Diet vs. Lifestyle

There are a staggering number of diets out there. Looking around, it can be incredibly confusing as to what they all are, how they are similar and what the differences are. I thought it might help to do a quick overview of a few of the most popular ones that you might run across. This might help you in not being quite so confused about all that is going on out there in the diet world. 

I’ll begin with a generalization: if you look at results, the most effective ways of eating, and I said “way of eating” intentionally, are effective because they aren’t diets. The word diet by definition implies temporary, and I know this is going to be blatantly obvious, but sometimes we have to remind ourselves of obvious things. If you press the accelerator in your car to make your car go faster, your car will only go faster and maintain that speed as long as you keep your foot on the accelerator pedal. You have to keep doing whatever you did to get the result to continue to get the result. Any diet which takes place for a finite period of time, say 21 days or 30 days, may or may not work during that time period. Does this really matter? Most of us want long-term results, not, “Oh look, I lost 20 pounds of water in 28 days and then another 28 days later I gained it all back plus 10 pounds.” The premise of dieting, which I interpret as doing something which you will only do for a short period of time, can’t be successful if ‘success’ is defined as ‘help you to achieve any long-term goals’. Just like very, very simple logic we have to remind ourselves: if you do something, anything, regarding eating and exercise and you stop doing it, the results will stop too.

This is why we need to find something that not only works, but something that we can maintain forever.

Think about the meal programs that we see advertised constantly. The basic premise is that if you allow the company to mail or provide you with food, and all you eat is that food, you will lose weight. That may or may not be true, but unless you plan on only eating food you are in some way provided with for the rest of your life, you are ultimately not setting yourself up for success. It’s going to stop working as soon as you stop getting your food provided for you. 

The same thing applies to calorie counting and starvation dieting. If someone, no matter how many letters they have behind their name, tells you to do something and you are hungry, unless you are willing to tolerate hunger,  as well as being cold, tired and crabby, every single hour of every day for the rest of your life, it has no chance of working because you have to keep doing it, and no one should have to live their life in that state!

Now, let us think about the ways of eating that actually do work. Three of the most popular food lifestyles are vegetarian/veganism, Paleo, low carb. All three of these can work and have worked for many, many people and have worked long term for multitudes of people because they are less about dieting and more about changing the type of foods you are eating and eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full, just in a different set of foods.

Vegans don’t count calories, they don’t ever tolerate hunger. They just don’t eat animal products.

The ‘low carb’ followers eat when they are hungry, stop when they are full, they just don’t eat sugar and starch. The Paleo folks, again, don’t tolerate hunger. They just prefer their food choices to be found directly in nature. All these lifestyles can be very effective for the exact same reasons: all of them eliminate processed food-like substances, sugar and other toxic substances. This is not a process you do for the sole purpose of losing weight. It is something you intend to do for the long term.

Personally, I think it is ridiculous to call not eating food-like substances a diet. To me, that would be equivalent to saying not smoking is a diet. The default state of human beings is to eat natural foods found in nature to satiety. It makes no sense to call that a diet, it’s a lifestyle!

All lifestyle ‘diets’ are based on the premise of eliminating most toxic foods. If you eliminate most toxic foods, and are able to keep that up, you will find success. The concept of bio-individuality, we are all unique being, creates some options.  If you are really opposed to the idea of killing mammals, then being a vegetarian might be the right way for you to go. If you enjoy meat and fish, then going low carb or Paleo might the path for you.  Labeling seems arbitrary because every single ‘diet’ that is a diet has to fail because a diet by definition is temporary. Anything that works long-term will work long-term for the same reasons. You find the way of eating enjoyable and based on nutrient-dense real food.  You never deprive yourself and you eat high quality stuff. There is myriad of ways to achieve this, but anything that has those characteristics works.

In my mind, there are two classes of feeding ourselves: Diets, which by definition are so restrictive that they can only be maintained over short-term. Then there are lifestyle changes, shifting something fundamental about what you do day in and day out that can be continued indefinitely.

Examples of lifestyle changes are getting married and having a child, whereas going on a date is like going on a diet.  A date with someone is something you are just testing out, trying out in the short term. 

Many popular diets are quite effective while you are doing them, but what happens once you are off? The questions really are what are your goals and what makes you happy? If you really like the taste of fatty foods, then a low carbohydrate lifestyle may be the best choice for you. If you really don’t like the thought of eating animals then a whole foods based vegetarian lifestyle is probably a better fit. If the idea that you should just eat the way people ate before we had an obesity epidemic makes sense to you, then the Paleo lifestyle is probably a great lifestyle for you. I feel sometimes there is too much ideology and labelling of these things.

Some people label my Eat Real Food Plan as a diet, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s a lifestyle. This is not something you embark on for a month to lose two inches off our waist and then go back to eating how you did before – that would be the equivalent ofyo-yo dieting at its finest.

The best way to characterize the Eat Real Food Plan (ERFP) is actually the same way you would characterize vegetarianism or Paleo because they are both actually best. They are all each defined in terms of a template. The template for vegetarianism is not to eat animals, eat plants instead. How you do that is very open-ended. The template for Paleo is focusing your food choices on what was available to our ancestors. It doesn’t tell you exactly what to do. ERFP eating has its focus on eating real, whole food. If it has been processed, look carefully at its ingredients before deciding if it is fit for your consumption. It gives us a framework. Vegetarianism, veganism, low carb, Paleo, and ERFP are templates; they teach you underlying principles and then you apply those principles throughout your life and this is why they work.

We each have our own individual goals, we are all at a different age, we have differing body compositions, we have different genetics and we have our own personal variables. An ERFP lifestyle is fantastic because you take the principles and you tweak the way you interpret them to fit your situation while still maintaining the lifestyle because it has a flexible set of boundaries. You can make it work whatever your situation is.

I think the other thing which may be helpful for people is to understand the premise. What is the premise behind certain lifestyles?  The premise of ERFP is the scientific research over the past 40 years has established that foods that fill us up faster and keep us full longer are better choices for us than foods that don’t fill us up quickly and don’t keep us full, that foods that slowly give us energy and cause a minimal negative hormonal response are better for us than the opposite. Foods that provide us with more vitamins and minerals and essential amino acids and essential fatty acids, things we need, relative to things we don’t need are superior options. Foods which our body doesn’t really easily store as fat are good options. These are the underlying premises of the ERFP. There are many similarities between the premises of the successful lifestyles.

The most important factor is asking yourself the question: “Can I do this and enjoy it for the rest of my life?” If the answer is yes, it will absolutely improve your health because basically anything is better than the Standard American (Western) Diet (in my opinion, one of the worst possible ways to eat).

Finding what works for you, finding something that echoes the proven scientific principles and finding something that’s sustainable and enjoyable for YOU are the keys. It does not matter what you want to call it, it will be enjoyable.

For the most part, and for the long term we human beings tend not stick to things that we don’t find enjoyable. It can be relatively easy to stick to something you are not fond of doing when everything else in life is going smoothly, but as soon as life rears its challenges, all bets are off. A lifestyle choice will see you through the stressful times, feeding you, nourishing you and enabling your coping mechanisms to work effectively.

Don’t just try anything, don’t believe the hype that “Oh, just try it.” No. Be very conscientious just like you wouldn’t just jump into a relationship with anybody, your relationship with food is very serious and it needs to be thought through. You are putting things into your body. That’s a very intimate activity and I think we should cherish it and think about it.

Michal Ofer