One Step at a Time

By Murtaza Ahmed MD

I cannot overstress the importance of taking a new diet regime or healthy eating plan one step at a time.  Again and again I see people who have been hyped or become excited about a new diet they have read about and jumped in head first.  Since healthy eating is better for you than the alternative you would think it would make sense to switch over as soon as you can but the problem is that in most cases this is too big a change and the body just isn’t ready yet.

A good way of understanding it would be to likening it to exercise.  Say you decided to run a marathon.  That would be a really good idea and would be beneficial to your health and nobody can argue otherwise.  If you got excited however and jumped straight into a full on training programme it would be too much too soon for your body and the whole plan would likely end in disaster.  It is important to begin with light training and gradually build it up, allowing the body to adapt.

The exact same can be said for dieting.  The body has been used to certain foods and routines for a while.  The mechanical, hormonal and neuronal systems are set in this routine and require time to adapt.  If you suddenly cut out lots of the things they are used to they will rebel and you may suffer from symptoms such as dizziness, light-headedness, extreme hunger, tiredness and the loss of motivation to continue on with the diet.  However if you are gentle on them and give the systems time to adapt they will soon learn the new way of eating if absolutely fine.

If there is one thing the human body is very good at it is resisting change.  This is known as homeostasis and is extremely important in maintaining the delicate balance required in our bodies for us to live.  The problem is that this remarkable mechanism also kicks in when we start a diet.  The body feels starved and suddenly panics, thinking that it is going to lose its precious stores.  It responds by making us feel that we really don’t want to do this diet.  This system was protective for us in the past when food was hard to come by and we had to eat whatever we could when we had the chance.  Nowadays however food is readily available so we need to resist the biological urge to stock up for harder times.   The faster we make the change the stronger the body responds, which is why it makes sense to introduce the diet slowly so it has time to get used to the changes and gives us a higher chance of shedding the unwanted fat stores.

So how quickly should you initiate a new diet?  Well I have previously explained that there really should be no rush.  It’s not like you put the weight on in 2 weeks so why should you expect to lose it that quickly?  You should really be guiding yourself through this process.  Some people will be able to initiate all the changes in a week whereas others may need a month.  The important thing is that you only progress when you feel comfortable and happy to do so.  This will lead to a far higher chance of success.  Like anything in life, those who have eaten this way in the past will probably be happy progressing more rapidly as they already have an idea how they will feel with each change.

There are two main ways to introduce the changes.  One way is to tackle it by completely changing one meal at a time.  This would, for example, involve first changing breakfast into a completely healthy meal but leaving the others unchanged.  Once you are stable and happy with this change you can alter lunch, and then eventually dinner.  You can change the meals in any order you like as it doesn’t really matter.  The other way would be to gradually introduce healthier options into all the meals and eliminating bad foods a few at a time.  Again the process would be gradual, progression only taking place once you are ready to.  Both ways will work just as well as each other and it’s just personal preference depending on what suits you and your lifestyle.

So go and start initiating change into your diet, one step at a time….


About Murtaza Ahmed MD

Dr Murtaza Ahmed is a General Practitioner sub-specializing in the field of Sports, Exercise and Nutritional Medicine. He graduated from The University of Nottingham, England, and in addition to his medical qualification he holds a Masters in Sports and Exercise Medicine (MSc), Bachelor of Medical Sciences (BMedSci) and Membership of the Royal College of Physicians (MRCP London).
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2 Responses to One Step at a Time

  1. Lisa Conroy says:

    Murt I feel like I just had our chat all over again. Ha ha ha

  2. Pingback: Ten tips for successful weight loss | MyHeartBlog

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