Why Most Diets Work, And How Yours Can Too

Why Most Diets Work, And How Yours Can Too

10th November 2019

I'm not a fan of the phrases “I'm going on a diet” and “I'm dieting”- It can be a treacherous path of failure after failure, highlighting negative habits and emotions. The truth is we're all on a diet, our unique diet bound by the environment we inhabit, the beliefs we've gathered, and socio-economic factors. Improvements in our nutritional habits must come from a place of understanding and empathy for ourselves and other living beings.

Change can be a beautiful and rewarding path. I’m sure we’ve all seen people go through great physical, mental and/or spiritual transformations through improvements in their eating habits. Whether their a family member, friend or work colleague, they all have a story to tell (and so they should) about how they shifted their excess weight, found mental clarity, or uncovered their inner being, gaining a whole lot of energy for life in the process.

While one person may have used intermitten fasting, another could of gone down the paleo route. A friend maybe praising the benefits of going plant based to you. We could sit here all day listing the dietary protocols that have worked for countless people, but all diets that gain traction and long-term success have two things in common;

  • They focus on eating quality whole unprocessed foods.
  • Consistency, consistency, consistency!

Irrespective of the actual ins and out’s of each diet these two common themes will keep on reappearing. So the next time you hear some waxing lyrical about the magic diet they’ve discovered just remind yourself of the above points.

There are exceptions that can be accounted to specifics such as genetics and food intolerances that require certain guidelines, but the vast majority of folks will do well to adhere consistently to a whole natural foods diet.

So what’s holding some of us back?

I find the biggest stumbling block for most who struggle, often finding themselves either stuck or in between diets frequently, is a solid and clear reason why their looking for a solution to their nutritional woes. Defining a concrete clear vision of how you what to feel, look and perform is the holy grail of motivational change.

Your reason(s) why may look different to mine. If we both get a crystal clear picture we’ll both likely succeed. But this needs to come from within. Solely using external motivations will likely cause unnecessary stress and anxiety as it’s not an honest reflection of what the True Self is and needs. Moulding ourselves on false images of people who cover magazines, social media and television with chiselled physiques and apparent immaculate looks is a dangerous and flawed path.

We must move away from comparing ourselves against others. We’re all beautiful beyond belief in our own special way. Cherish and cultivate the uniqueness of being you…It will speak volumes on the outside!

Take what’s useful and make it uniquely yours

As you’ve probably gathered I’m a little nerdy when it comes to food.

I’ve tested many diets – Keto, vegan, paleo, and intermitten fasting most notably spring to mind – with varying degrees of success, and with plenty learnt. As I write this there’s no abstract term I can give to my dietary approach other than it’s flexible and mainly plant base, but largely unrestricted (sorry, I’m telling a porky – you can put me in the vegetarian camp).

I have a couple of none negotiables;

  • I don’t eat meat
  • and I avoid processed foods

What I’ve cultivated – and believe 99% of people will do well over the long-term – is to focus on some key principles, no matter what your views are on what’s right or not to eat.

I’ve outlined them below as simply as I can, but their not easily gained – they take time to nurture. No half hearted attempts or over thinking will deliver anything worth it’s weight in gold. How can we hope to attain a balanced mind, body and soul if we’re not willing to put in the necessary time to heal ourselves?

All the answers lie within each of us…

A mindset of positivity

This is the big one! Creating positive self talk is the number one reason why people reach a place of peace. It takes a daily practice of reminders, reading, writing, and meditations in varying amounts to massage your mind. Develop mantras and affirmations that reinforce your will to be your True Self. These will act as a guiding force.

It isn’t all going to be plain sailing. Your ego will rear it’s ugly head with doubts and anxieties as it resist change. Just make sure that you catch it creeping in – this isn’t you! You are an all pervading mesh of power and love that recognises past misgivings but ultimately knows deep down that you will become who you where destined to be once you let go of the shit weighing you down!

Mind body chemistry 

There’s a little chemistry between body and mind that goes on in relation to food. Our associations with foods – where we deem them to be “good” or “bad” – stimulates a response from the brain to send a message to our digestive systems before we’ve even taken a bite.

Let me paint a picture for you. You’re out enjoying food with friends. Currently you’re taking a low-carb approach to your diet which is reflected in your food choices. Then the desert menu comes around and something grabs your attention – the triple chocolate cheesecake with peanut butter (this is me just living out my fantasies by the way).

Immediately it triggers a response within – you want it, badly! You know you’ll enjoy it but it will encroach on your current diet, bringing with it guilt and undue stress. This stressor in the brain will send chemical messages to your digestive system which will ill prepare it for what’s about to come. The negative feelings will increase the production of certain hormones – namely insulin and cortisol – meaning the cheesecake won’t be digested or metabolised properly. Cue more feelings of guilt as it sits heavily in your stomach.

Now let’s flip that scenario on it’s head, and you really look forward to the cheesecake without any guilt. The positive feelings will change the chemical response within the body, improving how the cake is digested and metabolised. Digestive organs such as the liver, pancreas and gall bladder will secrete juices that will make the absorption of the sugars from the cheesecake more efficient. Cue feelings of pleasure (guilt free) and peace of mind.

Awareness of eating habits

It’s a hard ask being fully aware and present in everything we do in a world full of distractions. It’s believed we go through 95% of our day on the subconscious level. If we equate this in to waking hours (I’m using 7 hours spent asleep) we’re only making conscious decision for roughly 50 minutes of our day.

How is this reflected in the foods we eat?

If a best practice can be adhered to we should only eat when we’re hungry. Feed until your satisfied and go about your day until real hunger arises again. But like most other actions our eating is habitual, and it’s not necessarily because we’re hungry.

