15 Sep How to get off the diet train & prevent yo-yo dieting
Your post diet plan!
I think that the internet is so full of information about dieting but doesn’t equip you with a plan on how to get off a diet and maintain a healthy weight for the rest of your life with as little stress and effort as possible.
I do want to be upfront in saying that I am not pro-diets. I am not super anti them as I think in certain, well managed contexts they can assist people in improving their health, but I do encourage a movement from one around diet culture to one focused more on body positivity, mental health, and physical health regardless of size. So I do speak about scales and calories, but that is not because I encourage you to think about them more. It is because people who are reading this likely think about those things a lot, and hopefully through this can think about it less and less.
Okay, lets get into it!
It is well known that weightloss is not really the part that most people struggle with, but rather keeping the weight off long term. And this can result in a typical yo-yo dieting pattern, one where an individuals weight fluctuates a lot due to them essentially eating in a calorie deficit, and then a surplus and then a deficit again. They never really manage to find or maintain their maintenance calories, and as a result their weight fluctuates up and down.
Possible things that can attribute to the yo-yo dieting cycle:
- The diet wasn’t sensible. The rate of weightloss was too fast, the person felt overly restricted and the end result was that the person basically ended up binging and swinging the baton completely in the other direction. ‘Sensible’ dieting strategies is a whole other post I need to make. Diets in general, and any form of restriction tend to be at the root of these things. If you can try and avoid dieting to begin with, and instead focus on a few behaviour changes, that would be the first option.
- Lack of education. This links into the previous point of a sensible diet, because in my opinion a diet should be a very educational time. You should be learning about portion sizes, macronutrients and healthy food choices, which would essentially help you make better nutritional decisions post diet. If your diet isn’t setting you up for future success then you’re wasting your time.
- Lack of long term behavioural change. Habits and behaviour are absolutely key, and they obviously determine our actions! Effort to improve habits and behaviours should go hand in hand with a diet and trying to improve your eating. They are inextricably linked, and if you don’t sort those out, you will really struggle long term.
- Lack of exercise. Exercise, while not essential or even necessary for weightloss, is a great tool for weight maintenance. It’s benefits go far, far beyond just burning some calories. It impacts your health in a variety of ways, but more importantly it can be a great way to keep yourself motivated to continue to live a healthier lifestyle overall. Those feel good endorphins may impact the food choices you make at your next meal etc etc.
So above are a few areas that can trip people up, and by ticking those boxes you can help minimise your chances of weight regain, but what I want to dive a bit deeper into two things:
Practically how to come off a diet, and
Your mindset post diet.
So the diet is done, what now?
A diet should not be a perpetual state that you’re in. It should be a focused, short period of time that you spend in a calorie deficit, and that you transition out of as soon as your goal weight window is reached, or the allotted dieting time has passed. This means moving from eating in a calorie deficit to a maintenance calorie intake. It does not, however, mean abandoning everything you’ve learnt about healthy eating and eating everything in sight. For the most part, you need to continue to eat healthy, balanced meals, it just means you can now have an extra snack or two in the day, or grab an ice cream with your fam on the weekend. Just lead a balanced, happy but still healthy lifestyle.
New maintenance calories:
So what are your maintenance calories? It will be probably be slightly less than your maintenance pre diet because you are now a smaller person and your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) has probably decreased as a result of being on a diet. If you never calculated them before, don’t stress about it, just know you might have to eat slightly less than before to maintain your current weight. However, you do not need to eat like you did on your diet!
Using the scale to roughly stay on track:
Don’t weigh yourself every day as we know weight can fluctuate a lot based on types of foods eaten, sleep, stress levels, hormones etc etc. Rather do twice weekly weigh ins and check out your averages over the course of a month. If your weight stabilises you have successfully found your maintenance cals. Going forward you can even just weigh yourself maybe once a week and check that you’re still on track. If you can abandon the scale altogether, even better! Hello, if your clothes fit (not the ones you have from when you were an adolescent, the appropriately sized ones!) does it really matter exactly what the number is?
If you do want to check in with yourself every now and then using a scale though, then I’d recommend you give yourself a 1-3 kg weight ‘window’ that you’re genuinely 100% happy to fall into. This ties in with the mindset piece coming next. You may weigh 1kg more one day and it might not be any fat gain at all, but that has the potential to throw you off your mental game and you may end up making worse decisions about food or exercise for the rest of the day, all based off a misconception! This is the cycle you really don’t want to start – the yo-yoing one! And that can happen when people feel panicked or hopeless about their weight and this can lead to extreme restriction or binging. Either way, is not sustainable, and can be hugely stressful on your both your body and mental health. Hence the cycle that can begin.
So what to do if you fall outside of your maintenance weight ‘range’? Nothing extreme! Simply cut or add a snack to your day, depending. Don’t make massive dietary or exercise changes. Make one or two changes that you can consistently stick to without much effort, and reevaluate in a weeks time. And you will probably find that if you manage to maintain your weight, you can slowly eat more and more as you gain some lean body mass and your TDEE increases.
This is a whole other topic but I wanted to slot it in somewhere in this post. I truly believe it is the only way to leave diets behind once and for all. There is so much to it, so I won’t go into it here, but I will link to some articles as well as a book (which I must say upfront I have not read, I have just heard good things about). I highly suggest investing some time into this practice so that you can shift your view of health from one that is number orientated to one that is based off of your own body’s genuine needs. Each individual is so unique, and so to think that one diet, or one number is appropriate for all is madness. Intuitive eating can really help you serve your unique body in the best way possible.
All of that practical info above will we absolutely worthless if we don’t view all of this with a balanced, healthy mindset.
Firstly, your diet, the way you look, the frequency with which you exercise DO NOT DEFINE YOU! And so you should not attach unnecessary significance to them. Being hyper focussed on these things actually makes them more difficult to sustain. Rather focus on the behaviour, mindset and habit change, and this will naturally translate into healthier actions.
Part of the mindset that results in a yo-yo dieting pattern is one that is ‘all or nothing’. Either you are 100%, or you aren’t being sensible with your choices at all. At that really is not conducive to a longterm LIFESTYLE plan. You need to remember that this is your one and only precious life. Everything you do needs to be with the goal of improving your happiness and health long term. And so being on a diet all year long, feeling restricted, missing out on moments with loved ones is not something you want as a part of your lifestyle plan. That has its place in the short, focused time of being on a diet, but other than that you should not feel overly restricted.
This elusive ‘balance’ can be hard to find, but it is made easier with a heavy dose of self love. This includes speaking kindly to yourself, not judging your actions or food choices as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and not dwelling on any supposed ‘mess ups’. Nothing productive comes from that! If you feel unsatisfied with your food choice, instead of replaying that over in your mind or berating yourself, look FORWARD, and be EXCITED to make the next decision you make about food a good one! None of this ‘I have messed up so I may as well throw in the towel and stay in bed all weekend eating chocolate’ nonsense. And no punishment 10km runs either. Literally just make your immediate next decision the best one you possibly can and MOVE ON. That is how you do this forever.
Intuitive eating links: