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March 14, 2012 by Andrea Godfreyson, Registered Dietitian

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This is the first entry in a new series exploring healthy weights, weight management, and feelings around food and eating with respect to weight. We welcome you to take part in the discussion and share your stories.

As an overweight teen, I used to eat foods for what they didn’t have. If a food was low-fat and low-sugar it got a green light. I existed on diet pop, licorice, plain bagels and carrot sticks. I wasn’t informed enough in my teenage bubble to know that licorice, bagels and carrot sticks are all carbohydrates and break down to sugar during digestion. It turns out I was eating sugar, one of the nutrients I was trying to avoid. Knowing what I know now, it makes sense that I lost weight; by limiting my food options to one very short boring list, I ended up eating less. This felt like success at the time, but I was oblivious to the fact that my eating wasn’t balanced and I would have found the weight as quickly as I lost it had I not changed my approach.

Any restrictive diets that have you avoiding whole food groups or nutrients like carbohydrates generally result in a reduction in calories and therefore weight loss, in the short-term. They can also result in nutrient deficiencies and their unintended health consequences if they aren’t nutritionally sound. My diet was grossly deficient in many nutrients, but at the time I didn’t care about having strong bones or optimal growth and development. I just wanted to lose weight.

Fortunately, I had a friend willing to get off the couch with me so we started exercising and being more active together. I also started to pay more attention to the foods that my friend’s mom prepared for her family. This role modeling and the birth of an interest in nutrition helped me learn how to balance my ‘diet’ to make sure I was meeting my needs and was eating in a way that I could maintain over time. If I hadn’t redefined my lifestyle and liberalized my eating, I know I would have gained the weight back after I tired of choking down dry bagels.

I understand the feeling of desperation to lose weight. It’s so tempting to try a new diet fad when you hear “success stories” of weight loss and see “after” pictures. Take it from a person who (unfortunately) tried everything from a diet of cabbage soup, plain tuna straight from the can, pineapple enzymes and bagels and licorice. No weight loss diet works if you can’t stick to it, and if you feel deprived, your body (and spirit!) may suffer.

Healthy balanced eating and physical activity isn’t very sexy in the media and doesn’t sell diet books…but it does work, and it lasts. It did for me.

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