----- “The map is not the territory”: ———
All too often so many people enter the health & fitness realm to in fact become healthier. However most paradoxically come out of the other side with even more distorted body images, low self-esteem patterns & neurotic eating disordered tendencies (1)… This is far from what most consider to be deemed healthy attributes... Yet the very toxic rules used to attempt to navigate through the complex maze of nutrition & exercise science are guiding us further into deeper concentric circles of confusion with zero exit strategy. The rules I’m about to mention below are labeled as the gold standard foundation of conventional dieting and which self-declared fitness gurus echo as non-negotiable protocols to gain optimal results. The problem with these rigid principles is they reinforce disordered eating behaviours & mindsets surround food
—— Conventional dieting rules: ———
You must eat every 2 - 5 hours
You must not eat carbs before bed
No starchy carbs after 5pm, 6pm, 7pm (the time changes depending on the guru)
You must not eat sugar
You must not drink alcohol
Don’t eat after 7pm, 8pm, 9pm, 10pm
Cut out all white flour
Cut out all salt
You must do intermittent fasting
You must do the ketogenic diet (high protein, low carb, high fats)
You must not drink your calories at all costs
Must not eat red meat
You must not eat any processed foods even in moderation
Meat is bad and red meat gives you cancer
Fat makes you fat
The health & fitness industry has become almost a toxic breeding ground for obsessive compulsive habits which begin to impede people's ability to function as a human being (which when done in extremes are not healthy). When we take our personal human experience and remove the ‘human’ element from the equation we set ourselves up to fail. It is also inherently human to demand perfection from things designed to be imperfect. We figure, the more we control we have with our diets the more advantageous & effective we think we shall be. Inversely, a loss of control is always then a major source of fear… Having such large manual ‘does and don’ts’ further generates more criteria to judge ourselves on. Installing such a massive unending list of rules unsupported by research into our health & fitness programmes makes things even more complex, which makes it difficult to follow through on. Complexity for this reason is then nemesis of execution.
------ Rigid dieting inflicts extreme self-paralysis: ——
In following all the rules above in whichever dysfunctional combination you put them in, you will feel overtime a chronic pervasive sense of rigidity, frozenness and total paralysis… On paper these golden rules seem plausible for a feasible nutrition programme but behind closed doors and when applied in extremes creates nothing but insurmountable stress for the average individual. Life is a multifactorial experience that contains already many stressful components and adding a series of time consuming contradictory nutritional guidelines only further multiples stress as opposed to subtracting it. With conventional dieting all your thoughts, actions & decisions are all suspended in fear, shame, guilt, confusion, self-hatred & perfectionism (2). People even begin to create a false self-esteem boost from righteous eating, focusing on total purity & in believing their clean eating habits are better than everyone else’s…
——— Lets create an case study example: ————
Say for example a busy mum of 2 kids who works 40 hours per week as a lawyer is following the guidelines above exactly as described. Her goal is to lose body fat. She needs 1600 calories per day to lose 1 lb - 2 lb per week.
She hasn’t managed to eat all day because she was having to work through her lunch & breaks to allow her to spend more time with her children in the evening. She finally gets in from work at 6pm. All she has had is black coffee with sweetener and a protein bar in the morning for breakfast for around 300 calories.
She begins to make dinner for her & her family but suddenly remembers the rules above prescribed from magazines, her friends maybe a few non-evidenced based blogs and quickly has to go through the all perquisites needed to make what she would perceive to be a ‘perfect meal’ for her goals & family meal.
She did fancy a grilled chicken breast, with 1 white potato and some boiled broccoli with zero calorie garlic mayo but realises that she told not to have any starchy carbs after 5pm so losing the potato. She then recalls someone saying meat causing cancer, so then loses the portion of grilled chicken. So out of the passing of poor information in this pathological relay race, the mum in this fable chooses to only eat a bowl of broccoli after only eating 300 - 330 calories all day and then cooks a separate meal for her family. She goes to bed starving unnecessarily and feels completely depleted the next day before another ultra busy day of work.
