In the field of bariatrics, we talk a lot about "diets." You have the pre-op liquid diet, the post-op soft foods diet, and your 6+ months, healthy "diet." Yet, the concept of dieting can be dangerous if taken out of context. After bariatric surgery, our goal is to teach patients how to stop dieting and ultimately change their eating behaviors long-term.
Most pre- and post-op patients understand that one of the main goals in preparing for bariatric surgery is to make healthy, positive lifestyle changes. This involves trading old habits in for newer, healthier changes such as eating nutritious foods and exercising several times a week.
To experience sustained weight loss years after surgery, you must learn how to stop dieting and begin living a healthier life in all areas—physically and mentally.
Dangers of Dieting
Living in a dieting cycle can harm your mental and physical health. Constant dieting will mess up your metabolism as you go through periods of starvation to periods of normal eating (and most often binge eating). In doing so, you confuse the body's natural response to fullness and hunger and ultimately slow your metabolic rate. A slower metabolism means it will be harder to lose weight.
Similarly, dieting can lead to nutritional deficiencies. All nutrients play a vital role in your normal bodily functions. Therefore, when you eliminate them from your diet, you are jeopardizing your health and how your body will function properly.
Regarding your mental health, dieting can affect your mood and energy levels, leading to fatigue, stress, and depression, especially when the diet isn't working. Living on a diet may also lead to food addictions as you remain obsessed with food and what you eat. Ultimately, it is not a healthy way to live, and it's important, physically and mentally, to learn how to stop dieting.
How to Stop Dieting and Start Living Healthy
For many bariatric patients, living on a diet is a way of life. From Atkins to keto to Whole 30, most bariatric patients have tried all of these diets to only gain back what they lost. That is why it is crucial to learn how to stop dieting and shift your thinking to make lasting lifestyle changes.
However, there may be times along your bariatric journey when you have regained weight, and your bariatric care team has "prescribed" a specific diet to help you get back on track. This is fine so long as you don't continue thinking with the "diet-as-a-way-of-life" mentality.
1. Take a holistic approach to weight loss
Losing weight is more than just eating healthy. One of the best ways to get out of a diet cycle is to find other methods, aside from food, to help you live healthily and lose weight. Start by incorporating exercise into your daily routine and taking care of your mental health. When you stop obsessing about what you are eating, you can begin enjoying food, and life, more.
2. Measure success without a scale
The scale is the most common success metric for an individual on a weight loss plan. But the number on the scale can also be dangerous for your mental health. You can feel defeated and depressed when the number on the scale doesn’t budge despite all the hard work you have put in, and it can make you want to follow an even stricter diet.
In an effort to learn how to stop dieting and start living healthily, we suggest finding other ways to track your success. Progress could look like a reduction in medications, lower cholesterol numbers, higher energy levels, a stronger body, or more mental clarity. There are so many ways to measure your progress and success without the scale.
3. Practice healthy habits
Habits are usually paired with an environmental cue. After following that cue and action, a habit will be formed over time. This is understood to be a psychological pattern called a “habit loop.” Habit loops follow a cue pattern, a routine, and a reward until that action becomes second nature.
In losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight, most patients have healthy behaviors they want to incorporate and turn into habits, such as exercising, logging food intake, and eating breakfast daily. They also have specific patterns they want to extinguish (having dessert after dinner every night, getting high-calorie “coffee” on the way to work, or going to the office vending machine mid-afternoon). In developing healthy habits and learning how to make habits stick, you first need to start with a verbal commitment, then set reminders (cues), establish reinforcement (actions), and reward yourself (not with food) when you reach a goal.