Are diet programs good or bad? This is such a tricky question, isn't it? Let me first preface this by saying that I know I'm lumping a whole lot into the term "diet." When I say diet in this case, I'm talking about a restriction-based plan that tells you exactly what you can and cannot eat.
In the past, I myself have been on both sides of this good or bad argument. My journey toward sustainable health and wellness began on the strict calorie counting protocol. Then after years of yo-yo dieting, I swung to the opposite end of the spectrum, e.g., "Diets don't work!"
Today my viewpoint on diet plans is much more neutral, as in there is a time and place for everything, diets included.
The Path Toward Building A Sustainable Healthy Food Lifestyle
Here's the thing. When you first start paying more attention to your health and what you eat, you need a starting point because... it can be a bit overwhelming if you are a complete noob to healthy eating!
So, for some people, a step-by-step, easy to understand actionable plan might give them that jump start and confidence they need to feel inspired and in control of their decisions.
At that particular time in their life, a diet might be exactly what they need to let go of the fear of uncertainty so they can move in a positive direction.
Having a detailed plan of action feels a whole lot better than the "I'm out of control and I need to do something about it but I have no clue where to start" place that they may have been in previously!
Diets Are a Bridge, Not a Crutch
What most people don't realize though is that many mainstream diet programs aren't designed for long-term use.
They are designed for "quick, fast, super-speedy results" or in other words, they are pretty restrictive and tough to follow for an extended period of time. Also, many mainstream diet plans make it difficult to know how to make healthy food choices when you're outside of your routine or strictly controlled environment.
I know this firsthand because in my late teen and early 20s I struggled with emotional eating and yo-yo dieting. I literally tried every diet plan and pill on the market and somehow sabotaged any progress I would make every single time.
It was a tough, frustrating, shame-filled time in my life. That being said, it was one of the most important times in my evolutionary journey of self-discovery.
Looking back, I can now see that each of those "failed" attempts were a bridge to the next, to the next, to the next, which eventually led me to the healthy relationship that I have today with my body and with food.
Without each of those experiences, I would not be where I am today. They all taught me things about myself, my relationship with food and with my body, and how I wanted to feel in my life as a whole.
The secret to creating a sustainable, healthy food lifestyle in understanding that the diet plan is not the end-all-be-all solution.
A diet plan is a tool, but the ultimate goal isn't to be on a strict eating plan for the rest of your life because that is not realistic. Restriction is not fun nor sustainable!
The goal is to have the freedom to make food choices based on what feels best for YOUR body, not based blindly on what somebody else tells you to do.
I think that's where most people that can't stick with healthy eating for the long term get off track -- looking for the solution outside of themselves in a plan that spells things out for you so black and whitely that you forget how to listen to your own body's guidance and wisdom.
YOU know you better than anyone else. You know what works best for your body, what energizes you, what helps you to feel great.
Learning the basics about how to put together balanced meals, experimenting with healthy recipes, etc. through a diet plan -- that's one thing -- but it's another to go on a never-ending search bouncing from one plan to the next thinking that something outside of yourself is going to fix all of your problems.
It took me some trial and error but I finally realized that I wasn't fixing the root issue by searching for the magical diet plan that was going to cure all of my weight loss issues. I had to get to the bottom of what was causing me to turn to food in unhealthy ways.
Food is not the enemy. It's our unhealthy behaviors, beliefs, and habits around food that sabotages our success.
Once I was able to shift the way I looked at food and the way I treated myself, I was able to shed the weight and keep it off.
Weight loss success so much more about WHY you eat than WHAT you eat.
If you build a healthy relationship with (all) food, then your behavior follows suit.
Food can be nourishing and tasty too, and long-term happy, healthy, weight loss maintenance does not include restriction and deprivation.
Once we believe (KNOW) that taking good care of our body is something we GET to do, not something we HAVE to do in order to achieve a number on the scale or the waist band of our pants, we experience how sustainable health and a lean body isn't as tough to achieve and maintain as we originally may have thought.