10 Things I’ve Learned About Dieting Mindfully
Recently I went on a diet, which is interesting because I don’t believe diets work. To be more precise I don’t believe that diets dictated by other people, books, magazines and blogs with the sole extent of helping you lose weight are effective over the long term. Instead they tend to encourage us to seek extremes, to ignore our own intuition, and embrace an unbalanced path.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever try to change the way you eat. Going on a short term diet can be very helpful, so long as you understand what you hope to learn and that no diet lasts forever.
This January after rehabbing from an injury post marathon and a decadent holiday trip to my sisters house, I stepped on the scale to discover that I weighed more than ever before.
I knew I wanted to take that weight off and do it in a balanced way. So ever since the end of January, I’ve been on a caloric deficit diet. And I’ve made strides in becoming more active after my rehab.
It’s been a long time since I’ve tried to diet like this and I thought it would be an interesting experiment. The process has helped me learn or relearn many things about diets. And I want to share some of those with you.
I offer these observations not as a comprehensive guide or endorsement of any diet, but merely as a list of things that I found useful in navigating life on a temporary diet.
1. Dieting is frustrating –
Often we put on weight in a slow, subtle, and almost imperceptible manner. The problem is that when we diet we want the change to be dramatic, obvious, and fast.
Alas, this is not the case and slow weight loss can be unbelievably frustrating. Especially if you are trying to lose those last 5 – 10 lbs. Despite this, it’s better to make small slow change, than try to push harder.
Drastic measures often lead to a halted metabolism or even worse, burn out and disillusion. So instead of getting frustrated, try focusing on the joy of eating healthier and of being more mindful of your body and the food that nourishes it.
2. Dieting is Simpler Than We Want to Believe –
The reason I chose a caloric deficit diet is it’s the only diet that actually works. Or more accurately, it is the foundation that makes all other diets works. Studies have shown that all these diets are about as equally effective so long as the reduce calorie intake.
Because diets are frustrating, we want to believe there is some magic way to get around eating less. Unfortunately there isn’t. This doesn’t mean we can’t try little tricks to make this easier (using smaller plates for example). But it does mean we should be aware of these tricks and not believe we can use tricks to get around the inevitable discomfort dieting causes.
3. Things Have Way More Calories Than We Realize –
An ounce of cheese has 110 calories, yes 110; that’s the equivalent of an apple and a half. Or a bunch of Kale. Every time I track my caloric intake, I’m amazed by how many calories there are in certain types of food.
When I do, I learn to go skip those foods or I learn to eat them more mindfully. I do this not because I want to become obsessed with calories, but because it helps me understand how small choices can effect my health in a big way.
4. Exercise Burns Less Than We Think –
It can take a while to burn a bunch of excess calories. Which is why people say you can’t out train a bad diet. Nevertheless, exercise is essential for losing weight and being healthy. Not because it ‘melts away’ the pounds, but because it gets us out of our routines and encourages our vitality.
I notice that when I exercise regularly, I crave better food and have more energy to make the hard choices that losing weight sometimes requires.
5. You Must Learn To Adapt –
Often the little habitual things make losing weight harder. It’s the coke we like to get at the movies. It’s the bag of chips we buy at the store. It’s the love of sweet, sweet cheese that makes it harder.
This is why going on a diet is a great opportunity to learn to be flexible and find alternatives.
For instance, I recently found out that goat cheese has much fewer calories than regular cheese. So, I’ve been using it instead. I’ve also been turning to oranges instead of ice cream for a post meal snack.
What makes all of these changes possible is that I see each of these choices as an opportunity not a penalty. Learning to adapt doesn’t mean begrudgingly accepting change. Instead, it’s about being dynamic and looking for the joy in the alternatives.
6. Diet’s Make the Desire to Be Self-Obsessive Stronger –
It’s easy to lose track of others when you are on a diet. I’ve noticed myself thinking that my partner is bent on sabotage, by adding extra chocolate to my post run milk or by serving me a bigger portion.
But the truth is she just isn’t thinking about it because well, she’s not the one on a diet. Even though your diet may be important to you, it’s equally important to keep it in context and not put it in front of everyone else’s needs. You will be better of with a little flexibility and a smile.
7. Don’t Weigh Yourself Everyday –
Weighing yourself weekly isn’t a bad idea if you want to lose weight, but daily is a mistake. Your weight will fluctuate and so will your confidence. In general, it’s better if you don’t focus on your weight at al and instead focus on how you feel in your body.
Whenever I let go of weighing in and instead focus on what I’m doing to be healthier, I feel I’m making progress. This in turn keeps me going. Whenever I step on the scale and see that I haven’t lost as much weight as I’d like, the more discouraged I feel.
I’ve learned it’s best to let go of the scale and listen to your own internal measures instead.
8. Vegetables Are Your Friends –
I know this, but every time I log or journal about my food I find that eating more veggies always makes me happier. Not only do veggies have a ton of nutrients, they have fewer calories than almost anything else of comparable volume.
If you like veggies, Great! If you don’t, you can learn. I know you don’t believe me but you can. And it’s actually not that hard. Just look up a few good recipes and try them. You’ll be amazed at how good veggies can taste if you just keep at it.
9. Cook for Yourself –
The only way to get a very good sense of what you are eating is to cook for yourself. It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated, but I’m amazed how hard it is to estimate calories, points, or even nutritional qualities of the food when I eat out.
Instead, you are much better off buying a bag of beans and a bag of rice and cooking at home. Not only will you be able to control the amount of oil, sugar, and other things that go into your food, but the act of cooking food helps you see the whole process and enjoy it much more.
10. Diet’s Aren’t Forever –
It’s important to remember diets aren’t forever. No matter how disciplined you are, you can’t stay on a diet forever, because diets are by their very nature artificial ways of being.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t retain some of the awareness or habits you develop on a diet. You can learn to love new kinds of food. You can learn to let go of old habitual food patterns. And you can learn to be more aware of what you put in your body.
But your goal should be to integrate and adopt small practices while letting go of the structure of a diet. If you don’t you’ll only see a diet and non-diet world. And shuttle between the two forever.
Instead, treat a diet like an experiment or a foreign language class. Always be on the look out for valuable data or useful phrases that you can keep after your diet is long gone.