I’m going to tell you something that should not surprise you: Diets don’t work. After all, if they did, we’d all be skinny – and healthy.

As a physician, I see many patients who are following one diet or another. In fact, it’s the exception for me to see someone NOT on some sort of restricted eating plan.

To Diet or Not to Diet?

For most people, the diet they are following represents a drastic departure from their normal eating pattern. And sometimes the departure is not only drastic, but may actually be dangerous.

Take the Keto diet for example. It is arguably one of the most popular diets of 2018, where you are restricted to consuming under 20 grams of carbohydrates per day. That’s less than what’s in one apple.

Fat? No problem! Protein? Good to go. Steak, chicken, and cheese consumption is encouraged even though eating animal products all day long (since carbs come from plants) has repeatedly been shown to be health destroying. For example, cancer rates go up linearly in relation to animal protein intake.

A diet that promotes eating in a way that increases cancer risk is a diet no one should follow. Especially since the opposite approach – a whole-food plant-based diet – is what has been repeatedly documented to be the cornerstone of healthy longevity.

Many people who try fad diets like Keto usually justify their dieting habits by only dieting for short periods of time, often to lose a certain amount of weight.

While a diet may be effective in helping achieve weight loss goals, the results are often short-lived as many people report gaining the weight they’ve lost (plus more) when they go back to their regular eating habits.

Think about the last diet you tried. How long did you last on it? How successful were you at keeping the weight off after you stopped? Why would the Keto – or Paleo, or Atkins, or Cookie, or Grapefruit, or Cabbage Soup – diet be any different this time?

All evidence and most people’s personal experience points to the fact that diets are ineffective, and any results will be short lived.

When you’re trying to lose weight, you don’t have to diet. I’ll say that again. You do NOT have to diet to lose weight or improve your health. The first thing you have to do is change your focus. Many people diet to lose weight. But weight loss is not really the point. Being healthier and feeling better is.

Focusing on your health, not your diet, is actually pretty simple.

Here are the 4 steps to take to improve your health and lose weight, without dieting.

Look at the Big Picture

If you are overweight, unhealthy, and feeling poorly, the first step is to recognize that what you’re doing now is not working. And that a short-term drastic change in what you eat is not the solution.

The solution is to change what you’re doing for the long haul so you’re not perpetuating your current health status. That means making attainable, sustainable changes that you can see yourself sticking to.

Focus on the Small Steps

Forget the word “diet.” Instead, start to make small, healthy swaps within your current eating plan that you can see yourself sticking to.

Instead of a soda with your lunch, have a water. For dinner, increase your vegetable intake from one veggie option, to two. Or omit meat from one of your meals daily. Or even make this subtle change – instead of having meat with vegetables, have vegetables with meat.

It’s a small shift on your plate, does not ask you to give up the foods you love, but because food consumption is so cumulative, you will see significant health benefits over time.

In addition to supplying more vitamins, micronutrients, and antioxidants, that small shift could represent a 100-point swing in your daily calorie intake. Do that for a year, and you will lose 10 pounds.

Incorporate Exercise into Your Daily Routine

Although the most efficient way to lose weight is to reduce calorie intake, adding in regular exercise will increase your overall metabolic rate, so that you burn those calories faster. The good news is that you don’t have to train for a marathon to see an improvement in your health.

Exercise can be in the form of an evening stroll around your neighborhood after dinner or an aerobics class at your local gym. All physical activity is good for you and will help with calorie balance. Plus, exercise improves mental and emotional health.

Science tells us that to make up for the negative health effects of sitting for 8 hours we need to move our bodies for at least 1 hour. If you don’t do much exercise now, just keep that as your long term goal.

You can start by moving your body for as little as 5 minutes per day. And then increase that by 1 minute every day or every other day – or every week. Even if it’s just by one minute every week, by the end of the year, you’ll be almost at that 1 hour goal!

Eat Food. Not too Much. Mostly Plants

Writer Michael Pollan said, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I encourage everyone to live by this statement. It refers to eating food that your great-great-grandmother would recognize (hint: it’s not Mountain Dew, or Doritos, or Hamburger Helper).

The beauty of Pollan’s simple advice is that it allows for great flexibility, recognizes the diversity of various global cuisines, and preserves the ability to eat delicious food. And, unlike all the advertised diet plans, this approach doesn’t require deprivation because it celebrates moderation.

So, don’t waste your time, energy or effort on dieting to lose weight. It’s not worth it. Instead, make small, sustainable changes to your lifestyle that promote health. That means eating more whole-food plant-based items and moving your body slightly more.

No crazy food routines required. You’ll not only end up healthier, you’ll actually feel better. And that weight thing will just take care of itself.

Which famous diet have you tried? What were the results? Did you bounce back to your original health and weight after the diet plan was over? Where do you think is the problem with diets? Would you rather eat healthy than diet? Please share your thoughts and experiences with our community!

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