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Why do I keep putting the weight back on?

In her weekly column, Bradford West Gwillimbury licensed nutritionist Nonie De Long talks about why you can't keep off those unwanted pounds
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Dear Nutritionist,

I’m interested in losing the COVID weight I’ve gained but every time I diet I put the weight back on later. I work really hard to slim down and push myself and I always succeed but then 6 months to a year later the weight is creeping back in. I get those looks from my husband and I get angry at myself until it spirals out of control and I am discouraged to keep on trying. Do you know anything about why this is? I have tried different diets but I don’t seem to be able to keep it off with any of them. Can you help direct me? Which diet should I use and how do I keep my results for life? Should I work with a professional to be more accountable or what is my problem?

Seriously stuck,
Michaela

Dear Michaela,

You have asked me a difficult question. I always suggest working with a professional around diet because - ahem - I’m pretty biased towards nutritionists. I’d say half of the class I studied with brought a life changing experience to their studies. This drove them to make a career change that would share the impact they had experienced. Some were doctors or engineers or anthropologists or entrepreneurs who gave up prestigious careers to follow their calling. They were a passionate group and passion fuels excellence. Passion, in my opinion, is the difference between someone who studies to get a degree and someone who studies in their profession for life - out of a driving need to understand and serve. A nutrition professional will be able to help you understand not only what to do, but why, how to track health metrics, how to overcome obstacles, what motivates you - and how to tap into that to ensure you get results. So yes, I really do recommend working with a professional.

For you, a professional will not only help you design a diet that meets your needs and addresses any imbalances, s/he will also help you tap into your own personal power to direct your outcome - and help you question why you aren’t sustaining the results you get. If needed, s/he will challenge you where you are stuck. Folks, if you want to step out of old habits and thinking, you want someone to challenge you! I don’t know you so I won’t make assumptions but I will tell you herein the different scenarios I see that hold people back in terms of their success maintaining a healthier diet for life.

To answer which one of these applies to our situation, if one doesn’t jump out to you immediately, I find it helps to talk to myself over a cup of something in a quiet, distraction-free space. I just ask myself questions. Different questions may trigger things to come up. I ask then sit and wait until the answer comes. If there is no answer, I ask a different question. This can be used for discerning a lot about oneself, but it takes a little practice to master. In this situation I might say, “What am I getting out of not succeeding?” “Why don’t I want to succeed with this?” “What do I gain from staying overweight?” “What about failing feels good to me?” “What about succeeding is scary?” “What will be different if I’m thin?” “What would change?” “Why might I fear that?”

You may think these are silly questions, but time and again I observe clients who work diligently to turn their health around then give it all up for toast in the morning. And it can’t be healthy toast. No! It must be a carby wheat toast or a specific cereal or an afternoon cocktail and snack they are accustomed to. And this isn’t just people who’ve lost weight, it’s people who have successfully reversed diabetes, depression, bipolar, chronic fatigue, rheumatism, anxiety, eczema, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, etc.

Why on earth would people who have gotten such results and reversed such serious disease states not continue with the diet that got them those results? Well, I think for the reasons below combined with the simple truth that dieting is restrictive.

Folks, there is no diet on earth (or lifestyle as we like to call them now) that doesn’t restrict something to get results. We live in a reality where most foods available are so processed that they resemble plastic or cardboard or glue more than food. They are over flavoured and with unwholesome substances like sugar and salt and vegetable oils to make them hyper palatable. They are engineered to be as addicting as humanly possible. So a little of these is never enough. Our biological wiring predisposes us to preferring calorie dense foods to ensure we are sustained in times of scarcity. Our biology hasn’t got the memo that this doesn’t serve us now. And these foodstuff engineers know that. The reason you can’t stop eating chips or insert name of takeout or your morning toast is because it’s more like a drug than a food. It’s created not to nourish you, but to hook you! That’s what drives profits. Why else would you keep eating food that keeps you sick and tired?

And often, it’s the foods we are most attached to that are restricted when we try to clean up our diet. Do you swoon for bread? That’s what you have to give up. Do you melt for milk chocolate? Well, it’s not the sweet milky one you can have now. Whatever you are most attached to is most often your personal kryptonite. I have a friend and we joke that morning bread is his gateway drug. Well, half joke. It’s the absolute truth. Whenever I see the toaster on his counter I know his blood sugar is slipping. It will be a month then I will find candy bar wrappers hidden around the house. I’ll say it again: these hyper palatable, processed foods are more like drugs than food. They are created intentionally by scientists to rob your self control and hook you.

So diets are restrictive by nature. We all know that. But that actually isn’t a bad thing. Restricting unhealthy drugs isn’t a bad thing. Restricting pesticides and GMOs and the chemical soup that we call vegetable oils isn’t a bad thing. Laws are also restrictive. When they are structured by a society that is just, they protect us. Job duties are restrictive. That keeps us focused and on task. Relationships are restrictive. That keeps boundaries to make it a safe space for everyone involved. Life is full of restrictions and freedoms. The balance is where the bliss is.

