I have talked about my journey through dieting in a previous article. It’s a journey on which I have made many mistakes. Today, I keep on learning and understanding new things about nutrition and our bodies.
We are in constant evolution, and therefore have to adapt as we move forward. I am not an expert, but here are five lessons that I learned along the way.
1. Weight is a simple mathematical equation
It’s as simple as that, you eat more calories than you need in a day, and you will gain way. You and less, and you will lose weight. Don’t overthink it. If you aren’t losing weight, you’re eating too much. What you eat and when you eat naturally matters too, but that’s another issue.
From my experience talking to people around me, and experimenting with myself, I noticed two things:
- we tend to overestimate how many calories we need,
- and we underestimate how much we eat.
This can give the following result. You may think you need about 2000 calories like many general guidelines advice but only need 1900.
You roughly judge what you eat to be at around 2000 calories per day, but in truth, it’s closer to 2100. That’s an excess of 200 calories. It may not seem like much, but if you do that for several weeks, months, or years, you develop that stubborn belly fat that gets on top of love handles.
2. You have to find what suits you best
Low carb, keto, high carb, intermittent fasting, and many more diets are out there. They will work for some, not for others. There is no perfect diet, although some are inherently bad. Don’t limit yourself to eat 1000 calories per day. That’s unhealthy.
The problem with diets is that they are often seen as a process to go through to reach a more suitable weight over some time. However, they are not seen as a permanent way of fueling yourself.
Therefore, most of my friends who have tried diets, lost weight, only to regain it after they stopped the one they had been following. Why? Because it wasn’t sustainable for them.
I believe the term diet has been misused a lot in recent years, and it has been forgotten that a healthy diet, should be a healthy permanent way of eating.
Find something you enjoy eating daily, mix things up, and treat yourself. Just make sure you can be consistent. Consistency is key.
3. Balance is not a daily objective
For a while, I got obsessed about eating a very balanced diet, every single day. I didn’t want to consume anything too fat, too sweet, too heavy on my digestion at any given day.
I would feel guilty as soon as I did. If I ate more calories than I needed that day, I would get panic attacks. It was really bad. It took me a long time to learn this lesson: your body doesn’t look for the perfect balance daily, rather it seeks it over a few days, a week even.
If one day you eat a larger plate of spaghetti, just eat a smaller one the next, and it’s all going to be alright.
Diet is just like maintaining balance upright on a cylinder. You will roll a little too much to one side, and have to adjust your stance, again and again. It’s through movement that you will go forward.
Static equilibrium is not possible in a world that is constantly changing. Your diet, your workouts, your sleep, daily habits will change season after season, and your weight will adjust.
Go with the flow.
4. Focus on your sleep
Sleep is key for your body to recover, to process your day mentally, and physically. It is very important to get a restful night, just as much as it is to get some regular exercise.
Sleep deprivation often leads to stress, which leads to unhealthy eating habits. It’s a vicious cycle. Make sure you get the sleep you need. It can be 7h, 8h, or more, maybe less for some of you, but sleep well.
5. Spend time with your friends and family
While I was experimenting with a new low carb, high protein diet about 5 years ago, I was extremely strict with myself. I didn’t want to drink alcohol and wanted to sleep a full 7h to be able to workout in the morning before work.
At that time I was working late shifts in a hotel restaurant, from 3 pm until closing, usually, around 1 am. Most of my colleagues would then go out for a drink, or late night supper as it is a tradition in Hong Kong, where I was working.
For a few months, I always refused. I wanted to go home, get my sleep in, and be fit for a workout at 10 am. I didn’t want to eat the greasy, and saucy food while drinking alcohol. Just the thought of it made me feel guilty.
But what I did was worse. I secluded myself. I cut myself off from my friends to lose a little bit of belly fat. I was so obsessed with it, that I completely neglected something much more important, my mental health.
Only a few months later, when a coworker of mine got tired of my excuses and dragged me along with them, I went out for the first time. It was great.
From there on I went out with them more often, maybe once or even twice a week, and guess what? It barely made a difference to my weight, but it surely had a huge impact on my mood. I started enjoying life more.
Bonus: Be kind to yourself
Yes, to give up unhealthy eating habits, and create healthy new ones, you need discipline, dedication, patience, and you will need to make some sacrifices.
However, be kind to yourself. Make it a process you enjoy, don’t rush it. Go at it a day at a time, and if today you have a friend’s birthday party, go and have fun, you can continue your dieting tomorrow.