When people hear the word "diet," most think of calorie restriction, deprivation, making up for past indulgences, and as so forth. There is something unpleasant, almost punitive about the whole concept of dieting, which is unfortunate because it can make it harder to turn to healthier eating regimens.
"The main goal of going on a diet is to get off it as quickly as possible," a client of mine used to say. I'm sure his sentiment is widely shared.
Another reason why diets are unfavorably looked upon is that they don't work in most cases, even if they show initial success. It can be maddeningly frustrating to realize the futility of one's sincere efforts when lost pounds return with interest, seemingly for no particular reason.
Being intimately familiar with the scenario, I tell my clients from the get-go that if their diet leaves them feeling deprived and unsatisfied, they will not be able to maintain it in the long run, no matter how beneficial it may be to their health.
In its original meaning, the term "diet" does not describe a departure from one's regular eating styles. On the contrary, it simply means what and how someone usually eats. Certain eating habits may have developed over long periods of time, often starting during childhood.
When established patterns begin to cause problems, e.g. unwanted weight gain, elevated cholesterol levels, adult-onset diabetes, etc., some form of intervention is likely to be required. How effective the intervening measures will be depends on multiple factors.
All need for change starts with a crisis, benign or serious. Nobody arrives at the decision to change his or her eating patterns in a vacuum. There may be acute health problems, issues of vanity, a desire for winning back youthful rigor -- whatever. An important question is how do the required changes fit into someone's existing circumstances.
Few people can completely undo and remake their current lifestyle features. There are families, occupations, commitments, and multiple other concerns involved. Diet and lifestyle are intertwined with all that. How can we expect, for instance, someone to eat in unaccustomed ways, establish and maintain an unfamiliar exercise routine, stop all detrimental habits like smoking or drinking at once and go on with life as if nothing happened? It's a ludicrous proposition.
Then there is the matter of personality. Some (very few) people are able to turn on a dime. The vast majority tends to implement changes only in small increments. In my book, "The Healthy Diner," I describe different personality types I've come across over my many years of health counseling. There are people who find it relatively easy to try out new approaches, others prefer to stick with the tried and true. Others again are ready to take up whatever is new and exciting but lose interest or don't have the stamina to see things through over time. None of these attitudes are to be judged as better or worse, but they are predictors of how likely a person will succeed with certain methods.
So what would be the best way to get on a healthy path that is effective and also endures? The simple answer is that none fits all.
What that means in practical terms is that before you sign up for Weight Watchers, South Beach, Mediterranean, DASH, or whatever seems most promising, ask yourself how this or that program fits you - you as that unique individual at a particular moment in your life. Examine carefully your natural tendencies, your strengths and weaknesses, and also your situation and how people and things around you are affected by your decisions.
Eventually, you should be able to come up with what I call the "right diet," which is specifically designed for you, and the only one I trust to produce lasting results. You may be successful by following, at least in part, a particular prescription, or borrow from several. In the end, however, it has to be all yours.