BULNES: People should reform their definition of dieting

Opinions Column: Mind Body Scarlet

The meaning of the word “diet” has been destroyed by its continuous misuse in American society. People think diets are supposed to restrict certain foods, even temporarily, in order to train the mind to resist natural food cravings. Instead, this defines what “dieting” is: an inherently ineffective method because it forces people to associate negative feelings to changes in eating. Realistically, the word “diet” should have a positive connotation — it should define a pattern of healthy selections made intentionally over the lifetime of an individual with the intent to benefit the daily functions of the body. 

Many dieting scams call for meal replacement shakes or bars and attempt to reduce the amount a person eats throughout the day. This represents what a "diet" should not be: a restrictive, torturous, unnatural change. Meal replacement shakes do not lend themselves to lifelong commitment. Nobody can live their life substituting solid food for powder and water. What should be a wholesome lunch consisting of protein, vegetables and fiber is dwindled down to an eight-ounce shake. Neglecting to fuel the body with necessary nutrients takes a toll on its energy levels and leaves the body feeling deficient. Even if a person can manage to use meal replacements for an ample amount of time, what ensues when they stop dieting is never healthy. People fall into false alarm cravings thinking that they need a whole host of unhealthy foods that would not have been appealing had they not been depriving themselves.  

Cravings are seen as a sign of weakness simply because they are usually a result of ignoring hunger. But, cravings are a good thing. They indicate that the body is performing properly. Without the innate tendency to eat when hungry, people would die. Imagine if people did not crave water when they were thirsty — people would die of dehydration. Craving certain foods is the body’s warning that a source of fuel is running low. Craving sweets, for example, could be a warning that blood sugar is low. Trying to refuse cravings will tie a healthy lifestyle to feelings of frustration and lack of self-control.

With a bit of practice, these cravings can help a person create their own personal food plan. The key to success is listening to the body’s specific needs and being adamant about providing them. Until it becomes easy to identify this, replace the cravings with smarter alternatives. People think they need coffee to jump start their morning, they need that cheeseburger they were craving at lunch time or they cannot leave the restaurant without that enticing dessert. Those same people have never tried jump starting their day with a freshly squeezed power juice. They have not noticed the difference in their energy levels when they chose grilled chicken, brown rice and broccoli for lunch. They also have never considered eating dessert at home, just to realize by the time they get there that they are content with swapping a four-serving brownie with one chocolate covered strawberry.

The best time to make a nutritional change is the moment a person questions their health and food choices. Instead of starting tomorrow, Monday or Jan. 1, people should start changing their eating habits with their next meal. Selecting a specific start date will cause procrastination, create a sense of restriction and lead to failure. They need to be conscious of how many nutrients are in the meal and how much energy the food will provide for the next several hours. Healthy eating comes with ups and downs and no one can be perfect. Sometimes it is necessary to indulge in a slice of cake. Other days there is not enough time to cook a wholesome dinner. But, those indulgences will begin to look infinitesimal in comparison to the healthy choices made every single day.  

The moment people abandon toxic dieting habits and redefine what “diet” really means, they will be able to escape the never-ending cycle of poor eating. They will continue to blame themselves for a lack of willpower until they truly realize that dieting is a form of personal ambush and nothing more. 

Monica Bulnes is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in economics and minoring in business administration. Her column, "Mind Body Scarlet," runs on alternate Tuesdays.


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