Although by now, I think we have all heard this, I feel it bears repeating, diets are ineffective.
Simple, because a diet implies that what your doing is temporary and, many times, extreme. Diets can be effective when used correctly for a purposeful cut or mass phase, but not a good tool for making up for a shitty week, month, or longer.
What should you do instead?
You have probably heard this before too, but I’m going to say it again anyway – LIFESTYLE CHANGE!
There is no perfect time to make a change in your life regardless of what you are trying to accomplish – having a baby, buying a house, committing to an exercise program…the list goes on. If we wait for everything in our lives to align so that we can effortlessly take steps forward, we would be stuck in a monotonous cycle of repetition where nothing ever changes. Right?
Think about the last time something big happened in your life. Was it scary or new, did you feel 100% ready for it? My guess is probably not, and if you answered yes, then you might be the single luckiest person on the planet. The truth is, we can’t control for the “X” factors in our life all the time and it’s our job to work around the challenges we face in order to accomplish our goals.
How does this apply to food?
You can’t expect to sustain a major change in your life all at once, so you take it one step at a time. Instead of your traditional go-to diet, try to change one thing at a time over the course of many months. It took you months or even years to get to where you are in life now, so why should you be able to magically make a change in your health in a matter of a few days or weeks? It just doesn’t make sense, and frankly your body doesn’t work that way. Permanent changes come with time and consistency.
Don’t look at your changes in food habits as a diet, look at it as a step forward in life just as you would the addition of a family member or career change. You have to learn to take one step at a time before anything becomes comfortable.
How do you make this actionable?
Start small and work your way up to the bigger things. Let say, for example, that you absolutely love your morning Starbucks Vanilla Latte and you can’t imagine starting your day without it, but according to your most recent “diet” you can no longer have your morning latte. You would already be setting yourself up for failure because your about to give up the thing you love most about your day, during the first part of your day, and you are already going to be in a funk over your new diet.
I say start with something much, much smaller. What about your afternoon sweet snack that you go to out of sheer habit. Try replacing that sweet snack with something a little healthier. Or maybe you struggle with getting enough water through the day. Try adding a half glass of water every time you eat something. It’s a mental cue that if you eat then it’s also time to drink water, and eventually it will start to become an associated habit.
If exercise is the mountain you wish to conquer, then find a program that interests you and commit to just one day a week. Do the program one day a week until you are begging for more and you actually WANT to do more.
Let’s think about diet and exercise changes in two scenarios.
Scenario 1: You start a new diet on a Monday, because you always start on Monday, and you cut out about 1/3 or your total calories and can no longer have refined sugar (which would be totally unrealistic on any diet, but that’s what this diet calls for). You must get in at least 5 sessions of 45min of cardio per week, so you opt for spin classes. By Friday you are feeling accomplished having not cheated at all on your new diet, and to make things even better you are down two pounds! But for some reason you can’t help but reflect on the idea that you can’t beat yourself up like this every week. It’s a lot to do and you are so busy at work and at home as it is. Not to mention you could literally eat an entire cake because you have denied yourself every guilty pleasure all week.
Scenario 2: It’s Sunday and you feel a little guilty from all of your indulgences over the weekend. You can’t help but think you need to reign in this whole diet thing. But instead of your usual, “I’ll start Monday” attitude, you decide to not have the desert you planned for that night and start right now. You know you can still enjoy your favorite coffee and creamer in the morning, but that you will choose to be more conscious of what goes in your body. Also, you decide to find a gym class that you enjoy and try it out. If you don’t like it, you find something else, but you won’t make any big commitments until you find something sustainable for your schedule. At the end of the first week, you have lost one pound, which isn’t much, but you also don’t feel deprived and exhausted. Instead you know if you keep going this routine is sustainable and can be done relatively easy. Over time you know you can reach your goals, and if you decide to push harder or change your goals then that is always an option.
This is not to say that everyone has these exact experiences, but truly, which scenario would you like to be a part of? With the Holiday’s coming up and all the parties and food that will most assuredly be beckoning your attention, would you rather indulge completely and have to “start over” in January, or would you rather indulge conservatively and have already made progress by January?
Make small sustainable changes that are manageable and don’t cause more undue stress than they negate. Health should be a positive thing, not a constant stress.