The idea of having three square meals a day is a fairly modern concept brought about during the industrial revolution. Does this work within today’s quickly changing world involving less manual labour and more sedentary lifestyles?

Breakfast is an interesting one for me. I use to think if you don’t eat first thing you won’t function properly (breaking it down, it actually means break – fast. Basically the first meal of the day to end your overnight fast whether you eat that morning, noon or night).

I can take it or leave it now, depending on the context of the day ahead. The weekend usually means a fairly sedentary day but my metabolism is still firing from yesterdays efforts. To give my digestive system a breather I decide to go as long as possible until my first feed. By mid-morning I start to get one or two rumbles in the stomach. Not long after my mind starts to wonder and I realise it’s time for some eggs, veg, and dark chocolate.

I’m purely going with my internal cues of hunger, no rigid set pattern.

There are things we should bring awareness to in relation to our eating habits;

  • Am I actually hungry or is it just an eating pattern I’m fixed in?
  • What does my body need for the day ahead?
  • Am I eating to mask an emotion?

I think the latter point is something we can all relate to. Emotions can trigger feelings of pain and discomfort that can lead to comfort eating. With mental health issues such as stress, anxiety and depression on the rise is it any wonder rates of physical diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancers have increased alongside? It’s not just sheer coincidence.

Stress causes the release of the hormone cortisol. Great for altering the body to react when in real situations of danger. Not so great when your overly stressed from several angles. And we tend to use the quickest and easiest relieve mechanism…Sugar! This is a major reason as to why we get addicted to sugar. It nulls the pain fast, but only for the briefest of moments until you crave your next hit. It’s a precarious habit to be hooked on.

Being the ever present observer of your responses to emotions can be a great help in tackling compulsive eating habits. It does take a lot of will power at first, stopping negative habits from surfacing, but with the right mindset and environment you’ll be in a great position to crack any habit which is weighing you down.

Eat mainly whole unprocessed natural foods

I get asked often “what should I be eating?” to which I always answer whole unprocessed natural foods – make them the corner stone of your diet, no questioned asked. A healthy body and mind comes from working with nature not against her.

Processed foods are not fit for human consumption. They’re purely manufactured to make a profit by extending their shelve life and palatability to turn the consumer in to a life time repeat customer.

Are we going to live a long and fulfilled life whilst eating sugar laden cereals for breakfast, a pre-packaged sandwich with crisps and diet coke for lunch, then end the day by grabbing a take away? Sounds extreme, but I imagine it’s being replicated.

I don’t like to preach, and I’m certainly not judging those who find ease in eating convenience foods. I want to empathise with and tell them it’s okay, I understand. Life is a tricky balancing act at the best of times, and our nutritional habits can slip from time to time.

Finding ourselves in a rut of poor food choices can and will happen at some point, but we need not despair – there is always hope! The best approach is to take it one step at a time and slowly but surely fix the pieces of the puzzle to actualise the bigger picture. The idea is not to focus on the negatives but to highlight and reinforce the positives with a patient and persistent approach.

Focus on quality over quantity. The key aspect of any sustainable diet is making sure the calories you eat come attached with as many nutrients as possible. This is where fruits and vegetables come in to their own. Think variety and colour – you’ll get everything your body needs to flourish!

Leaving the idealism of a perfect diet in the cupboard – where it belongs –  instead we should strive for a best case scenario. We’re going to encounter processed foods no matter what. Keeping them to an absolute minimum is where it’s won and lost. My own view point is that if your diet is 90% unprocessed foods then your in a good place. Anything more than that then your absolutely nailing it!

Prioritise sleep

The final piece of the puzzle, your eating habits are hugely affected by the amount of sleep you get. A meta analysis of 11 studies by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that on average the sleep-deprived people consumed 385 calories per day. In as little as 9 days that could be an extra pound of fat gained. Over a year that’s 40 pounds of body fat just from not sleeping enough!

So why do the sleep-deprived eat more?

Sleep deprivation causes hormonal imbalances. Too little sleep sees leptin – your appetite suppressing hormone – decrease. The other appetite regulating hormone ghrelin, which stimulates your appetite, increases. Also a tired mind makes poor decisions. It dulls the activity of the brains frontal lobe, the locus of decision-making and impulse control. Add to the cocktail an over stimulation of the brains reward system located in the striatum. Say hello to seeking more energy dense high-carbohydrate foods that bring instant pleasure! Also there’s a tendency towards late night snacking…chocolate coated pretzels and dry roasted peanuts anyone?

It’s also a wrecking ball for your metabolism. Too little sleep triggers a spike in cortisol levels. This stress hormone signals to your body to conserve energy for your waking hours. This equates to being less efficient at burning fat. Research by the University of Chicago found that dieters deprived of sleep over a 14 day period burnt 55% less fat even when calories stayed the same.

Getting enough time between the sheets of an evening should be everyone’s priority. Some need more than others but make 7 hours a must. The greatest advice I can give is to sleep and wake at the same time each day. It creates and underpins your rhythm of life.

Here are three things I belief help induce better quality sleep;

  1. Limit your exposer to technology and bright light two hours before bedtime. No phones, laptops and TV whilst in bed.
  2. Read, write, listen to relaxing music, stretch or meditate. Find a pre-sleep ritual that works for you.
  3. Keep a journal. Each evening write down three things your grateful for. Note down how you felt through the day and list what tasks you have to tackle tomorrow. Thoughts wrote down can help clear and calm the mind.

The world of nutrition is becoming unnecessarily more complicated each day. For the casual observe it must feel like a Rubik’s cube with the sides forever changing. I’m waist deep and finding it easier to go against the current, ignoring the hype, and solely listening to feelings of the gut and heart to guide my decisions. You’d do well to follow suit…

Yours in love and health,

Dave