In conversations about weight loss, the distinction between “lifestyle changes” and “diets” are frequently made. You will often hear statements like, “long-term weight loss only happens when you change your lifestyle, and diets just provide short-term results”. What exactly is meant by “lifestyle changes” and “diets” when making these kinds of distinctions? This brief article will help answer that question.
Since we’re discussing the meanings of terms, semantics are inherently involved. However, I will be describing what is most often meant by the terms “lifestyle changes” and “diets” within the context of effective weight loss. The easiest way to demonstrate the differences between these terms is to list their distinctive qualities and offer coinciding examples.
Qualities Associated with Lifestyle Changes
- Long-term behavioral changes
- For example, significantly reducing the behavior of drinking calorie-dense beverages for the rest of your life
- Gradual changes
- For example, slowly eliminating calorie-dense beverages over time
- Sustainable changes
- For example, making moderate changes that are psychologically tolerable, with room for the occasional indulgence, instead of making extreme changes that cause excessive mental stress
- Meaningful health-related changes
- For example, reducing sugar intake if you are prediabetic, or reducing the consumption of salty foods if you have prehypertension
- Practical changes
- For example, spacing out your daily caloric limit so that you can eat more when you tend to be the most hungry
- For example, trying different kinds of healthy foods to find what you enjoy the most
- Long-term maintenance of weight loss
- For example, losing 50 lbs over the course of a year, and keeping it off for years to come with only mild weight fluctuations over time
- Requires education and personal-empowerment
Qualities Associated with Diets
- Short-term behavioral changes
- For example, a 12-week weight loss program
- Sudden large changes
- For example, cutting out carbohydrates almost entirely on day 1 of a diet
- Unsustainable changes
- For example, cutting out carbohydrates almost entirely
- Non-specific health-related changes
- For example, focusing only on weight loss, while other aspects of health are ignored
- Impractical changes
- For example, eating 5 small meals a day that are evenly spaced out, regardless of what your schedule looks like
- Rigid structure
- For example, a strict list of foods to choose from
- Short-term maintenance of weight loss
- For example, losing 25 lbs in 12 weeks, and then gaining all the weight back by the end of the year
- Does not require education and personal empowerment
- For example, many diets require that you simply follow directions without understanding the reasons behind the directions, leaving you uninformed about how to make healthy decisions about your nutrition
The Proper Application of Diets
I do not intend to demonize the traditional idea of the diet (i.e. significant dietary changes dictated by a rigid nutritional protocol that lasts for a definite amount of time). Diets can be healthy and effective, and their results can be long-term but only if the dieting individual falls back on a foundation of a healthy lifestyle after the diet is completed. If an individual eats poorly before and after a diet, their weight loss efforts will be wasted because the unhealthy lifestyle that caused them to gain weight in the first place will also cause them to put the weight back on after the diet is over. While many diets are effective, many are not, and some are even harmful. Understanding the importance of lifestyle changes and the fundamentals of weight loss will allow you to identify diet shams that are a waste of time and money.
Lifestyle changes are necessary for the long-term maintenance of weight loss, while dieting alone will only yield short-term results. The psychological challenges of changing how you eat are crucial considerations and must not be ignored. Eating is an essential human behavior that is deeply intertwined with emotion, social life, and culture. Developing long-term healthy eating habits requires a psychologically prudent approach that is gradual, practical, and individualized.
Diets can be effective in weight loss, but their results will not be maintained unless healthy eating habits are practiced after the diet is over. Therefore, it is best to develop a solid foundation of lifestyle changes before attempting any diets. Healthy eating habits must be prioritized if you are to lose weight and keep it off. Click here for a list of articles that will help you to develop the lifestyle changes necessary for long-term weight loss.