Diet: A Four Letter Word

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I like mine with lettuce and tomatoes
Heinz 57 and french fried potatoes
Two kosher pickles and a cold draft beer

 Jimmy Buffet

Ever wonder why they call it a “diet?” It’s from the Latin “die,” meaning not to live anymore.

Also, all the other four-letter words were taken.

Who hasn’t woken up New Year’s Day declaring, “I’m going on a diet…tomorrow,” and who hasn’t turned into a bitter pessimist when the diet becomes an oppressive burden? Dieters can be a monstrous wet blanket at a Super Bowl party. They complain because of what they can and can’t eat. They grouse about portion sizes and menu choices. They’re typically a drag, and the fact is that diets in general are not healthy.

Dieting has no real place in weight loss. Some reports set the failure rate of diets as high as 95%. The odds are very much against anyone who tries to lose weight by diet alone. Restricting food to your body strips it of energy sources, and a body stripped of energy runs less efficiently. It’s physical activity, not food restriction, which is the cornerstone of any healthy weight loss program. A good thing to understand when you try to change your self in some way (whether it’s weight loss or living a healthier life style) is that most regimens end up being cyclical by nature. Basically, behavior begets behavior. Once you start yourself in a direction of physical or mental change it becomes easier to continue along that path, and your success, or failure, at achieving your goals takes on a tidal wave-like effect. The key is to find the behavior, habits, and direction that allow you to achieve your goals, then begin the process, and surf the wave to your desired destination, instead of becoming a beach-front landowner without flood insurance.

The diet cycle (for all but 5%) can be vicious because it’s deceptive. Most dieters see an immediate loss of weight when they begin that New Year’s resolution purge. This initial weight loss is usually only temporary. In fact, less than 5% of dieters who lose weight on a “fad diet” keep it off for more than a year, a phenomenon known as the “yo-yo” syndrome that has been proven to be at least as harmful as obesity. What they don’t see on their scales is that as they deprive themselves of calories, they have deprived themselves of energy resources. As the body recognizes this decrease in food intake, it concludes that the body isn’t getting fuel any more, and it correspondingly lowers energy output in the form of base metabolism. Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the energy your body uses while at rest to maintain your basic body systems; i.e. keeping your brain active, your heart pumping, your lungs drawing breath, maintaining muscles, skin, fat, and other cells of the body. When you eat less your body slows down energy expenditure for things like muscle, and conserves it for things like respiratory functioning, brain supplies and fat storage. You eat less, your BMR slows down, and you burn fewer calories. Burning calories is what weight loss is all about. You also have less extra energy to perform your daily chores and to motivate yourself to begin that dynamic, active lifestyle that will promote good health.

Conversely, when you exercise, your BMR increases as your body recognizes the need for more energy expenditure. When you’re active, blood must flow to more body parts (for instance, it takes about 500 calories per day simply to maintain one pound of muscle). So you need to increase caloric intake (eat more) so your body can keep up with the energy needs from increased activity. With your blood pumping and your BMR increased you actually have more energy to get you through the day. You start to feel better and look better. There are even hormones released into your body during and after activity, like adrenaline and endorphins, that give you that “natural high” described by active people. This feeling becomes addictive and gives you the mental edge for continuing to exercise and seek out an energetic and active life style. If you discover that you can live with small doses of good health, you will soon find out that large doses of it will make you a happier, healthier person.