The traditional dieting approach freaks some people out. They want to do something about their health, but counting calories, weighing food, having a training plan and taking progress pictures is just too much for them. As much as I think this approach leads to optimal results, there should be a way to help everybody. An approach that doesn’t focus on weight on the scale, but on improving healthy habits is appropriate for those clients. How could this look like? Well, let’s take a look!
Health at every size
We cannot talk about a non-weightloss approach without mentioning the Health At Every Size concept (HEAS) with it’s roots in the fat acceptance movement born in the 1960s. Its main tenet involves rejection of the scientific consensus regarding the link between excessive calorie intake, a sedentary lifestyle and lack of physical exercise, improper nutrition, and greater body weight – and its effects on a person’s health.
This let’s my bells ring! As much as I think nobody should be shamed for anything, including body fat, it is hard to put aside a wide body of scientific evidence showing that being obese is unhealthy:
Obesity has been correlated with a wide variety of health problems. These problems range from congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism, type 2 diabetes, infertility, birth defects, stroke, dementia, cancer, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and erectile dysfunction. Having a BMI greater than 30 doubles one’s risk of congestive heart failure. Obesity is associated with cardiovascular diseases including angina and myocardial infarction. A 2002 report concluded that 21% of ischemic heart disease is due to obesity while a 2008 European consensus puts the number at 35%. Obesity has been cited as a contributing factor to approximately 100,000–400,000 deaths in the United States per year (including increased morbidity in car accidents).Wikipedia
Nonetheless we can learn a few things from the HAES movement if we take a closer look.
- Traditional dieting with a focus on losing weight can be problematic for some people, especially anybody with an eating disorder of some kind or even psychological problems.
- Obesity alone is not necessary a sign that someone is unhealthy. We need to take a look on the individual and not asume something just from one body measure.
- Even normal weight persons can be unhealthy. Think skinny-fat persons with a bad diet and lifestyle.
- Weight loss can be a side effect if you focus on behavioral goals and focus on the process.
- Eat for well-being and enjoy life-enhancing movement.
Weight loss as a lone goal can be quite frustrating and, depending on the study you look at, is rarely sustainable in the long run. Sadly most dieters bounce back up to their old weight as the years go by. For me it’s a sign that dieting needs to be done in a more sustainable way and the fitness industry does an incredibly bad job at it, maybe even on purpose, as you can keep clients coming back year after year if you put them on fad diets and expose them to non-sustainable training methods.
As we are not counting calories and macros on a non-weightloss diet, we have to talk about intuitive eating. Intuitive eating, as the name implies, means that you eat based on how much you feel hungry at the moment. Basically you eat until you are full and choose the foods that you like or seem to fit. Actually, it is the kind of diet most people are following. “Diet” in this context means “way to eat”, not “eating protocoll for weightloss”.
On first glance it looks like heaven, but as you think about it, you will realise that intuitive eating has its own challenges, because you still have to change the diet that got you into overweight/obesity! It means you will (gradually) have to switch “bad” food choices for better food choices. You still have to restrain yourself and work hard to establish a better diet. Yes, you will have to cook yourself, eat your veggies, fruits and lean protein sources, there is no way around it. Just the goal is different: you don’t do it to influence your body weight, you do it for your health.
Intuitive eating is also closely related to self-awareness, as intuitive eating works best if you are undistracted by media or social interactions and focus on only one thing: enjoying your food. This way your brain has the time and attention it needs to register how much food you are consuming.
It does also mean you have to take a closer look into the mirror and ask yourself why you are eating. Are you truly hungry? Maybe you just want to mask bad feelings. Numb the pain. Push away memories. Comfort yourself. Treat yourself or punish yourself. In those cases a (mild) form of eating disorder may be the case and you should consider seeking the counsel of a professional. I know it is hard, because psychological issues still are a tabu topic in our society but you should treat them like a broken bone and seek for help. It is nearly impossible to cure it by yourself, especially if it is a severe fracture.
You also need to get rid of the “good” food, “bad” food mindset. Maybe “helpful” versus “not-helpful” is a better way of thinking about brokkoli versus ice cream. Every meal or drink you have the opportunity to decide if it is going to push you towards the side of a healthier lifestyle or not.