She also feels guilty she hasn’t eaten every 2 - 5 hours as instructed from her friends so feels like the entire was a wasted effort. She then begins to feel a sense of absolute hopelessness. The next day after feeling completely derailed she then overeats all day long on higher calorie foods because she created such a large energy deficit the day before. After her massive binge out of guilt & shame she then causes her to restrict herself again. She continues the beaten path of self-hatred blaming herself for her misfortunes thinking it's because of her lack of willpower & effort she binged but really the ladder she was climbing was against the wrong wall from the start… The ‘clean eating persona’ many of us try to adopt masquerades as ‘healthy eating’ but is camouflaged below the veil of consciousness is an actual case of pathological dieting.
———— Orthorexia nervosa: a hidden eating disorder ————
The ‘Orthorexia nervosa’ was termed first coined in 1997 by an American physician Steven Bratman M.D. which meant ‘ortho’ meaning ‘correct’ and ‘orexi’ meaning ‘appetite’ (3). The classification was used to describe ‘an excessive preoccupation with eating foods one perceives as being healthy’. Orthorexia nervosa is an over-focusing on the quality of the food you eat. Whereas ‘anorexia nervosa’ is an over-focusing on the quantity of the food you eat. Orthorexia is an ultra perfectionistic counterproductive style of dieting which actually on the surface level looks & sounds great but really is fundamentally when ‘healthy eating’ turns against you.
Symptomology of Orthorexia:
Spending an excessive amount of time planning meals
Following an increasingly restrictive diet
Eliminating entire categories of food from a diet
Linking self-esteem with adherence to a diet
Hiding or concealing food from others
Refusing to eat with others, or avoiding food in public
Being critical of others’ eating habits
Feeling shame or guilt about failing to meet own dietary restrictions
Obsessing over nutrition labels
Significant weight changes
Lower body temperature
Inability to eat in an intuitive manner
“People don’t fail diets, diets fail people.” - Eric Edmeades
We don’t necessarily have a ‘weight loss epidemic’, we have a ‘weight regaining epidemic’. Studies show most people who go on a diet will in fact lose fat. Surprised? However, In most cases after the first 5 years 90% of dieters relapse and all the fat people they lost is regained (4).
Some studies show with a 100 participants sample size (5) that most diets have a 95% failure rate because individuals couldn’t maintain the ultra restrictive lifestyle needed to achieve fat loss through such rigid habits systems.
Studies show that between 30% - 50% of people who go on a diet will develop a form of pathological dieting and of those people 25% of them will develop an eating disorder (6) (8). A study done in 1992 showcased 46% as young 9 - 11 year olds embark in dieting and 82% of their families do as well.
—— Destination thinking addiction ——
We become so focused on the destination we forget the journey… The destination IS the journey. Saying things like: “When I drop a dress size I will like myself”, “when I lose weight I will like myself”, “if I restrict myself enough I will like myself.” Personal happiness becomes an nonexistent fairytale when suffering is at its foundation. If you think happiness is somewhere else from where you currently are (7) (9), you will stay in a paradigm suffering in the hopes to reach it.
Within rigid dieting there is always a cognitive checkpoint we self-invent as almost an imaginary finish line that once we have persevered long enough, we hit the detonation button and totally devour everything in sight. We forget all the rules in these moments to grant ourselves permission to self-destruct. The opposite of control, is release.
Poorly designed nutrition programmes will encourage excessive restrictiveness throughout the week and the 1 - 2 days per week promote binge eating and then calling it a ‘cheat day’. Continuous binging and restricting cycles further lowers self-esteem and slows down progress. In a fat loss context, if you have created a calorie deficit throughout the week and then hyper-consume a colossal excess of calories 1- 3 days per week, you most likely have tapped into the energy deficit you create in the week and the following week are trying to burn off what you binged on over the weekend. As a result you stay the same which produces even more stress.
------- “A golden mean is a desired middle point between two extremes.” - Aristotle ———
I split power in 3 domains and can be seen as a continuum.
‘Undisciplined’ being no power.
‘Flexibility’ is the centre-point between any polarised extremes being true power (relaxed control).
‘Rigidity’ being too controlled. Containing some power but doesn’t truly maximise its potential.
Having cognitive flexibility (10) is important to maximise our mental health, social wellbeing & physical wellness especially when it comes to our diets. The more freedom of flexibility we can have in our programmes the more adherence we increase and the more likely we will sustain our nutrition protocols with more enjoyability.
In chapter 2 I will begin to debunk the conventional dieting rules to allow you to raise your awareness of how to make your diet more flexible.
--- Joshua Leo Stuart
———— References: —————