Are you trying to lose weight, prevent chronic diseases, improve your gut health, or just feel better in your body?
If yes, would you rather spend your life trying (and failing) on the roller coaster of dieting, or do you aspire to make sustainable lifestyle changes that will actually benefit you for your whole life? Read on to decide where you stand on the lifestyle vs. dieting debate!
What exactly are lifestyle changes?
Lifestyle medicine is an ever-growing field with promising research that shows that making healthy lifestyle changes is the best way we can reach a healthy weight and prevent chronic diseases.
What’s the difference between a lifestyle change and diet?
Lifestyle changes focus on long-term health versus dieting that focuses on short-term results, that are not always possible to maintain. A lifestyle change is more holistic, considering the physical and mental wellbeing, rather than simply weight loss.
The 6 pillars of lifestyle management include:
- Good nutrition
- Optimal sleep (6-8 hours)
- Exercising for at 150 minutes per week
- Completely avoiding smoking
- Consuming alcohol only in moderation
- Stress management
Nutrition is at the core of lifestyle change!
What we eat is what we are. Not only do we have to fuel our bodies with energy to work, move, and live, but nutrients serve many other purposes, such as digestive health, immune health, cellular repair, blood cell production, bone health, nerve regulation and on and on.
Food is our #1 tool to fight off sickness and optimize our health! We all know that we need MORE fruits and vegetables, whole-grain carbohydrates, low-fat dairy, and healthy proteins and fats, and LESS processed/packaged foods, fast food, sugary beverages, alcohol and salt.
But knowing what to do is one thing, and actually doing it is another. Lifestyle changes can be challenging to start, and they take some time to make them a part of your routine. That is why many people may opt for diets, which promise ‘quick-fix results (, which we know do not exist in reality). So why not try working on your lifestyle habits instead?
Here are some interesting numbers:
- Research shows us that even losing 5-10 % of your body weight can lead to decreased blood pressure, blood cholesterol and blood sugars
- Good nutrition accounts for about 80 % of weight loss, with the other 20 % being the remaining pillars of lifestyle management
- About 80-95 % of people who lose weight through diets put it back on within 1-5 years
What is the best age to make lifestyle changes in?
It is never too late, or too early, to make healthy lifestyle changes and enjoy the benefits!
In your 20’s:
You’re probably going to get the most benefit in the preventative aspect. This is a time to optimize bone and organ health, build muscle mass, and make healthy habits into a routine. This is the time to set the foundation and healthy habits for good health for the rest of your life. Instead of starting the latest diet or detox, work on your lifestyle.
In your 30’s and 40’s:
You’ve probably tried a few diets here and there, and you are tired of the roller coaster ride that is dieting. This is a key time to focus on improving your relationship with food, ensuring you’re preventing excess fat gain, muscle loss and bone loss that occurs as we start ageing. Most importantly, this is the time to be protecting yourself from developing/worsening chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, liver and kidney disease, heart disease, and cancer.
Maybe you’re interested in having children, and nutrition can be a significant factor in good fertility! Already have a family? Your children will pick up your lifestyle habits, for better or worse, and the choices you make now can influence their health.
By your 50’s and 60’s:
You might be experiencing body changes (e.g. more fat around the middle), hormonal changes (e.g. post-menopause) and a metabolism that is slowing down.
Getting older is inevitable; however, many of the things we associate with getting older, such as weight gain or high cholesterol, can be prevented or managed with lifestyle. This is an important time to make sure that you’re feeling your best and living your healthiest life possible. And, if you have any health conditions, nutrition can be a huge key to prevent them from getting worse. Being healthier can help you ensure you can tick off those bucket list items, enjoy your freedom or spend more time with your kids and grandkids.
In your 70’s and beyond:
You might find yourself eating less, maybe on some medications or dealing with some health issues. Or you may be one of the lucky ones and be perfectly healthy, but just want to enjoy your life as much as possible. Getting all the appropriate nutrients is going to be key in this!
Lifestyle Changes Vs. Dieting: The Cons for Dieting
Many of our clients come in with a list of diets they have tried in the past to help them lose weight. And we hear this all the time that nothing has really worked for them. Why is that? Is it because people are unmotivated? Is it because they don’t have the willpower to stick to it? Absolutely not!
