May 28, 2024
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Confessions of a Chronic Dieter Turned Health Coach

If you have been on a diet this year, you are in good company. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 45 million people in the United States are either currently on a diet or have been on a diet in the last 12 months. Americans spend approximately $33 billion a year on diets and diet supplements.

I started dieting when I was 12 years old (which was a very long time ago) in anticipation of my sister’s wedding, and during my long dieting history I have probably lost and gained hundreds of pounds. I tried Atkins, Weight Watchers, the Cabbage Soup diet, Weight Watchers, Optifast, Weight Watchers, South Beach, Meal Delivery, the Ball Diet, Diet Center, Weight Watchers, the 17 Day Diet, Dash Diet, Mediterranean Diet and the TSFL/Optavia program. I was somewhat successful with each program, except for Weight Watchers, the one program I kept trying again and again hoping every time for a different result.

I would start each diet convinced that this time would be different, that I would be able to conquer my natural tendency to overeat, and that I would no longer crave ice cream, bagels, pizza, and French fries. I bought books, joined groups, paid doctors and even took appetite suppressants that were “all natural,” and usually I did indeed lose weight. Friends, family members and co-workers would eventually comment, “Did you lose weight?” Something about people noticing the weight loss would usually mean the end of the diet, and I would soon go back to my old habits; much of the lost weight would return and I would then start the entire process again. It was somewhat comforting to know that my experience was fairly common; according to some very sobering statistics, 90% of all people who lose weight will gain it all back. But it was frustrating nonetheless to be unable to keep those unwanted pounds off.

There are, of course, people who have lost weight, even comparatively large amounts of weight, but are still not in a healthy place. For example, a study conducted at Duke University found that 10 years after undergoing gastric bypass surgery, almost three-quarters of the patients had maintained a weight loss of more than 20% of their pre-surgery weight. For a person initially weighing 300 pounds, that means that he/she experienced a sustained weight loss of some 60 pounds, certainly a significant amount; however, this person’s weight is still far from being clinically healthy. At the same time, a person whose weight is in fact clinically healthy, but is stressed, not exercising, not getting enough sleep and is unhappy overall, is not a healthy person and he/she is susceptible to many of the same diseases associated with being overweight.

When I embarked on a new career as a health and wellness coach five years ago, after finally achieving (or at least coming closer than ever before to achieving) my personal goals, I was well aware of these stats; I had lived the stats and I wanted my clients to be among the 10% of people who lost the weight and kept it off. I still work to maintain my own weight loss and I want to help my clients do the same; however, based on my personal experiences, I have changed my approach with them. Instead of focusing primarily on weight loss, I focus on healthy living and on creating educated health consumers. Is the person getting enough sleep at night? Is she drinking enough fluid during the day? How is her stress level? What is she eating? Is she exercising? The most important questions—How is she feeling? Can she continue to live like this? The number of pounds indicated on the scale is far from the only important consideration.

Recently, a young woman was speaking to me about trying the ketogenic diet. The keto diet is very popular among Hollywood celebrities, among others. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this diet, it is a very low carb, high fat, moderate protein diet. It involves drastically reducing carbohydrate intake and replacing it with fat. The reduction in carbs puts the body into a metabolic state called ketosis, which leads to rapid weight loss. This woman told me that she entered her data into a computer program that calculated exactly how many carbs, fats and proteins she could have based on her height and weight. The program gave her the information that she needed, but also informed her that she was considered clinically obese. The idea that she was considered “obese” devastated her. I explained that “obese” is a clinical term for anyone with a body mass index (BMI) over 30. But it does not define who she is as human being! I asked her if the computer program also shared the following information which, I happen to know about this young woman: that she is smart, kind, caring, loving and inspires others to be better people. A number on a scale or on a computer program does not define someone!

I have a client who told me that she lost a lot of weight on a quick weight-loss diet. Everyone complimented her on how great she looked and she was sure that she would never gain the weight back. However, like most people who lose weight, she gained it all back and then some, and she was so embarrassed about the weight gain that she stopped going to shul or attending social events. I have another client who won’t go see her medical doctor because she does not want to get on a scale. A person’s self-worth should not be tied to a number on a scale. Our sense of ourselves as good or bad people should not have anything to do with what we have consumed for dinner.

Perhaps the time has come to move the conversation in our homes, with our children and with each other away from dieting for the sole purpose of weight loss. Instead of spending so much of our energy on dieting, we should spend it on trying to create health through positive self-talk, stress management, movement and eating foods that are low in sugar and high in nutrients. People need to be educated, strong, resilient, positive, and happy—all qualities that have very little to do with the number on a scale. As we approach Rosh Hashanah and consider a different kind of scale, we should recognize that we are measured by much more than a number!

Beth Taubes is the owner of Wellness Motivations LLC. She motivates clients of all backgrounds, ages and health conditions to engage in improved self-care through nutritional counseling, fitness training, yoga practice and stress reduction techniques. Gift certificates available. Beth can be reached at [email protected] or www.wellnessmotivationsbt.com.  

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