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Resolve to Replace Diets with Good Health Habits

Linda Rellergert, Regional Nutrition Specialist, St. Charles County University of Missouri Extension

This is the time of year when many people start diets. But after a few weeks of not getting enough to eat or eating food that does not taste good, most dieters give up, having "failed" once again. The truth is, though, it is the diets that are the failures, not the people who try them.

Instead of improving health, dieting is often harmful and counterproductive. Health statistics show that only 5 to 10 percent of those who diet and are able to lose weight are able to maintain the weight loss for more than a short time. Most dieters quickly regain the lost pounds - plus a few extra - and end up heavier than they started.

Diets promote unhealthy eating habits, often by eliminating nutritious foods. Dieters are encouraged to ignore internal body signals of hunger and fullness. Eventually, the ability to respond appropriately to these normal physiological processes is lost. Chronically hungry people become obsessed with food and are likely to overeat when an opportunity to do so presents itself.

This year, instead of trying yet another diet, resolve to make a positive change for good health. Focus on taking one step at a time, as changing behavior and attitudes is difficult and takes time. Any of these suggestions is a good place to start:

Accept that there is no ideal body size, shape or weight. People come in a variety of sizes and shapes, and all can benefit from a healthy lifestyle. Research conducted by Steven Blair, director of research at the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas, has shown that people can be both fit and fat. He notes "There will always be tall, skinny people and short, stocky people. That's out of our control. What we can do is exercise regularly, follow good health practices, and live life to the fullest." Each person is responsible for taking care of his or her body. Acceptance and self-respect lead to confidence, wellness and wholeness.

Adopt normal eating patterns. Normal eating means regular meals and one or two snacks a day to satisfy physical hunger. Healthful food choices provide variety, moderation and balanced nutrition. All foods can be part of healthy eating. Respect the body's signals of hunger and fullness by eating when hungry and stopping when satisfied. Normal eating also means eating more some days and less others, and trusting that it will balance out over time. Finally, find non-food ways to cope with stress.

Make physical activity a part of every day. Benefits include reduction in blood cholesterol and lipids, lower blood pressure, and relief from stress. Find activities that are fun and enjoyable, and that fit into daily routines. Walking, sledding, skating, dancing, bowling, gardening, or playing with the kids are excellent ways to get physical. Then you can go on to add other activities like weight training, yoga or Tai Chi that build muscles or improve balance and flexibility.

Get more sleep. Most of us get seven or fewer hours of sleep rather than the eight hours a night recommended by the National Sleep Foundation. This may seem like just a small deficit, but the effects are cumulative. Chronic sleep deprivation contributes to stress and tension, accidents in the home, work place and on the road, and can cause difficulty in coping with the little everyday annoyances of life. 

Interested in learning more? Consider reading Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch and Women Afraid to Eat by Frances M. Berg. Information is also available on the Web at WIN Wyoming,, and the Healthy Weight Network,

Or, in Missouri, contact your University Extension Nutrition Specialist to find out about a workshop series called Health for Every Body.






Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009




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