That’s how you take control of your food choices and do not let a diet take control over you because somebody (a magazine, a self-proclaimed expert…) told you to eat/not-eat a certain food. Before you make a decision, try to imagine how you will feel like in the future if you have already stringed thousands of helpful decisions together and finally reached your goal. This little trick should make it easier to make better choices.
And never forget: Intuitive eating promotes self-care, not uninhibited consumption, so choose wisely!
There is no discussion about it: everybody needs physical activity in his life! We already know that being more active is good for our health and this new publication brings home that it’s probably good for our personalities too. Being physically more active is related with positive personality trajectories. So yes, activity improves your personality traits and perhaps your life as a whole. Something to reflect upon when you next decide whether to walk or drive to do the groceries.
It does not mean that everybody has to start bodybuilding, although I would be glad about it because it’s a very healthy sport if you do not compete. It means that even low key physical exertion is “enough”. Despite my aversion to the “it’s enough” mindset, doing the small stuff is important for some personality types to even get going.
So pick the low hanging fruit of physical activity. Find something that works for you. Something you are good at, something that lets you fall in love with movement. It will improve almost every aspect of your life! Check out our article for some “keep moving” inspiration 🙂 .
So, how could a non-weightloss approach look like in practice? I’ve collected a few examples just to give you an idea.
- Get at least 7 hours of sleep.
- Switch off/keep away your mobile phone and television while eating.
- Have at least a palm-sized piece of lean protein with every meal.
- Get off the bus one station earlier and walk the remaining distance.
- Meditate 3 minutes a day.
- Unfollow all food cues on social media.
- Try out a new form of movement or sport every week until you find something you enjoy.
- Spend more time with your loved ones.
- Quit smoking.
- No eating or drinking on the fly.
What it takes
While a non-weightloss approach is an easy way to get started, it is by no means an easy way of coaching. Because we do not focus on measures like weight on the scale or circumference of certain body parts, it is of great importance to have a tight coaching relationship.
You have to talk and report about many different areas of your life. Social relationships, diet, exercise, general health, sleep and many other things need to be supervised. This also places tremendous responsibility on the client as it is even easier to cheat or under/overreport certain habits. Trust and accountability on both sides are a prerequisite for this style of coaching. Communication has to be on point and will be quite a lot of work, but also very rewarding.
What can you achieve?
A year ago I would have told you that a non-weightloss approach is a half-assed endevour, not leading to optimal results. Well, gladly I’ve learned a few things about dieting and lifestyle in the meanwhile.
Optimal is quite often not sustainable. Optimal can be daunting and deter people from even getting started. Optimal in theory doesn’t have to be optimal for the individual. Chantal has a good friend and now client following this approach and she is very successful with it: Elena changed her lifestyle not only by regularly going to the gym but also switching “comfort-junk-food” by some healthier food choices. She is also using meditation to go thorugh stressful periods of her life and, as an embryologist, she has a very though schedule working sometimes for 16 days in a row without weekends. She has lost slowly and steadily 1kg per month and has definitely put on some muscle mass as she is a little genetic freak 😉
Focusing on diet quality, healthy habits and joyful exercise can take you to an impressive physique if you are diligent with it. Eric Helms recently talked about his latest preparation for a natural bodybuilding show. He is doing nearly his entire prep without tracking macros, relying entirely on the feedback his body (and the scale) gives him. This is not an non-weightloss approach, but still shows how powerful intuitive eating can be, if you are disciplined and really know your body. Eric clearly states that his approach isn’t suited for a newbie, as it is almost impossible to know what to look for, when you didn’t experience this kind of prep in a more “regulated” fashion, which is tracking your macros.
So, what can you achieve? I think almost everything a “normal” guy like you and me can ever wish for. But be aware that this non-weightloss dieting approach, as cool as it is, isn’t for everyone. I personally would have a really hard time restricting certain foods for an extended period of time. I enjoy the “safety” of tracking at the moment: if I have a goal, I want to reach it withing a certain timeframe. Being a little more strict is a cost I am willing to pay. But this isn’t true for everybody.
If you feel detered by traditional dieting, give a non-weightloss dieting approach a shot. Maybe it is exactly the kind of intervention you need to get started. If you need help with this, feel free to contact me, we surely will find a way to reach your health goals.