Kill the Diet Foods Before They Kill You

In my friend’s kitchen recently, an acquaintance proudly let me know she was having a no-calorie hot chocolate. She had that look on her face. You know the look: “I’m really doing this. I’m so smart. I have my willpower all mustered up. I’m going to get skinny now.”

I’ve heard this before from this woman. The first few times, after making sure she wanted advice, I told her how diet foods (and the avoidance of calories, protein, fat, and/or carbohydrate that is the intention of most diet foods) weren’t her solution to being leaner. She seemed to hear me, but she’s still at it with the diet foods.

The fact that I’m a wellness coach doesn’t faze her. The fact that I have the lean look she desires (the man version anyway) doesn’t faze her. The fact that I’m eating a hearty meal, with, um, calories, protein, fat, and carbohydrate in it right in front of her doesn’t faze her. Sometimes a person just isn’t ready. She’s not ready to hear it from me.

photo-123-bottle-of-diet-coke

Maybe she’d be swayed by a 2015 study on diet-soda intake (1):

“In a striking dose-response relationship, increasing DSI [diet-soda intake] was associated with escalating abdominal obesity.”

To be clear, “escalating abdominal obesity” isn’t researcher speak for beach body.

I spend very little time thinking about the shape of my body these days. I live to be well, not to be a Calvin Klein model. That said, being lean and being well do tend to go together. But it’s being well that makes you lean, not being lean that makes you well. And those diet foods certainly don’t make you well (1):

“High incidences of overweight and obesity, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, diabetes mellitus, kidney dysfunction, heart attack, and hemorrhagic stroke have all recently been associated with frequent NNSI [non-nutritive-sweetener intake] and DSI [diet-soda intake].”

That sure ain’t good. Don’t have a (Diet) Coke and a smile, I guess.

I’m not casting stones; I’ve been there. As a fat teenager in a culture where fat equals outcast, and without any training in how to make peace with my reptilian and mammalian brains, I set out to be not fat as quickly as I could. This included a diet that revolved around my mom’s cardboard-like rice cakes, every kind of low-fat cracker I could get my hands on, and, yes, lots of Diet Pepsi—a diet nearly void of nourishment.

I learned the long, hard way (understatement alert) that I need food to live. I need whole natural, real food—the kind with calories, protein, fat, carbohydrate, minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients in it. I get energy from the food I eat. I’m made from the food I eat. Things work much, much better for me on a diet of tomatoes, cod, almonds, pumpkin seeds, raspberries, and the like, than on so-called diet foods.

It’s simple, it feels good when you do it, and it keeps you well (and lean) in the long-term:

Eat real food. Eat when you’re hungry. Stop when you’re full. Enjoy meals with your close ones whenever you can.

It’s only a radical concept because of the time and culture you grew up in. Those four poignant sentences describe how 99.9 percent of people have eaten for 99.9 percent of the time there have been people.

A really helpful distinction that will help you move into eating like this is to think of eating as an inclusion-based activity, not an exclusion-based activity. In other words, think of eating as something you to do nourish yourself, not as a game of restriction. This is a great concept to reflect on and will radically change how you approach eating.

You’re worth feeding yourself very well. How would you like to feed yourself today?

(1) Diet Soda Intake Is Associated with Long-Term Increases in Waist Circumference in a Biethnic Cohort of Older Adults: The San Antonio Longitudinal Study of Aging. Journal of the American Geriatric Society, 2015, 63(4), 708-715.

Remember your mantra for today: NOURISHING MOVEMENT, NOURISHING FOOD, NOURISHING LIFE.

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