“When a client tells me they want to go on a diet, I say, ‘OK, let’s look at this diet and see what you have to sacrifice to make it work,’” said Deviny Mo, manager of UCLA Health Sports Performance powered by Exos. “Are you sacrificing taste? Are you sacrificing how you shop? When you go out with friends, do you get to eat what you want? You need to ask these questions, because if you’re making all of these sacrifices to follow a diet plan, then clearly it is unsustainable.”
Mo is referring to short-term “goal”-oriented dieting, which often culminates with a return to poor habits once the goal has been reached.
A better approach, she said, is to aim toward developing healthy eating habits that are sustainable over the long term.
Gradually change your diet
Some people do succeed with restrictive diets. But diets are not one-size-fits-all. One person can find success with intermittent fasting while another has better results with a Mediterranean or paleo diet.
Too often, however, dieting becomes unsustainable because people do not take into account their body’s nutritional needs and what may be lacking when they cut out certain foods on a restrictive diet.
“You have to ask yourself, ‘Can I eat like this day in and day out?’” said Mo. “Once the diet is over, what am I going back to?”
Changing short-term diet goals to longstanding healthy eating habits is key. “What can you do to change the composition of your meals and snacks?” mo ask. “Also, can you change the frequency of your meals and snacks? Then you have to look at consistency to make sure you can maintain this on a daily basis.”
Such changes should be done progressively and with the help of a dietitian or a certified nutritionist. Some useful tips include adding more vegetables to one corner of your plate each day; replace a bag of chips with healthy nuts; or grab a piece of fresh fruit instead of a sugary sweet to curb cravings.
The 80/20 approach to eating
Nobody says it will be easy. Changing our eating habits to achieve a healthier lifestyle is challenging. Our brains and bodies have been trained to enjoy the sweet and savory foods we consume, and exchanging those foods for healthier, albeit perhaps not as tasty, choices can mess with our psyches. When a craving hits, we may find ourselves spooning down a pint of our favorite ice cream.
The result, alas, often is shame and remorse as we are wiping the evidence of that binge off our lips. But Mo said we shouldn’t feel that way.
“How do you feel after you finish eating something?” Mo asked. “You don’t have to feel guilty because you splurge on something. It’s OK.”
Instead, take the “80/20” approach to create a positive relationship with food and still — sometimes — eat the foods you really enjoy.
“Eighty percent of the time you want to try to eat healthy and eat well,” Mo said. “This is good during the weekdays. You can time your meals and snacks around your work hours; that way, the nutrition stays consistent with your lifestyle. On the weekends, when you’re out with friends, you can treat yourself.”
“If you truly want a healthy lifestyle, you have to invest in your nutrition,” said Mo. “That investment, in the long run, is going to improve your quality of life.”
Learn more about nutrition.
Your path to healthy weight management
- Step 1: Starting your journey
- Step 2: Picking the right expert