The word "diet" is tricky, right? We often associate it with deprivation and restriction, and most would agree that diets are temporary. It's all about fitting into that dress, hitting the beach in that bikini, or looking lean at that big event.
But what if we change the idea of "diet" from temporary restriction to a way of eating?
As a personal trainer, I help my clients focus on lasting, sustainable changes to habits and routines—not quick fixes. As anyone who has ever been on a diet will admit, shortcuts to weight loss often backfire after the initial success. The result is gaining back the lost weight, and then some.
The reasons are complex, but the boiled-down version is that when we deprive ourselves, the body and the mind fight back.
Our bodies need a certain amount of calories every day—yes, even fat and carbohydrates—to function. There's no point in vilifying one food or another. The goal, instead, should be to strategically moderate the overall patterns of the diet so that the body is happy enough to drop excess weight over a steady period of time.
Here are the three fastest changes that you can make to your diet right away that, sustained long term, will yield lasting results and allow your body to achieve optimal function without dramatic deprivation.
1. Drink only water, coffee, or unsweetened tea.
Convenience stores reflect our overall beverage patterns. There is usually one case of bottled water, and 10 to 20 refrigerated cases of soft drinks, sweetened coffees, and alcohol. Even worse, upon walking into any health food store, you're probably confronted with aisles of commercially sweetened beverages dressed up as natural, good-for-you products.
Sugar is sugar, even if it comes in a fancy glass bottle with a pretty label. You can make the single most dramatic change to your sugar intake not by skipping the cake at your son's birthday party—that's deprivation!—but by eliminating sugary drinks from your diet. Stick to water, unsweetened coffee, and unsweetened tea, and you could be eliminating hundreds of grams of sugar per day.
2. Switch to plain Greek yogurt.
Many people rely on yogurt as a healthy, high-protein alternative to junkier snacking. While this is a good strategy, your daily carton of yogurt may pack a surprising caloric and sugar punch. When choosing a yogurt, make sure to buy plain Greek yogurt with no sweetener, flavor, or fruit added.
Many people ask me, "What about honey?" or, "What about fruit?" or, "What about granola?" The problem with commercially packaged yogurt is that the products that are used to "enhance" it are far sweeter and more concentrated than anything we would add ourselves in the home kitchen.
Switch to plain Greek yogurt and add a dollop of fresh berries yourself, and your body will thank you!
3. Eat protein every time you eat.
Every time you eat, try to consume about 10 grams of protein. This will take some label-reading at first, but you will eventually memorize what foods are your go-to proteins, and this will transform your grocery shopping habits.
Protein will help you to feel more satisfied and full, will give you more slow-burning energy throughout the day, and will help your muscles recover if you exercise regularly. Even better, being mindful about protein helps to prevent careless snacking and promotes planned meals and snacks.
Changing your diet pattern is not about deprivation. It's about strategy and making the shifts that really count.