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Published on September 14, 2021

closeup of woman using calorie counting app

What Is a Diet Reductionist and Are You One?

You can’t diet without reducing, cutting down and eliminating, right? It seems obvious.

A reductionist, by definition, boils down complex ideas or issues to their simplest parts to find explanations. I’m not convinced a reductionist approach works with diet and lifestyle. Here’s why.

I’ve spent many years helping people on their journeys to healthier lifestyles. I know it’s always a work in progress. Simply cutting carbohydrates or adding coconut oil is not going to solve all the problems. Although it may be beneficial to think of a healthy lifestyle in smaller, more-manageable parts, remember that you have to address all those parts. Critically appreciate how they work together – when you do, you can have enduring success.

Here are five important questions to ask about your journey to a healthy lifestyle:

What am I Working to Control?

A reductionist would likely have a concise answer, and it might be something like having less than 50 grams of carbohydrate a day, or only eating 1,200 calories. No matter the goal, it still represents a small piece of the healthy lifestyle puzzle. Don’t get me wrong -- calorie counting can be a good guideline. So can fat, carb and protein goals. But they must be personalized, and remember: they’re only guidelines.

How Much Time Do I Spend Thinking About Food?

Thinking about food throughout the day is normal, natural and healthy. Constantly thinking about food can be an unwanted distraction and a sign our relationship with food needs some work. Keeping a food journal is more about why we eat – not what we consume. It can help identify areas for improvement, and let us distinguish between positive and negative food thoughts.

Do I Experience Feelings of Hunger and Fullness?

The body can be extremely good at letting us know when we need fuel and when the tank is full. However; we can also be very good at ignoring these cues. The more we ignore them the less effective they become. Appreciating and optimizing these cues is a large part of intuitive and mindful eating approaches. It is always good to ask yourself: when was the last time I felt true physical hunger. How about real fullness?

Will My Environment Allow Me Success?

Control in food relationships is tricky, as many environmental factors come into play. Sitting at a desk near a breakroom always well-stocked with doughnuts is an example. Or maybe you’re working from home and just steps away from the pantry. Do those snacks you have for your spouse also call your name? Is a convenient fast-food drive-through on your way home? Your environment is affecting your choices, so how you modify the environment to improve your odds is important.

Why Do I Want a Healthy Lifestyle?

If you want to make a change, you need motivation. Sadly general health and wellness are often not strong enough to move us, so remember: the more specific the better.

  • You might want to get your cholesterol down so statin drugs aren’t part of your yearly checkup talk with your provider.
  • You could be keeping blood sugars under control to avoid the official jump from pre-diabetes to diabetes.
  • Maybe you’re trying to get fit enough to walk the next American Heart Walk. Specific internal motivators can give you more control over those powerful external environment temptations.

Be creative: if cholesterol is your motivator, keep frequently used office supplies in an empty medicine bottle. Make your phone security code your cholesterol level goal. Anything that makes you think about your choices can help you reach a long-term goal.

Lauren Cornay, RD, LN, is a registered dietitian with Avera Heart Hospital. Learn more about her programs and get answers to your nutrition questions.

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