For most, whether male or female, each of us has an ideal in our mind of how our bodies should look. While that ideal body image may vary from individual to individual, for most, it means being lean, muscular, sculpted, slim, or some version thereof. High protein diets, low-carb diets, low-fat diets, ultra-low calorie diets, diet pills that promise miracles, and exercise programs that promise model-like results in just minutes a day are among some of the crazy fads that have come, gone, and come back again to tempt us with false promises of that perfect body. The advertisers of these products, whether programs or supplements, know how to sell. The media already has us all hooked on idea of the perfect sculpted body with magazine covers bearing air-brushed models, actors, and actresses, all meeting that ‘ideal’ that we feel the need to strive for. All the dieting advertisers have to do is monopolize on that by promising three things: fast results, little time commitment, and little effort.
There is no magic pill. There is no magic diet. There is no 20-minute workout that will make you look like a fitness model. Those are the simple facts. The first thing to be aware of is that what you see in media has been made up by professional makeup artists, airbrushed, shot by professional photographers, gone through plastic surgery, and in some cases, those slim, willowy, women on the magazine covers are severely anorexic. Welcome to your new reality. Unless you’re one of the few blessed with a fast metabolism and a slim, tall body, you will never look like they do without major intervention. If you don’t like how your body looks, you are first going to have to fully appreciate the fact that what you see in media is completely contrived, and unrealistic. Then you are going to have to adjust your expectations of yourself.
Diets don’t work. For the purposes of this discussion, a diet is a temporary weight-loss program that somehow changes the way that you eat. Your body needs macronutrients to function properly. Muscle tissue needs protein, your joints and other body parts need fats, and your body needs carbohydrates for energy. While you get energy from all three of these macronutrients, they all get processed a little differently, and too much or too little of one or the other can be catastrophic. To be healthy, the USDA currently recommends that people get 45 – 65% of their calories from carbohydrates, which are most easily broken down into energy for the body to function. 10 – 35% of calories should come from proteins, which help to maintain muscle tissue and organs. 20 – 35% of our diet should come from fats, which help our bodies process certain vitamins and minerals and cushion organs and joints. (There are many more roles that macronutrients play in the human body, but I’ve tried to keep it simple here). Determining what percentage of each macronutrient you need for your particular lifestyle will depend on a lot of factors including your weight, your level of activity, your gender, and your age.
So what about those diets? I won’t use the names of specific diets that have been popular in the past, but let’s look at what happens when you diet. In most diets, you’re cutting something out. You’re either cutting down one macronutrient while adding more of another macronutrient, or you’re decreasing the overall amount of calories that you take in. Either way, you’re engaging in temporary behavioral eating changes with the goal of losing weight. Any diet that can’t be sustained permanently is going to be difficult to follow, will have a negative impact on your overall wellbeing, and your body will go into ‘starvation mode’, slowing down its metabolism to store as much energy as possible as a result of the decreased amount of available macronutrients. To counter this side effect of a decreased caloric intake, some will also add an exercise regime to their diet, which is great, but once the weight is off, they start eating ‘normally’ again and become less active, and then, the weight comes right back.
Diet pill supplements are even worse. To date, there are absolutely no diet pills that actually support permanent, or, realistically, even temporary, weight-loss, and most have the potential to cause serious damage to your organs. Liver disease or failure, gallbladder stones, kidney disease or failure, and heart failure can all result from taking over-the-counter supplements that promise results. Look into the studies done on the supplements you may be considering before you go out and buy them. You’ll see that in many cases, people lost more weight with a healthy diet and exercise regime than with the weight loss supplement. A healthy weight loss, by the way, is considered to be about two pounds a week. If you’re very obese, you may lose more in the beginning if you’re getting active after being sedentary, and making excellent food choices, but typically two pounds/week is considered safe and sustainable.
If you want to change the way your body looks, the equation is simple. Choose real foods. Don’t eat too much. Include fibre in your diet, lots of vegetables, berries, nuts and seeds, and cut down on your meat intake if you eat meat. If you’re not vegetarian, be sure to include fish in your diet at least once a week. The human body doesn’t know what to do with animal fats, and so they end up clogging up arteries when there is too much of it circulating in the bloodstream. Change the way you eat for life, and DITCH the diet forever. Instead of focusing on how you look on the outside, focus on how you look and feel on the inside. It needs to be a lifestyle change. Find some kind of physical activity that you enjoy, that you can fit into your lifestyle, and that’s realistic for you. Try to use weight-bearing exercises such as walking or running at least three, preferably five, days a week, as it helps to keep your bones strong. Keeping your heart strong with activities that get your heart pumping are also a great idea. The same goes for resistance training, aka weight lifting. You don’t need weights to do resistance training, as there are plenty of great body-based exercises out there that don’t require any equipment at all, but if you enjoy the gym, that’s great too. You should aim to hit the gym or do body-weight resistance exercises 2-3 times a week. Just a half hour of physical activity each day brings excellent health benefits, and helps to balance the energy in/energy out scale, and recent research is showing that even if that activity is broken up into two, or even three times a day (so two 15-minute walks or three 10-minute walks) there are positive health benefits. Then, embrace your healthy body, ignore the magazine covers and media, and pat yourself on the back for making a lifestyle change that will give you a better life overall.