Here are 4 main reasons why diets just don’t work:
- Diets are restrictive and nutritionally incomplete. Diets are often very ‘gimmicky’ and call for completely eliminating or reducing whole food groups or nutritious foods such as carbohydrates or healthy fats below the healthy recommendations. For example, the keto diet has been used increasingly over the past few years, and while it may show short-term results in weight loss, a lack of carbohydrates is harmful to your brain and digestive system. Additionally, the high fat intake can cause high cholesterol and liver issues, and last but not least, the keto diet may affect hormones and fertility.
- Diets are not sustainable: Most people can manage a diet for a few weeks or months but will often find they develop nutrient deficiencies, lose muscle mass, have no energy to get through the day, and don’t have any sustainable weight loss results (keeping the weight off!) This can lead to the dieting rollercoaster of losing weight, falling ‘off the wagon’, gaining the weight and more back, resulting in increased body fat in the long term.
- Diets can be expensive: Many of these diets include a myriad of ‘health food’ products and unnecessary (and unregulated) supplements, most of which are overpriced and focus on marketing rather than actual efficacy. Some can be very harmful in addition to being expensive, such as weight loss shakes and diet teas (electrolyte imbalances, digestive issues, etc.).
- Many diets use a ‘one-size fits all’ approach: We don’t all wear the same clothes, live in the same house, or have the same friends. So why should we all eat exactly the same? This approach assumes that each person has the same body, same metabolism, same genetics, same health conditions, same preferences and same lifestyle. This simply isn’t true- and this is why we need personalized nutrition advice and recommendations!
Lifestyle Changes Vs. Dieting: The Pros for Lifestyle Changes
- Lifestyle changes are not restrictive: A healthy lifestyle includes flexibility, variety and a good relationship with food. It allows us to mindfully indulge in our favourite foods once in a while but also to meet our needs for energy, protein, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals to ensure we can have long, healthy and happy lives.
- Lifestyle changes are more sustainable in the long term: Eating to nourish your body and incorporate a large variety of foods, including allowances of your favourite comfort or treat foods, will help you to maintain healthy eating habits lifelong if desired! These changes can be made one step at a time by breaking your goals down into achievable steps. There are no magical overnight fixes promised by lifestyle changes, but they are backed up by years of scientific research.
- Lifestyle changes can be personalized for you! Tailoring our nutrition recommendations for each client is why we (registered dietitians) study for so many years! Nutrition, like any other health behaviour, needs to fit YOUR lifestyle, YOUR preferences and YOUR goals. Otherwise, it will never work. Everyone is motivated by different things, so tune into YOUR motivation for making a lifestyle change, and let that be your guide.
- Lifestyle changes are more wallet-friendly: Eating a good balanced variety of foods does not have to be expensive. There are many ways to save on costs, such as buying grains in bulk, buying frozen fruits and veggies, buying less packaged foods and buying more local foods.
Lifestyle Vs. Dieting: THE RESULTS
Some people say: Well, why don’t I just try the “ABC” diet first and see if it works for me? But it is important to question what we hope to achieve as a RESULT of these choices. Theory is one thing, but here are the outcomes that we actually see in practice as dietitians:
- Weight loss is done in a healthy way at 1-2 lb/week and can be MAINTAINED long-term
- More energy to do the things you love
- Higher self-esteem, confidence and happier in own body
- A better understanding of hunger/satiety levels
- Better relationship with food and comfort around all types of food
- Increased variety and enjoyment of food (including socially)
- Being a better role model for those around you (work, family, friends)
- Become confident in making independent food choices and eventually get “off the meal plan”
- Weight loss can be too rapid (more than 2 lb a week), which can lead to a variety of other health issues, muscle mass loss, and the weight commonly comes back on
- Negative self-esteem and distorted and unrealistic perception or expectations of our own bodies
- Develop unhealthy eating behaviours such as labelling foods as ‘good’ and ‘bad’. All foods have a place in a healthy diet, but diets tend to focus on ‘avoid’ lists (e.g. avoid chocolate) and can cause feelings of guilt and fear if one does not stick to the list
- Increased obsession with counting calories, avoiding certain foods or social situations, including food
- Feelings of low energy/fatigue, guilt, shame, anxiety, fear of foods, losing focus from other things (e.g. work, socializing, hobbies)
So, which option sounds better to you?
If you’re interested in making a sustainable lifestyle change and improve how you eat, reach out to one of our expert dietitians to support you!
Author: NutriProCan Dietitians. Nishaat Patel, RD, Master of Dietetics, BSc. Nutrition, BSc. Food Science