranges vary.
Our genetics predetermines our body size and shape. In the same way that we cannot change our shoe size intentionally, we cannot change our natural weight range. Whenever our body weight is suppressed below its natural range, our body slows down its metabolism to save energy. I liken it to when you put your mobile on low battery mode.
Calories in, calories out
It is the most common oversimplification of our magnificent bodies.
First of all, we cannot absorb all of the calories that pass our lips. Our gut bacteria use some of this energy, and we cannot break down fibre; therefore, its calories pass through the body unused. When calorie intake is low, your body works extra hard to absorb as many calories from what you eat as possible.
Secondly, our “calories out” decreases the more we restrict our food intake. Our body reduces the energy burned through physical activity, we move less, plus because we are eating less, our digestive system doesn’t require as many calories.
Our body is doing all it can to ensure that we have enough energy to maintain our vital processes.
The other thing to remember is that the less we weigh, the fewer calories we require. Therefore, to maintain a suppressed weight, a person would need to diet for years to come.
We go into hunter mode
We are hardwired to seek food. If the body believes there is a shortage of food, we will be driven to hunt for it.
Our hunger signals increase to motivate us to eat more. Enter, obsessive food thoughts and increased food cravings. At this point, a person might start to feel “out of control”. They allow themselves to eat and then feel like they cannot stop. They fear having certain foods in the home because they will “hunt” them down and devour it all.
The hunter mode is a motivational state that happens due to increased stress chemical messengers (I mentioned these in my last post). These chemical messengers interfere with our body’s levels of inflammation, immune response, and hormonal balance in the long-run.
So what is the alternative? Read on to find out how you can ditch the diet mentality, eat healthfully and free from restrictions.
Eating More Mindfully
How often do you eat all the food on your plate regardless of your fullness levels? Or think you’re not hungry only to sit down to a meal and realise you’re ravenous? Or perhaps you’ve ignored your hunger signals for so long; you’re never quite sure if you’re hungry or not.
Mindful eating is about taking the time to understand when you’re physically hungry. This is different from emotional hunger (which cannot be satisfied with food). As part of exploring your appetite, learn what level of hunger you feel you enjoy the eating experience at the most. When you sit down to eat, are you paying enough attention to the meal in front of you? Take the time to look at the food on your plate, chew each mouthful, taste the combination of flavours and enjoy the different aromas and textures. Notice the early signs of fullness and stop when you’re comfortably full and satisfied.
The importance of connecting to and trusting your body
So as you see, our bodies hold the wisdom to keep us safe. Diets inhibit our connection to our bodies. Every time we embark on a new diet, we ignite the restrict-binge-guilt cycle. Every time we jump on the latest diet trend, we are disconnecting from our innate ability to connect to our natural body cues.
We can learn to be the expert of our own body and honour that our body holds its own unique story. Instead of committing to more years of yo-yo dieting, we can learn how to nourish our body in a respectful way.
We can learn to be kind and compassionate towards our bodies as they are, today by focusing on health. By health, I mean both mental and physical.
Kaysha Thomas is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, Pilates Instructor and wellness blogger. She writes about mental health, self-love, nutrition and fitness. Sign up for Kaysha’s monthly newsletter for FREE Pilates flows, monthly meditations and nutrition tips. Or you can follow Kaysha on Instagram @Kayhsathomas
Photo credit: Ursula Gamez