As vaccinations slowly usher in a post-COVID summer complete with pool parties and beach barbecues, many women are finding that pressure to debut a lean “bikini body” has reached a fever pitch. That’s no coincidence — the weight loss industry, which saw a 21 percent market decline in 2020, is looking to the two in five Americans who reported gaining weight during the pandemic to make up for lost revenue. On social media, that pressure takes the form of influencers, many of whom push fad diets, fasting, extreme calorie restriction, and other quick fixes that promise to deliver a #hotgirlsummer in short order.
Those diets can seem appealing in their simplicity — cut this, lose weight. But the reality is often disappointing: a 2013 National Center for Biology Information study found dieting to be correlated with weight gain in the long term. Popular low-carb plans like the Keto diet were found to be connected to increased mortality risk in one expansive study, and have been linked to increases in cholesterol and coronary disease in others. Perhaps most telling, participation in fad diets has been tied to increased incidences of disordered eating and body dysmorphia, especially among teen girls.
“[Diets are] always approached from a rules, restrictions, and numbers standpoint, and this weight loss that we crave so badly becomes a full-time job,” says Katy Saltsman, the Royal Oak-based certified nutritionist and personal trainer behind Conditioned by Katy. She explains that the extreme behavior promoted by diet culture — such as the removal of entire food groups or extreme calorie restriction — can create a cycle of failure. “It becomes this calculus problem that we don’t understand, and when it doesn’t work, we’re left with shame, fear, and guilt because we don’t feel good enough.”
Saltsman’s perspective was largely shaped by her own early battles with dieting and weight loss. “I had a really bad relationship with food and with my body for many years,” she says. “I struggled with weight loss for so long, trying all of the wrong things, all of the fads.” It’s why she launched her one-on-one nutrition coaching business in 2017, and why she prefers to work primarily with women. “I attract a lot of clients that have my same story,” she says.
Working individually with 20 to 30 clients at any given time, Saltsman champions self-acceptance and realistic goals over body shame and restrictive dieting. She regularly posts playful diet de-bunking videos on her Instagram account, @conditionedbykaty, which also features frequent reminders to eat carbs, sleep in, and be nice to yourself.
Saltsman blames the appeal of extreme diets on the unrealistic expectation of linear weight loss – the idea that we should be seeing a lower number on the scale every single day. “When we go from day to day and only focus on the number on the scale, it’s either pass or fail,” she says. “It’s an all-or-nothing mindset. We’re either perfect — and we better see that scale move — or F it, we’re off this diet. That creates this horrible mental and emotional struggle.”
Instead of focusing solely on calories or scale numbers, Saltsman says her programs work by teaching women to prioritize how their bodies feel. “Guess what: if you’re tired and starving all the time, this isn’t going to last,” she says. “If sleep is low and stress is high, and you’re trying to attack a diet, it’s never going to work. I focus a lot on bio-feedback – energy level, sleep, stress, hunger level, [and] mindset.”
Saltsman uses that bio-feedback, along with input from her clients about their favorite foods and physical activities, to craft personalized nutrition and movement plans. The plans are also designed to change based on feedback from clients as they move through the program. Hate working out at the gym? Saltsman won’t make you — she’ll recommend walking, biking, or playing with your kids instead. Love peanut butter? She won’t tell you to toss it; instead, she’ll incorporate it into your nutrition plan in a way that encourages moderation. Feeling hungry at the end of the day? A calorie increase may be in order. For women who are used to suffering their way through a restrictive diet, a health program that feels good can be the key to creating a lasting, sustainable change.
For clients who have experimented with extreme dieting in the past, Saltsman admits that her program may seem like a “slow” way to lose weight. But she emphasizes that while extreme diets can cause rapid weight loss, they’re rarely sustainable, and most who dabble in them find that the weight is nearly impossible to keep off long-term. “I’m all about consistency and sustainability,” she says. “If you can’t do it for the rest of your life, why are you doing it?”
Prospective clients can opt for a one-on-one private coaching program with Saltsman, or they can join one of her small group Master Your Metabolism workshops, which offer the customization of one-on-one coaching with the support of a virtual community. “In all my programs, whether it’s a small group or one-on-one, I put a huge emphasis on the individual,” she says. “All of our bodies are different. All of our lives are different.”
While Saltsman says that all of her clients report losing weight by the end of their programs, the biggest takeaway for most participants is an improved relationship with food and a healthier body image. “This journey is just as much mental and emotional as it is physical,” she says. “I want women to be left feeling empowered, educated, strong, and confident in their bodies.”
Saltsman’s next Master Your Metabolism course begins in August. You can join the waitlist and find more information at conditionedbykaty.com.