How NOT to Suck At Dieting
My High School Girlfriend
When I was in high school I had this girl friend that was always on a diet. She was a super cute dancer and I was crazy about her. But she lived 2 hours away so I only got to see her maybe once a month.
One thing I never understood, was that every time I went to visit her she’d be on a new diet. It was always I can eat this I can’t eat that.
The weird thing was that she never stuck to a diet very long. And she never seemed to lose any weight. Even stranger was the fact that, though she wasn’t super skinny, I never thought she needed to lose weight in the first place.
I wrestled in high school. So I knew how much it sucked to cut weight. Not being able to eat what you want. Feeling hungry. And Getting grumpy.
I never understood why you would do it, unless it was for a match. Still she kept trying and trying. And though I didn’t know much in high school. One thing I knew was that my girlfriend and dieting just weren’t right for eachother.
All diets work.
At least for a little while. Even people that suck at dieting lose weight on diets. And some people lose a lot of weight on diets. But for many people the weight loss doesn’t last.
A recent study by ULCA found that, “People on diets typically lose 5 to 10 percent of their starting weight in the first six months (…). However, at least one-third to two-thirds of people on diets regain more weight than they lost within four or five years, and the true number may well be significantly higher.”(1)
Why do we suck at dieting?
So the question I’ve been asking is why do people suck at dieting? Then I realized that a better question is why do we first rock at dieting and then only later start to suck at it.
3 Things All Diets Have In Common
Paleo, Atkins, south beach, coffee, Inuit – they are all different but they have a few commonalities.
1. They all involve calorie restriction or reduction.
2. They all ask you to pay attention to what you eat.
3. They all offer a comprehensive system for you to follow.
So lets look at these one by one.
If you want to lose weight, you have to eat fewer calories than you expend.
A recent study by the New England journal of medicine showed no significant difference in weight loss between low fat diets, low carb diets, and high protein diets. (2) They all worked because they decreased calorie intake.
That is the nature of organic life. Bummer yes, but much like gravity it’s lameness is only matched by its trueness.
I believe awareness is why all diets work. Simply put if you pay attention you make better choices. This rule applies to almost every aspect of our lives.
If you can maintain a level of attentiveness to your eating, to your finances, to your relationships, to your communication, and to your mind you notice more things.
The things you notice help you gain wisdom, knowledge, and experience. And you can use these tools to make better choices. As you make better choices your life tends to get better as a result.
It’s so simple and obvious that it’s almost not worth mentioning. But this simple concept is the key to transformation. Awareness = Awesomeness.
After reflecting on these first two factors I realized that if we just stopped here diets might actually work. But just when you thought you were safe, most diets add a third factor that seems good at first, but is actually where everything falls apart.
A Comprehensive System
When we first adopt a new system we become attentive to everything. The novelty of the system helps create awareness. But as the novelty wears off so does the awareness.
Eventually the system becomes hard and we try to avoid it. We identify our success with the system, and as soon as we step off the path, we are thrown into confusion.
Success is sticking to the plan and failure is everything else. The mainstream fitness industry is based on this idea. Why? Because systems are easy to create and sell.
If you listen, you can hear a 1000 voices shouting out at the same time. “I have the secret that will help you lose weight and look great” and then they whisper, “You just have to do what I say”
Diets and Dictators
It’s actually strangely similar to what a dictator offers an unstable country. “I offer you safety and stability. All you have to do is listen to what I say.”
If your country is in utter chaos, a dictator may seem like a good solution. And dictators do bring order to chaotic societies. I mean, they make the trains run on time, right?
This is exactly what the mainstream fitness and diet industry sells, a “we make the trains run in time” mentality.
They offer short-term stability and a short-term clarity. They offer simple rules that will solve all of your problems. Except rules don’t solve problems, they only contain them.
So, you trade in your freedom and autonomy for a system. You ignore your own wisdom. And you surrender to the greater power and mysterious promises of the fitness industry.
After all, if they can produce all those sets of six-pack abs in commercials they must be doing something right.
Why the Fitness Industry Thinks You Suck at Dieting
So you try the system and it doesn’t work. Why? The fitness industry offers two simple answers:
1. You haven’t found the right diet.
2. There is something wrong with you. You lack the will power, stamina, and courage to stick to a diet.
This is like thinking the only problem with dictatorships is
1. You haven’t found the right dictator.
2. The subjects lack the ability to obey.
But dictatorships suck because they stifle the natural development of society. Dictators merely substitute their will for the will of the people.
Diets do the same thing. They substitute their judgment, their will, and their level of awareness for yours. They offer short-term order, but do very little to help you develop your own healthy awareness and ability to sustain long-term change.
The Guilt Gain Cycle
This approach keeps you trapped in a vicious cycle that goes something like this. You feel guilt and shame that you’re overweight (even if you’re not actually overweight.) You figure the only way to lose weight and feel better is a dictator diet. So, you try one out.
It works at first, but then it doesn’t. When the diet fails, you feel more guilt and shame. You either decide the diet is wrong and you start the cycle over. Or you convince yourself something is wrong with you.
In either case, this cycle ignores your own wisdom and instincts around food.
Wake Up Your Wisdom
Clearly the dictator diet approach doesn’t work, but there is another way. All you have to do is put your focus on awareness first. Stop listening to the rules and start listening your own wisdom.
When I first start working with clients all I have them do is to keep a Mind Fit Food journal that includes what they eat, what they do, and what they think about. That’s it.
I’m amazed again and again how they tell themselves exactly what they need to hear. “I never knew I snacked so much” or “I finally realize how inactive I am.”
Most people know exactly why they have gained weight over the years. And it’s not because they’ve been eating secret belly fat foods, or not eating like South African penguins did 100 years ago. It’s because they haven’t been paying attention to what they eat.
You Don’t Suck, Diets Do
So, stop paying attentions to diets and start paying attention to what you eat, what you do, and how it makes you feel.
Being healthy isn’t about feeling guilty about the food you eat. It isn’t about obsessing over your weight. And it isn’t about counting every calorie.
Being healthy is about loving yourself just as you are. And also realizing you have some work to do.
This is the work of paying attention and making better choices. But you don’t need me or any other fitness ‘expert’ to tell you what those choices should be. And there’s evidence to prove it.
A study done by the National Weight Loss Registry Found that about half of all people who are successful at keeping weight off over a year did it on their own. (3) If you take the remaining half and divide it up amongst all the other systems, self-directed weight loss programs have a higher success rate then almost any diet system out there.
Stop Sucking, Start Rocking
So, stop sucking at your diet and start rocking at your life. You already have all the knowledge you need to lose weight.
If you want to make a change you have to develop the habits of awareness, get support from people around you, and don’t get caught up in the fitness industry’s drama.
You can start by just keeping a Mind Fit Food journal. If you do this and then focus on just these three simple things, and nothing will stand in your way.
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