Thinking about going on a diet? Confused or frustrated about which one to try? Procrastinating because it all seems too hard? We hear you.
If you’re like many of us here at Dandelion Chandelier, you’ve tried at least one of the following, perhaps more than once in your life, to try to shed a few pounds: a few days at a spa; a juice fast; Weight Watchers; Jenny Craig; the Scarsdale Diet; the Atkins Diet; the South Beach Diet; the Zone Diet; going gluten-free; going Paleolithic; eating Mediterranean; giving up red meat; giving up white food; giving up alcohol; eating nothing but grapes or carrots; doing the Raw Food Diet; becoming a vegetarian; or going vegan.
However, if you are like many of us, then you have also learned a hard truth: any and all of these regimens will work, but only if you actually follow them. Like, forever. The hard part isn’t starting a diet, it’s staying on the diet.
The difficulty arises when the first flush of victory fades, when refusing cake at your own birthday party just seems wrong, when you feel that you might chew off your own arm if you cannot have bread and butter; when you just really want a drink.
Then comes the cheating on the diet, the ensuing guilt, the attempts to get back on track, and the inevitable tears. Been there, done that. Many times.
So we thought we might share with you the one and only “diet” that has ever actually worked for us (and by “worked,” we mean it never caused us to feel really hungry and angry – or hangry – we didn’t feel resentful at holiday parties, we happily ate our birthday cake and we still lost 5-10% of our body weight).
Our secret? We started working with a certified nutritionist. It didn’t cost much money, and it totally worked. Bam. That’s it. No secret formulas, no powders, no ingesting of tape worms, no drugs.
How do you find such a person? Just ask your regular doctor – whoever you go to for your annual checkup will surely have one or more nutritionists to whom they refer people. You can try a couple of different ones, if you like, to see who best fits your personal style.
You’ll start with an initial conversation about your goals and your current eating patterns. Then you’ll write down every single thing you eat, every day, for a week. You will be surprised and perhaps dismayed when you realize how much you’re actually eating on a normal day. This is part of the process. No cheating. Just write it all down.
After your nutritionist can see what your “normal” looks like, he/she will then talk to you again to probe on what’s driving some of what you’re consuming (e.g., stress, boredom, family members’ eating habits); foods you love (hello, bread and butter); foods you won’t eat under any circumstances (scallops, no-way no-how); unhealthy things you eat for comfort; and healthy things you might have once eaten that you’ve fallen away from.
Then you’ll get a list of suggested meals for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. And you’ll keep writing every single thing that you consume down in your food journal, and you’ll send it to your nutritionist every night (or the following morning).
Holding yourself accountable by writing everything down is really powerful. If you cheat, you’re only cheating on yourself; having a food journal will cause you to pause and contemplate whether you really want that glazed donut for breakfast or not. If you do, have it, and write it down. And then maybe later in the day have an apple.
If you have a particular time of day that is your trouble spot – for many people, it’s after dinner and before bed – a good nutritionist can help you get past those hours without giving into temptation. Mine shared a story about a patient who was eating boxes of cookies before bedtime, and the cure was telling her that she could have only a yogurt and one piece of fruit after dinner – no exceptions, no excuses. I asked what would happen if the client strayed, and my nutritionist said “she would call me, and I would tell her: no cookies! I don’t care if you want one! Get over it!” It worked. I swear to you, this person was not me.
Personally, I worked with a nutritionist for over six months a few years ago – I had gotten way off track, I weighed more than I ever had in my life (except when I was pregnant) and I had no idea how it had happened. And I didn’t have time to stop and go to a spa for two weeks (or a month, which is what it probably would have taken). Instead, for every single thing I ate, I recorded it and shared it with my nutritionist. I even enlisted my assistant at work in the effort – whenever I had a business meal, she would call ahead and give the restaurant or caterer a specific request that fit my food plan, so I didn’t have to think about what to order (and it was a lot harder to cheat!)
Even though I was on the road constantly at the time, with a lot of business meals on my schedule, I lost 10% of my body weight on that regimen, and 5-6% of it has never returned. In the process I learned that in this digital age, you can work indefinitely with a nutritionist without ever going to their office. Phone, Skype, email, text, done. This is huge advantage if you’re a busy professional who travels a lot.
Of course, working with a nutritionist is not perfect. What diet is? You’ll lose weight slowly – so it doesn’t work if you are trying to crash off weight for a big social engagement (the good news is that when the weight comes off slowly, it also returns slowly, if at all). You’ll slip from time to time, and once you stop working with your nutritionist, if you’re like most of us, you’ll regain some of what you lost. But if you take it seriously, you’ll have incorporated certain foods and habits so deeply into your lifestyle that you’re a lot less likely to go all the way back to where you were before.
Having a nutritionist is basically like having a smart friend go on a diet with you. The person becomes your coach and cheerleader, you can hear their voice in your head saying “don’t have the pizza – have a turkey sandwich!” When you have a good day, they’ll tell you. When you screw up, they’ll talk you through it. When you need tough love, they’ll provide it. Going on a diet can feel lonely, which is why group efforts like Weight Watchers endure. Who wants to diet alone? Nobody.
Just be sure that the person giving you nutrition advice is trained and certified. A lot of personal trainers fancy themselves as qualified to also be your nutritionist – in my experience, this rarely works, and every now and then they tell you to do the opposite of what you really should.
What about exercise, you say? Well, of course it’s a great thing: it reduces stress, it improves your long-term health, and it can be fun. But if your primary goal is losing weight, here’s the thing: you can do it without ever going to the gym. We took a little survey amongst ourselves, and everyone quietly admitted that we know lots of people who exercise all the time, even who have run marathons, and who are still overweight. If you’re not controlling what you eat, especially as you get older, there isn’t enough exercise in the world to make up for it. So if you’re looking to lose weight, and you can only concentrate on one thing, make it what you eat, not how much you work out.
So there you have it. No silver bullet, just a practical real-life suggestion for when you’re ready to address your eating habits and your desire to lose a few pounds. Trust us, it’ll work. It’s not expensive. And easily fitting into all of your clothes is one of life’s most satisfying luxuries.