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What's Gained by Dieting?

Diets always make me think about losing. Pounds and inches, of course - or at least, that’s the hope - but also freedom and flexibility in meals, the ability to see food as something more than a collection of nutrients and calories or points, and unselfconscious joy in eating.

But surely to balance the scales, losing so much must mean a gain somewhere, right? Isn’t that, after all, the point of dieting, to lose pounds so we can gain something else?

Except I’m not sure everyone thinks that part through. Some group programs may ask what your goal is, or at least Weight Watchers did when I was part of it decades ago. Responses ranged anywhere from being comfortable in a bathing suit, to fitting into old clothes, to climbing stairs more easily. My own answer then and ever after when trying to lose weight was to climb Mt. Katahdin.

Yet we never went deeper than that. What do these goals gain you? What is the core of what you’re seeking that made you want to try a diet?

For those wanting to be comfortable in a bathing suit, perhaps the gain is better body image, or self-confidence, or simply drawing appreciative looks.

If you want to fit into old clothes, perhaps you seek to gain a feeling of youth and vigor, of how you felt when you were younger. Maybe you want a more carefree life, or a greater sense of possibility.

When climbing stairs, maybe you want to gain trust in your body, feeling strong and capable and assured.

In my case, although I didn’t know it when I was 12 (or at least didn’t admit it to myself), I didn’t want to climb Katahdin simply for love of the mountain. I wanted to gain my parents’ approval and pride.

The problem is, if we don’t understand these deeper reasons, they become secondary, and we focus only on all the restrictions and rules of the diet, not the reason for it. We also fail to recognize that perhaps if we addressed those true reasons and tried to make those positive gains first, the diet might become irrelevant.

Consider. If you focused on having a positive body image and self-confidence, you will present yourself differently and others might find you attractive regardless of how you look in a bathing suit. Or if you want to be more like your younger self, if you act in a more youthful and energetic way, you might become so. If you want to trust your body and feel capable, acknowledge what strengths and abilities you do have and foster those; more could follow. And if you want someone’s approval, consider talking to them about it. You may find you already have it.

And if you gain all these wonderful things, it’s very possible that what you eat may change naturally, without rules or counting or imposed limitations, as you feel better about yourself and what you can do.

So if you’re considering a diet, perhaps instead of asking what you want to lose, ask what you want to gain.

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