Losing Weight vs Getting Healthy
What do I mean by losing weight vs getting healthy? It’s really a mindset. What do you feel in your body when you say, “I want to lose weight.” Or “I want to lose 20 pounds.” Or if you say, “I am going to lose 20 pounds.” If you’ve ever been on a diet or tried to lose 20 pounds it might depend on your results and what the experience was like. Now what do you feel in your body when you say, “I want to get healthy.” Or “I’m going to get healthy.” I would bet it feels different. To me getting healthy feels hopeful and positive whereas losing weight feels restrictive and not fun at all. I want to propose that losing weight is a side benefit of getting healthy. Instead of your focus being ‘weight loss’ let your focus be ‘getting healthy’.
Let’s talk about what you may associate with the mindset of losing weight. It’s a short-term process of following a diet plan and you may feel hungry and have cravings and you accept this as part of the process. The weight loss might be quick, but you will most likely regain the weight if you go back to eating what you did before. If you restrict foods and food groups on the diet plan you will develop nutrient deficiencies that may lead to disease down the road. All of this sounds a little frustrating.
Now let’s dive into the mindset of ‘getting healthy’. You’ll probably know instinctively that this will be a long-term lifestyle change and that the weight loss will be slow and steady. The weight will stay off because developing a way of eating that works for your body and your lifestyle. You’ll also feel better and have more energy than before because you are filling any nutrient deficiencies you may have had with your old way of eating.
Let’s explore some popular diets …
Vegan: whole food, plant-based diet. It uses plant proteins instead of meat and plant substitutes for dairy and eggs. Long term studies show it reduces heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Planning is required to get the proper amount of protein and calcium. You will need to supplement with vitamin B-12, vitamin D and omega-3 fats.
Vegetarian: encompasses a wide range of diets; lacto-ovo vegetarian (dairy and egg in addition to plant foods), pesco-vegetarian (fish in addition to plant foods), semi-vegetarian (some meat in addition to plant foods). Long term studies show diet is good for losing weight and keeping it off.
Mediterranean: emphasizes fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, nuts, seeds, legumes and olive oil. Also included are cheese, poultry and eggs in moderation. Long term studies show decrease in risk for heart disease, certain kinds of cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. You will need to watch portions and track calories to lose weight on this diet.
DASH: diet designed to reduce the risk of hypertension and stroke. It is like the Mediterranean diet except that it restricts sodium and includes a wider range of lean meats and low-fat dairy products. It does not specifically include olive oil. This diet is clinically proven to reduce blood pressure as effectively as some blood pressure medications. You will need to watch portions and track calories to lose weight on this diet.
Atkins: Very low carbohydrate diet that restricts sugars, grains, high carbohydrate fruits and vegetables. It includes as much fatty meats and saturated fats as you want. This diet has been around for 45 years yet there are no studies that evaluate the long-term benefits and risks. The high intake of saturated fats has the potential to increase the risk of cancer and heart disease.
Paleo: This diet eliminates grains, sugars, refined oils, dairy, legumes, and starchy fruits and vegetables. Most of the protein comes from meats, but beef must be grass-fed. This reduces but does not eliminate, saturated fat and gives a modest increase in omega-3 polyunsaturated fat. There are no studies that evaluate the long-term benefits and risks of this diet. It eliminates two food groups, which is likely to lead to nutritional deficiencies long term. This diet high intake of red meat has the potential to increase risk of cancer.
Keto: This diet is more restrictive than the Atkins diet. It restricts carbohydrates to <10% of calories so that a permanent state of ketosis can be achieved. This diet eliminates grains and sugars, most fruits, corn, legumes and reduces protein intake. That’s because dietary protein will be converted to glucose when blood glucose levels are low. You are left with a highly restrictive diet that allows unlimited amounts of fats and some vegetables and moderate amounts of red meat, eggs, and cheeses. No long-term studies – so no idea if this is a healthy diet. Long term ketosis has the potential to cause kidney disease and osteoporosis. This diet eliminates multiple food groups which will likely lead to nutritional deficiencies if followed long term.
Low carb: The only low carb diets that were successful in long term studies were those that replaced animal protein and animal fats with vegetable protein and vegetable oils.
Anti-inflammatory: This diet includes colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes, nuts, olive oil and avocados, herbs and spices and fatty fish. It does not include: refined carbs, sodas and sugary foods, foods high in saturated fats ( meat and dairy), foods high in trans-fats (margarine, coffee creamers and any processed foods containing partly hydrogenated vegetable oils), fried foods and foods you are allergic or sensitive to. What do we know about inflammation? Omega-3 fats are anti-inflammatory (long chain omega-3s are found in fish and fish oil, short chain omega-3s are found in walnuts flaxseeds, chia seeds and flaxseed oil, soybean oil, and canola oil). Inflammation is directly correlated with glycemic index (refined carbs and sugars have a high glycemic index increase inflammation, complex carbs – whole grains, fruits and vegetables decrease inflammation). Also, its glycemic index and not sugar that is driving the inflammatory response – we need to look more closely at the food rather than just the sugar. Fruits and vegetables decrease inflammation. Saturated fats are inflammatory. Red meat is probably pro-inflammatory.
This is not even all the diets out there. If we narrow these diets down to those that have long term studies it leaves us with – Vegan, Vegetarian, Mediterranean, and DASH. What is the common food found in these diets? Plant foods (vegetables, fruits, whole grains). What if you focus on getting healthy by adding more vegetables, fruits and whole grain to your diet? I recommend a goal of 3 cups of greens, 3 cups of colored veggies and fruit and 3 cups of sulfur rich veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, onions, mushrooms, garlic) every day. Try it out – make this one change and see how your body feels.
Diet comparison information from Slaying the Food Myths by Steve Chaney, PhD