Why are you on a diet?

You know why you’re on a diet. Of course you do.

But maybe you need a new answer.

Coaching combines so well with nutritional therapy because it addresses the huge complexity of the way we eat – the bit beyond the technical complexity of deciding what to eat then shopping for and cooking it.

Beyond that there be dragons. Mythical creatures seeking to lure you into superstitions and dogmas and destructive old patterns that have made you sick and tired and fat.

In my view – and it’s a view increasingly supported by research – food management is the best, and sometimes the only way to treat the symptoms of our age: obesity, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, stress, fatigue… you know them all. And to revert to the opening question, your reason for dieting is probably related to one of these.

But as soon as the word diet is mentioned, vanity also raises her (ugly) head.

I’ve noticed in conversation that people invariably equate slimness with healthiness. To be clear, there is a correlation. Just as there’s a correlation between salary and intelligence. But no one would suggest it’s a linear relationship.

The real markers for health are not visible. Blood pressure, arterial flexibility, blood lipids, insulin sensitivity, bone density, muscle mass, body fat proportion, the ability to breathe… none of them can be calculated with your eyes only.

Health is a biochemical state not a dress size. You only have to look at the range of people who suffer from dread disease to realise that being slim doesn’t confer immunity. And, while obesity is a dangerous metabolic state characterised by runaway inflammation, hormonal imbalance, poor blood composition and a range of related symptoms that make living a normal life more difficult, the opposite of that is not being size zero.

That seems to be a very difficult concept to hold on to. Perhaps because this particular aspect of health is so visual. What’s the opposite of diabetes? What’s the opposite of cancer? What’s the opposite of obese? Yup. We think we know. But we don’t. Some skinny people have similar health risks to obese people, especially those who smoke a lot, drink a lot and exercise more than their body can cope with.

Let’s be honest. Most of us want to be slim because it looks better. And once we’re on a diet and the pounds are melting away the only thing that matters is more pounds melting away. We set our goal at perfect size, not perfect health. And to achieve that state we often start eating in an unhealthy way.

I watch people doing all sorts of terrible things to themselves in order to be slimmer. I’ve been in that club too but these days I try to avoid it. I understand that with very low insulin levels and high circulating ketones my biochemistry is better than it has been for 25 years. My blood pressure is great, my cholesterol levels ideal, my inflammation levels almost non-existent and my energy generally greater than I need.

For my (rather unfortunate) genetic type I’m in a great place health-wise and improving daily. Who could ask for more?

Me. On a bad day.

I’ve already written about my struggle between perfect weight and perfect diet. It hasn’t stopped. I’m still way out to the right of the spiky to cuddly continuum. Interestingly, though, I’m able to tolerate photos of myself in a way that, 2 years ago, seemed impossible. I literally couldn’t look at my image without getting depressed and, ironically, demotivated. So that’s progress.

Why share all this?

Because in working with clients I often find that there’s a mismatch in their goals. Sometimes I think I know better than they do – which is a cardinal sin for a coach.

I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy but being diagnosed with cancer (or even waiting to hear if you are going to be diagnosed with cancer) is a very effective way of putting it all into perspective. Given a choice of slim or healthy on that day, there’s no question which one you would choose.

Of course, it would be great to have both but I suspect that those of us who have been particularly talented in getting to the higher end of the BMI charts may have to settle for less than perfect in the vanity department if we want to continue to rate highly in the health stakes.

For my part, I know which I favour.

Though I have to remind myself on a regular basis.

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