The Truth About Rigid Meal Plans & ‘Clean Eating’

The more I learn about the training, nutrition and the physique competition world the more I see the importance of moderation.

When it comes to fitness, health, nutrition, training and rehab many people think in black in white terms. People seem to have this ‘on or off’ mentality related to health and achieving set goals. It is seems to be a reason many New Year’s resolutions fail. Instead of seeing the big picture and understanding ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ people miss being consistent. As I stated in a previous article, 80% consistency weekly towards a goal is better than being 100% one week and then 0% for two weeks.

This leads me to nutrition and why the mindset of rigid dieting can harm you physically and mentally. I promote the term flexible dieting however I would like you to see think about the term ’Flexible dieting’’ actually as “Educated Eating”.

Now this educated eating must have scientific evidence. The lack of evidence is why we have people promoting sugar is bad yet telling you to eat fruit….. OR… You must eat clean to lose weight yet today is your cheat day. So much contradicting advice and along with lack of evidence guided advice is why so many people get mislead.

Most people wish they could maintain a certain body weight. This is challenging considering the mind field of advice out there. Maintaining weight loss is the big issue; most do not have an issue losing weight. Due to strict dietary constraint weight loss is achieved in short term, however up to 50% of this weight loss is regained within a year.

The question is why? Why do so many have issues maintaining a desirable weight?

There are a few factors implicated in weight maintenance.
1. Behaviour
2. Physiology
3. Psychology

In my eyes the psychological factor is king. It controls our behaviour which then dictates our physiology.

When it comes to food do you think about the cognitive aspect? Do you classify food as good or bad, healthy or unhealthy? This is a very ‘black or white’ approach to food. It leads to thinking of food and even dieting in the terms of ‘on or off’. This is a very simplistic style to think of foods and dieting which is hurting your consistency and progress. This style of thinking has been found to be associated with restraint eating and in general terms I see it most commonly in those promoting ‘clean eating’.

When it comes to dieting having an all or nothing approach and mindset of good or bad food can actually lead you to abandoning the diet and over eating. While dieting have you had the thought “If I eat this food that is not allowed then I may as well eat all the other bad food too” or when you feel lonely do you console in food?

These couple of examples are internal emotional related style of eating. If you find yourself angry or anxious then this has also been shown to lead to temptation and dieting lapses.

Do you follow clean eating yet you are still not happy with your weight? The research has actually shown that those who regain most of their weight if not more after their dieting phase tend to think in that black and white style of ‘clean or dirty’. Having a persistent thinking style of on off good bad ect is a predictor of whether or not you will regain weight. The evidence simply points to the fact that there is a link between thinking of on off healthy un healthy black or white good or bad, with restraint eating and weight gain.

There are two forms of restraint eating that is commonly promoted. We can break these down to:
1) Rigid
2) Flexible

Rigid eating is what I commonly see promoted in clean eating with the thought process and guided by rules of healthy un-healthy and an all or nothing approach.

The flexible approach incorporates foods that are in the clean eating group as bad or fattening however in small moderated amounts in a way that does not trigger emotions of guilt or anxiety that you have fallen off your diet.
Flexible restraint dieting leads to the ability to control food intake efficiently and not be prone to over eating.

A study from 2012 actually looked at this and demonstrated that following a flexible restraint and moving away from rigid thinking lead to better mental well-being and weight loss maintenance. What the research is leading towards is showing that having a rigid mindset to dieting impacts your ability to achieve and maintain a desirable weight.

The issue arises as research has demonstrated; if you have a greater rigid approach to dieting you are more likely to regain weight. Your weight regain may possibly then leads to greater levels of restraint and greater rigidity. Thus it is a vicious cycle that is driven by our mindset, our psychological beliefs.

The only way to change is cycle is to break down disinhibited eating and remove that feeling of violating your diet as you ate a bad food. Working towards a more flexible approach of dieting can lead to greater desirable weight maintenance. It is about being consistent not just ‘on or off’.

Are you having trouble with weight maintenance? or having trouble managing your weight post physique competitions? Possibly changing your thinking and approach to dieting may help. Stop doing it the hard way. It is strongly advised to avoid thinking styles that create anxiety, over eating and quilt. Be aware dietary restraint can lead to disinhibited eating. This can keep you in the vicious cycle of weight gain weight loss forever.

Unfortunately for many, research has proven that the thinking commonly see in rigid dieting along the lines of clean eating is not ideal for weight maintenance or management.

Truly educate yourself about nutrition and you will be forever thankful you did.

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