The problem is, we associate dietary restriction with giving something up instead of all the things we gain from it. We believe that if we can’t have that toast we will not have other things we enjoy as a replacement. Only that specific toast will do. Healthy food can not taste as good! When you think about it, that’s actually quite silly. There are millions of foods on this planet. But time and again people say to me, gasping in exasperation, I can only eat that? The only thing I have asked them to restrict is processed foodstuff, which is typically made out of refined grains or starch, sugar, salt, dairy, and super processed fats. 90% of our foodstuff is made up of some combination of these 5 ingredients so it can be a lot of their pantry they have to ditch.

But if you look at it logically, 5 ingredients as a staple is very restrictive! Not consuming those opens up a horizon of options! The seafood options alone are staggering. Ditto veggies. Ditto animal protein. But clients will look at the plethora of options I give them and gasp that they have to give up these 5. How could I suggest something so restrictive?! The mind is an interesting little machine. And logic doesn’t seem to phase it.

To clarify, our diets today are far more restrictive than they ever were in our history. Those 5 little ingredients (wheat, sugar, vegetable oil, salt, and corn) replace thousands of holistic foods: fish and fowl, ruminants and mollusks, roots and shoots. There’s a great video on this very issue by Aparna Pallavi here. Although it’s speaking of traditional foods in Indian culture, it can easily be applied to any culture without losing meaning. It’s really quite eye opening and delightful to watch.

So part of the challenge is to understand where the mind is tripping us up. What do we choose to believe? What do we really want? What are we getting from our actions or inactions? These are the questions to unlock why a person keeps undoing all their hard work instead of enjoying it. Now, let’s look into some of the common pitfalls I see.

Victim Mentality

We can fall into this state of mind in our childhood where it can rest in us as a coping mechanism until adulthood. People who fall into this category will see problems everywhere that they are at the effect of. They will not see their own power to make choices to change any given circumstance. They will say things like I learned that from my parents, or that is a result of my childhood. Or they will blame spouse, work, parents, friends, siblings for the drama that keeps them from success. Overturning this mentality is difficult, but it frees us to be in the driver’s seat of our own lives.

Fear of Jealousy

I see this frequently in female clients. They often aren’t aware of it themselves, but if you ask them many of their friends or relatives are unhealthy in their food choices or body weight. They are subconsciously afraid of not fitting in, of the jealousy or lack of solidarity that will ensue. When we eat differently than others they can see it as judgement on their eating habits. It isn’t, of course. But many people have that internal narrative and it’s difficult to be the only one dieting in a group. This especially pertains to women because they typically like to do things in groups more than males do. If a client can identify this as a block to her success, I suggest she bring a friend on board to have someone to diet with. That often changes the experience to a positive one.

Fear of Attention

This also applies to females more than males, in my experience. There are a multiplicity of reasons why it’s easier to remain in the shadows as a woman in many workplaces, even today. As soon as you are thin you attract attention you may not be comfortable with. This attention can range from body shaming to sexual advances to office jealousy. But in all cases you are less likely the recipient if you don’t stand out as being that skinny girl.

Partner Sabotage

Insecure partners can feel threatened when their partner attempts to become more healthy or loses weight. They can fear the change it will bring to their lives and to their attractiveness as a mate. I see this in both sexes in relationships. Working together to become healthier is a great solution where this is the problem.

Self Sabotage

We can also stop our own results because we don’t feel comfortable with being successful. We don’t see ourselves that way or are afraid of change. For this, the question and answer formula I outlined above is particularly helpful. Knowing why we do what we do empowers us to change that.

Insulin Resistance

I speak about this often because it’s such a common issue at present for so many clients. It’s become an epidemic, even in youth. What it does is create a situation where the body’s metabolism hijacks attempts to lose body fat by over-reacting to any carb or sugar that is eaten. These in turn get stored as body fat. Even if you starve yourself to lose weight, if you don’t address insulin resistance it’s very hard to keep the weight off. It must be reversed with nutritional supports.

Emotional Eating

This is a hard one. Food can be very comforting if you’re feeling unwell. Certain foods cause biochemical changes in our bodies almost instantaneously that make us feel better. That is why this is better described as addictive eating. Almost all emotional eating is tied to blood sugar dysregulation, dopamine dysregulation, mood dysregulation, or serotonin dysregulation. Using supplements in combination with a balancing diet is essential for these folks.

Body Shame

Shame is a horrible weapon. It doesn’t just cut, it leaves hooks. Later those hooks are able to slice us up, all over again, without the abuser being present. When it’s about our bodies, it’s especially toxic. I see this a lot with adult survivors of sexual abuse. The shame they feel can drive them to subconsciously hide their bodies in a protective layer. But shame has no place in a healthy mind. The only solution to this is to name it and exorcise it from the psyche. It all has to go for healing to begin. In this case especially, psychological healing must go hand in hand to facilitate the healing that needs to happen.

I hope this has been helpful, Michaela. I hope you can identify what it is you need to address to overcome your tendency to backslide once you start to succeed. If you want professional help I encourage you to reach out. I have just slashed all my prices as my response to this pandemic, so there has never been a better time.

As always, if readers have their own health questions, I welcome them. Just send me an email at nonienutritionista@gmail.com. Readers can sign up for my free newsletter at hopenotdope.ca to stay abreast of health news and upcoming events. Thanks for reading!

Namaste!
Nonie Nutritionista