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How to Stop Obsessing Over Your Diet

Updated on April 24, 2015

If you've been on the diet train for any length of time, you've probably heard of the hormone cortisol. It's the stress hormone, and when it's high, we pack on the weight.

With high cortisol levels, other hormonal imbalances can happen as well, making the situation an exponentially growing nightmare for anyone trying to drop the pounds.

A recent study on low calorie dieting indicated that "Dieting may be deleterious to psychological well-being and biological functioning, and changes in clinical recommendations may be in order." (ref. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2895000/)

The study took 121 woman and split them into three groups. Each then followed three common approaches to dieting:

  • One group was told to eat 1200 calories a day, while tracking their own food.
  • The second was provided 1200 calories a day, but did not have to track or prepare their own food.
  • The third group was told to eat normally, and not track any food or restrict calories.

Just as you would expect, among the three scenarios above, the group that had to track and restrict their own calories had the biggest increase in perceived stress and measured cortisol levels.

The second group, not having to worry about prepping, measuring, or tracking their food had lower cortisol levels, but still had an increase merely from the calorie restriction.

The third, had no increase in perceived stress or measured cortisol levels.

So what does this all mean? It seems that people who don't diet biologically give themselves the advantage to drop weight the fastest!

Yet, if you need to lose weight, you can't just forget about your goals. You must instead fin da way to lose weight while not stressing out your mind or body. Managing stress while in weight loss mode will not only increase our success rate, but you'll also feel a lot better, making the entire process much more enjoyable.

Basic Weight Loss Math Doesn't Necessarily Work

The basic math to weight loss is to consume less calories than you burn. One pound of caloric energy is 3,5000 calories, so theoretically, if you obtain a deficit of 500 calories a day, you'll consistently lose one pound per week.

Most people have found that through experience, this isn't the case. If only it were that easy!

Those are indeed all the correct numbers in chemistry. But the human body is more complicated than that. If you have minimal stress levels, adequate exercise, proper body composition, proper caloric intake for your basic needs, and a diet rich in essential vitamins and minerals, and perfect performance on your diet, then you can probably achieve one pound of fat loss per week.

If you do not have all of the above -- and many of us don't if we have pounds to lose in the first place -- then the first step is to get balanced first.

  1. Step 1: Calculate your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure). This will tell you how many calories per day you should be consuming for your activity level. Whether you've been trying to eat fewer than this or find yourself eating more, try to stick to around this number. Do not try to restrict calories yet -- find what consistent balance is first.
  2. Step 2: Try to drink 2L of water per day. Dehydration is one of the leading causes of stress. A lot of people think they drink enough water, but some studies show that up to 75% of Americans may be chronically dehydrated and not even know it. While increasing your water intake, follow these tips to get the most out of drinking water.
  3. Step 3: Move for at least 30 minutes every day. Exercise isn't only about burning excess calories. Mental stress can accumulate from muscle tension, excess physical energy with drained mental energy, lack of sleep (exercise will help you sleep and maintain a circadian rhythm), and all other aspects associated with lack of movement. If possible, do exercise outside some day; sunlight can build up vitamin D3 stores and improve mental health.
  4. Step 4: Take a multi-vitamin. Getting essential vitamins and minerals can help you stay biologically balanced, incurring faster weight loss or better weight management. Jumpstart nutritional balance by taking a whole-food, quality multivitamin. Do plenty of research when searching for the right one; quality multi-vitamins may cost more, but are also more effective. Consider an Omega-3 supplement with DHA & EPA as well if you do not eat fish. There are fish oil supplements available, and also vegetarian and vegan alternatives.

Move your body for at least 30 minutes a day to help stay balanced. Find a fun way to get active! Walk your dog, explore a nearby trail or park, go hiking, biking, play tennis, or just put in your headphones and admire your neighborhood's scenery.
Move your body for at least 30 minutes a day to help stay balanced. Find a fun way to get active! Walk your dog, explore a nearby trail or park, go hiking, biking, play tennis, or just put in your headphones and admire your neighborhood's scenery. | Source

How many minutes of activity do you get most days (on average)?

See results

Give Up Rules

When you obtain and maintain a certain knowledge of what a balanced healthy routine is like, you can begin to give up obsessive health rules and regulations.

Stop Counting Calories

After you count calories for a while, you get an idea of what a properly sized, healthy meal is. Yet, anything beyond getting to know your habits can become obsessive -- therefore creating stress that only hinders your goals.

Stop counting the tablespoon of ketchup on your plate, or the half of a cookie you had in the office. Instead, you can now focus on just taking one meal and one day at a time. Find balance in routine, instead of forcing foods into certain macro-nutrient or calorie restricted bundles.

