From the 21-Day Fix to Weight Watchers to the Atkins Diet, there is no end to the seemingly limitless amount of diet programs people can choose from that will help them be successful in losing weight. However, none of these programs, to my knowledge, teaches intuitive eating, wherein you do not need to count calories, obsessively portion out your food, label foods as 'good' or 'bad,' or follow a strict meal plan that tells you exactly what to eat and when to eat.
A diet is not a program. It's a lifestyle. Unless you're doing competition prep, there is no reason to spend the rest of your life measuring food into colorful containers while obsessing about your macros.
Most of my clients have tried these diet programs at one point or another. They lose weight, but as soon as they stop that program, they put the weight back on. Then of course they run to a personal trainer for help because those programs married them to the idea of meticulously keeping track of everything. Over time, I have to then teach them intuitive eating.
I'm going to pick on the 21-Day Fix for a moment due to its popularity. I could choose to pick apart all diet programs, but that could span several blog posts--and I don't think it's worth the time. After all, at the end of the day all of these diet programs are the same: you do them for a certain amount of time, lose the promised weight, and then what? Are you supposed to forever be trapped in this program? Is there no lesson in independence? Will you always have to convince yourself it's worth it to spend money on this for the rest of your life when that money could go into a travel fund?
The 21-Day Fix promises that you can lose 10 lbs. in 21 days, using immediate pictures of models who are already thin, who are clearly puffing out their stomachs to appear bloated, and whose pictures are clearly manipulated from photoshopping and skilled lighting.
Let's think about that for a moment. 21 days is less than 4 weeks. Safe, effective weight loss is 1-2 lbs. per week. Do you really think those thin women lost 10 lbs. in 21 days safely? Probably not. Much if it, I'm certain, is water loss. In any case, small women like that must drastically cut calories to lose more than a pound a week. And according to the 21-Day Fix, or to those who shill it on my FB page, you're eating more than enough.
I do appreciate the variety of bodies they're showcasing--after all those thin bodies. Yet, when I look at one picture of a woman who lost 100 lbs. doing 11 rounds of the 21-Day Fix, I can't help but to wonder if she's always going to have to do the 21-Day Fix or if she's ever going to learn how to manage the weight on her own.
11 rounds of the 21-day fix is 231 days, less than a year. There are 52 weeks in a year, so it's possible to safely lose 100 lbs. in a year, although this is not recommended. Most doctors would recommend losing 'x' amount of weight, and then maintaining before losing again, as you can't go from 0-100 and expect long-term results.
When I was studying to be a trainer, this was a method I was taught in order to help my clients safely and effectively lose weight and keep it off. I believe I was taught that the client should lose 20 lbs. and then maintain for a certain amount of time before losing any further.
(I had one client who lost more than 100 lbs. in a year, stopped whatever her program was, and put it all back on. She did not give herself a chance to maintain what she had lost because she too quickly lost weight. It takes much more than 21 days to truly develop a habit.)
Continuing on, 231 days is 33 weeks; thus, she'd have to lose a little more than 3 lbs. a week to achieve this. Whether or not you want to hear it, this is not conducive to long-term success. Plus, I have a friend who is a consultant for this stuff, was medically morbidly obese, and actually lost the weight safely--nowhere near 100 lbs. in 231 days.
I'm not saying the results for the much larger people are a lie. What I am saying is that people would have to stick with this program for the rest of their lives to ensure they don't put the weight back on. It doesn't seem to teach you intuitive eating. It says, "Here, take this colorful tupperware for portion control, take these videos that promise a bunch of marketing gimmicky nonsense, and BAM! Within 21 days, you'll see amazing results."
Of course, I can't fully knock the videos. They are helping people become more active, and that's what's important. And they offer variety.
However, if you lose weight that fast, much of it will be water weight due to consuming less carbs and thus there being less storage of carbs within your cells. That's not the type of weight most are looking to lose. Granted, any weight loss is going to be water loss, as less calories automatically means less carbs. Even so, weight loss programs sell quick weight loss as pure fat loss.
I can believe that the 21-Day Fix is trying to teach you portion control. I do understand that you can't always eat what you crave, as what you crave isn't necessarily healthful much of the time. But this doesn't teach you how to have a good relationship with food. It paints certain foods as 'good' or 'bad' because this 21-Day Fix tells you what you should be eating and gives you foods it approves of.
It's trying to fit you into a box, forcibly training your brain to know portion control, all without considering that individuals all respond differently to any single diet. A diet for all is a diet for none.
Let's talk about the real pros here.
Registered dietitians exist to give you a personalized approach to healthful eating.
When I was in recovery for my eating disorder, my RD didn't give me a strict meal plan. She didn't tell me how many calories I needed to eat to safely put weight back on. She taught me serving sizes. She had me experiment to have me understand that our idea of a serving size is wildly overblown. However, she didn't tell me to count calories, measure food, eat this at this time, and paint certain foods as good or bad. She taught me intuitive eating and taught me how to better my relationship with food.
I should be able to eat a meal, feel satisfied, and not eat again until I'm hungry. Yet, people's relationship with food can become so damaged that they no longer understand when they're full or even what true hunger is. So they then rely on these programs to tell them what's okay and what's not okay.
None of these diet programs address the psychology of why some people are more prone to eating poorly than others! Why some people who were once thin suddenly plummet into the realm of morbid obesity. Or why some people are able to remain thin without ever measuring food.
I'm 5'5", 130 lbs. My lowest weight during my eating disorder was 92 lbs. My average weight before my eating disorder was 115-120 lbs. So the weight I lost consisted of water weight, fat mass, and likely some muscle mass. The weight I put back on was water weight fat mass, and about 15-20 lbs. of muscle. I never measured my food. I picked up some weights and began lifting and lifting hard. I have maintained 130 lbs. for a little over a year.
It wasn't an easy process healing my relationship with food. Even when I happily began eating again, I was still terrified of putting on more than what I originally weighed. After all, there are stories of some people whose relationships with food are so damaged that they go from one end of the spectrum to the other: severely underweight to severely overweight. Yet, with the proper amount of counseling, being coached into independence, I no longer worry about putting on too much weight.
I eat when I'm hungry and stop when I'm satisfied.
It's an overly simplistic way to eat, so I'll point you to this article on "What is Intuitive Eating?"
Healing one's relationship with food is not a 21-Day Fix. It's not a diet plan you repeat over and over and over. It's hard work to gain a sense of independence and true control over food without ever having to measure what you eat.
I understand some people need a drawn out path, but as the saying goes: "Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime." This is the exact same principle with anything in your life.
ACE Certified Personal Trainer, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, nutrition coach, young adult author, moody ballerina.
I help people perform without pain.
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The views expressed on this blog are entirely my own. Any advice I offer is not to be taken as medical advice. If you think you have contraindications to exercise, please see your physician before implementing any sample workout plans I present on this blog.
All images are either my own, from Canva, or Creative Commons