Yo-Yo dieting and how to beat it
I’ve been lucky enough to work with more than 300 guys in the last 18 months, and one of the issues that keeps coming up is that of Yo-Yo Dieting – swinging back and forth between binge-eating and then forcing yourself onto a restrictive diet or worse, starving yourself.
Sometimes, clients have been doing this for years – and it’s understandable why. As a society, we praise the slim and skinny, those losing weight and keeping it off, yet at the same time, marketing force-feeds us supernaturally delicious products and fosters a culture of celebrating everything with food.
Then, we have the Diet Industry – which wouldn’t exist to the extent it does if it truly worked. It relies on suckering people in, keeping them forever tied into a cycle of boom and bust.
As if that wasn’t enough, we now have social media projecting shiny, polished, hyper-real lifestyles as the norm, and influencers flogging diet supplements which range from the useless (detox tea), to the dangerous (appetite-suppressing lollies).
It’s no wonder that people feel compelled to starve themselves, and then feel so deprived that they end up gorging again, and so the cycle self-perpetuates.
Having been a personal trainer for more than seven years, I’ve looked into and tried various different diets and nutrition approaches. The simplest, kindest way of all to get a handle on your diet is to understand how much you need to eat, and then tracking it. I use a free app called My Fitness Pal for this, but there are other ones out there.
If you know the right amount for you, you also know the parameters that you can be over and under without it impacting on you. This is especially useful. After checking in with my clients, we’ve found they tend to underestimate how much they’ve over-eaten and overestimate how much they’ve starved themselves.
Taking the middle path – where you don’t starve yourself or deny yourself your favourite foods, but also don’t regularly overeat – is the more sensible, sustainable approach. But, how do you get back to the middle, when you’ve become accustomed to veering from side-to-side?
The first step, as with anything to do with your emotions, is to work on being kinder to yourself – forgiving yourself for anything that might be causing you guilt or stress about not being perfect, or not looking a certain way.
If you’re going through a phase where you’re eating and eating, try not to treat it as the end of the world, or something inherently bad or guilt-ridden that needs to be absolved. It’s just food, and no punishment is required. Small corrections, bit-by-bit to help you cut down – such as reducing portion sizes or ensuring you’re drinking lots of water each day – can quickly help with this.
Taking a step away from social media can also definitely help – putting some distance between your life and carefully curated online profiles can help to give perspective, helping people to realise that Instagram-perfect lives are not real, and are not the goal that we should be measuring ourselves against.
I recently attended an event at which one of the speakers was the Head of Care at a clinic for depression. He stated that when people are admitted to their care, they take away all phones and social media for the first three days. They see an improvement in almost all cases, before the official therapy has even begun. Social media has its place, but it’s best to keep it at arm’s length.
Step away from the desire to be ‘beach ready’. By all means, start a fitness programme and put yourself first, build strength of mind and body, lose fat to reduce your risk of diabetes, but if you train for six weeks for a vacation, that again often puts people in the ‘starve yourself’ mindset, which then mentally allows them to completely undo all their hard work, in less than six week afterwards. As my client, Ross, said to me the other day: “You helped me realise that fitness isn’t a battle, it’s a journey.”