Diet advice is everywhere you look: television, books, magazines, and the internet. Almost always, the advice is juxtaposed with advertisements for fast food and restaurant chains, sugary drinks or candy, convenience meals, and trans–fatty snacks, which all feature happy, healthy models. Just the fact that the average supermarket magazine will have countless weight loss tips (ones that really work—not like those other weight loss tips), while at the same time featuring recipes that rely on processed foods like trans fats and refined flour, is significant. Maybe there’s a subliminal message here: these gorgeous models have found a way to eat high–fat, high–sugar foods and still look great. You, obviously, have not figured it out yet; hence, the need for the latest special diet, or a special exercise regimen, or some kind of weight–loss medication. The truth is that weight loss happens most naturally when people find a way to eat more whole foods in place of processed foods. Most mainstream diet advice, on the other hand, is about starvation.
Many of the most well–known diets encourage starvation in two ways: either they insist that you restrict the amount of food you eat (portion control, eating small meals, counting calories and points, etc.) or they make you eliminate whole food groups altogether (fat or carbohydrates). Each of these practices has consequences for how the body metabolizes food. Although most of us have never had the experience of going months with very little food to eat, it did happen occasionally to our ancestors. In a time when we’re deprived of food, the body becomes much more efficient at saving it. The more stressed out you are, and the less food you allow yourself to eat, the more tightly the body holds on to the fat it does have, because it senses that you’re famished. This is the reason why many people can quickly lose some weight on a starvation diet, but then find it very hard to lose as much as they need to and often gain it back again.
Many diets do hold out a sort of Holy Grail to dieters, that “you can eat as much as you want and not get fat” on their diet (as long as it’s certain foods). This message sounds so appealing because so many diets say you can’t eat as much as you want. People who are always struggling with starving themselves are dying to feel full and satisfied.
What’s remarkable is that the Holy Grail is out there—but it’s not in any kind of pill, diet plan, or food that anyone can manufacture and sell to you. Nature already provides all the food that we need to be satisfied and healthy (like milk, in its natural state). Modern–day society is set up so that if we want to be healthier and happier, and lose weight permanently, we have to go against the tide. We have to cook more for ourselves, clean out our kitchen of processed food, and make time to eat three balanced meals a day. In other words, we have to become independent around our food. Once that happens, those pounds just disappear until you’ve reached your natural weight. The only reason why it works so well is because truly healthy eating (not healthy eating in the sense of bland, fat–free, carb–free restricted diets) is addictive. Suddenly, your body starts sending you a flood of messages about how much it likes what you are doing. With a little practice in cooking, you’re making food ten times more delicious than what you get from the restaurant or pizza place, such that you’re wondering if you’re eating this way to lose weight or just for pleasure. My clients who are transitioning to a whole foods diet lose a pound or two a week, but it’s almost an afterthought to all the other health benefits they’re seeing. The extra time it takes you to take care of yourself is returned to you with many more years of life at your natural weight and a chance to think about things other than your health.