Thursday, July 16, 2009
Dieting - Yes or No?
Three weeks at Saratoga, playing opera, eating lots of great food and drinking with friends has left me several pounds heavier than I'd like. This is the perfect example of the key to maintaining or losing weight. It's a simple equation: calories in vs. calories out. If you expend more calories than you take in, you lose weight. If you eat more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. There is no magic in this; it's all about calories in and calories out.
So even though I was running/swimming/biking/hiking most days, I gained weight because I was taking in more calories than I was burning with all that activity. (I mentioned there was lots of great food, didn't I?)
So what to do about it? Go on a diet?
I've never been a fan of diets. But if I don't diet, how will I lose the pounds? And I want to lose the excess pounds because I know I'll feel better, my clothes will fit better, it's better for my overall health, and EXCESS WEIGHT IS CLEARLY TIED TO BREAST CANCER RISK!
My problem with diets is that they are temporary. I follow a diet for a while and maybe lose a few pounds, but it's usually not something I can sustain. I need a healthy, sustainable way of eating. I need a healthy lifestyle that allows me to balance calories in and calories out.
In today's New York Times, Mandy Katz writes about dieting in "Tossing Out the Diet and Embracing the Fat". Certainly, overweight people would be better off at a lower weight, according to Walter Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at Harvard School of Public Health. However, Katz writes, "What remains undisputed is that no clinical trial has found a diet that keeps weight off long-term for a majority." She quotes Glenn Gaesser, professor of exercise physiology at Arizona State University, "If they really worked, we'd be running out of dieters."
Rather than dieting, I believe thinking about eating healthy foods in moderation, along with exercise is the answer. I don't get too hung up on a particular number (I'm not even sure what my weight is - I don't own a scale). I just pay attention to how I feel: do I feel good at this weight? does this weight make my life easier or harder? do I feel energized or sluggish at this weight?
I've decided that I'd like to lose a few pounds, so what now? I'll continue exercising, maybe even increase my workouts a little. And I'll think about my food intake. I won't go on a diet, but I'll think about making healthier choices (less ice cream, fewer fried or fatty foods, less alcohol, more water - you get the idea). I'm no saint when it comes to food, but I'll try to make more "better" choices than less.
And I will try to be more mindful about food: eat when I'm hungry, don't eat because I'm bored or just thirsty. I find it's very important to learn to be aware of just what my body is asking for. Mandy Katz also addresses this in another article about eating instinctively. The idea is that true hunger and taste cues can lead us to balanced, healthy eating.
To me, "diet" is a one-time fix. I am interested in a long-term, sustainable lifestyle. I am interested in overall health, not a number. I am interested in feeling good.
I know my weight won't change in a few days or a week - it didn't increase in a few days. But I know that with a little more mindfulness and time, I will lose a few pounds, feel better, be healthier.
(to read Mandy's articles, click here. they're well worth reading! and thanks to Karen for the Lake George Opera Festival pictures.)