If you have a sweet snack in the afternoon, do not try to exercise it off or count how many calories you must cut from your dinner. Instead, just eat a normally sized dinner, based on what you've learned previously.

Stop Following Diet Trends

If drinking kombucha makes you feel great, then keep doing it. Stop if you don't prefer the taste. If you hate salads, stop forcing them down. If you have a craving for sweets, eat something your craving. If the Paleo diet makes your grumpy, loosen the reins.

Stop following any particular diet, food, or food group solely for weight loss.

Setting one's self up for strict standards (usually with foods you don't like yet) leads to weight gain, in the form of stress-related weight gain as well as more binges on the forbidden foods.

Even if you think you are immune to the psychological sways of restriction, you likely stray from a forced diet more often than you can recall.

Give up forbidden foods and super foods. Instead, eat anything you want 20% of the time, focusing on healthy foods that you still enjoy the other 80% of the time. Spend some time experimenting with new healthy foods that you can include in your diet. If you don't end up liking them, try something else.

Eat When You Are Hungry, Don't Eat When You Are Not

Circadian rhythms are awesome, telling us when to eat, sleep, wake up, and move. This is why if you never eat breakfast in the morning, you're not hungry in the morning either. Or if you always eat lunch early, you're starving by 11 a.m.

There's no harm in keeping to a general eating schedule, in fact it can be good for us. Yet, diet culture puts too much stress on it.

If you're not hungry, don't eat just because it's time to eat.

On the contrary, if it's not time to eat and you become hungry, eat something.

You circadian rhythm and society's standards for eating times are only guidelines. Ultimately, your body will know when it is time to eat, especially if you're eating plenty of healthy balanced meals most of the time.

Side Note: An imbalanced diet can mess with your natural hunger hormones, causing you to be hungry when you body doesn't require energy, or suppress appetite, only leaving you irrationally hungry later on. This is why it's important to find balance first.

If you refuse to eat when you're truly hungry, you'll be more likely to obsess over food and make poor choices.

If you eat when you're not hungry, your giving your body more food energy than it needs right now, which will turn into weight gain.

Nothing is off limits, unless you have a serious food allergy. The quality of calories does matter, but the rule you should follow is the "80/20" rule for healthy eating. Don't obsess when you eat something you enjoy every once in a while.
Nothing is off limits, unless you have a serious food allergy. The quality of calories does matter, but the rule you should follow is the "80/20" rule for healthy eating. Don't obsess when you eat something you enjoy every once in a while. | Source

Focus on Today (Intrinsic Motivation)

Those who focus on how they will look for others, or far off into the future for their weight loss goals, usually have the bumpiest road. These people wait for comments from others to determine their success, like waiting to hear, "Have you lost weight?" or "You look great, what's your secret?" They tend to be yo-yo dieters.

However, people who want things like wanting natural energy starting today, not feeling sick tomorrow, using health to get ahead in their careers, financial habits, and so on, or just want the intrinsic self confidence of knowing they can run a 5k, are the most successful.

Create a measure of progress and success that you can control.

Some examples:

  • Running the entire way in your first 5k
  • Finding a balanced, healthy routine that provides a happy, content, and more productive days
  • Creating a contract with one's self or a close person to keep them accountable
  • Betting hard-earned money on goals, with DietBet (results focused) or GymPact (activity focused)

By focusing on today, and nothing in the far future, you can leave any decisions or obsessions nightly.

Each meal eaten today is done, and no previous meals have any effect on tomorrow's meals. The amount of exercise you did today was for today, and tomorrow's exercise will be for tomorrow. The amount of happy things you did today, or the stress you felt, was for today, not tomorrow.

If you race against yourself, you have far more control over whether you're successful or not. You can always be little bit better than your last time.
If you race against yourself, you have far more control over whether you're successful or not. You can always be little bit better than your last time. | Source

Summing Up

  1. Take some time to find balanced health. It may mean focusing on some general health changes. Get educated on what healthy is, and what healthy feels like. Do not focus on weight loss while finding your true energy.
  2. Stop tracking and following rules. Follow only your own rules. Nobody will know your body like you do. You will know what level of exercise will give you energy, and what lack of exercise will leave you groggy. You will know what meals give energy, and when to give into a craving. You know when you're hungry, and when you can skip a snack.
  3. Find your intrinsic motivation for health. The weight will follow eventually if it needs to, so don't force weight loss into any motivation. Make goals that will enhance your life today or not far off in the future. Focus on those, and long-term results will follow without noticing them.

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