Why Going On a Diet Is Setting You Up to Fail.
For ages and ages when people have been trying to lose weight they've called it "going on a diet." It's just been the thing to do so that's what people have done. There's so many different diets out there, it's hard to keep them straight. Diets tend to be restrictive and hard to follow for any length of time and worse, those who are able to follow them and successfully lose weight so rarely keep it off once they go "off the diet." Nearly everyone who goes on a diet, eventually fails whether it's failing to follow the diet or failing to keep the weight off. Dieting it literally setting you up to fail.
But "dieting" isn't necessary and isn't the best way to lose weight long term. Diets are temporary, they are excessively restrictive and very black and white- either a food is "on your diet" or not. This isn't helpful! Anything that is too restrictive isn't realistic to follow long term besides not being necessary. Too much restriction leads to binges or quitting and gaining back weight. It leads to frustration, burnout, feeling ineffective, and yes, to failing. That's not what you want!
Anything that restricts too much what you eat doesn't lead to long term success. It's been seen again and again. It doesn't work. So stop doing it!!
So what does work? What works is LEARNING. You have to learn better eating habits. Permanent ones. Eating habits you want to have and that are realistic long term. Besides being the only thing that is effective long term, it's also much less stressful to have a learning mindset than a diet mindset!
Diets are black and white. Learning is gradual and has room for mistakes. There's no expectation to "get it right" all the time with learning especially at first! None of us passed first grade math with 100% on all the tests. But we still learned to add and subtract and do more complicated math. Most of us didn't learn to drive a car overnight either, we had to learn how hard to push on the gas and break pedals for the car to do what we wanted. And then change the car and you get to start learning all over again- much like times when our bodies go through any sort of major change. The basics are the same, but the gas and break pedals have different sensitivities. The washer control is somewhere different. Etc.
The learning to drive a car analogy is a particularly useful one. When you first learn to drive a car, you learn the basics- turning the car on, putting the car in gear, learning how much gas and break to use to go and stop. Turning the wheel the right amount to go where you want the car to go- at slow speeds, in a controlled environment. You learn those very basics often in a parking lot or quiet side street with little or no traffic. It's only after you learn those basics that you start driving in the neighborhood, stop at stop signs, use the blinker when turning, learn to park. For most of us, the last thing we learn is highway driving- high speed, LOTS of other vehicles. The whole process is gradual. One step at a time. If you stall out the car, you try something different until you get it right.
Learning better eating habits is the same thing. You need to learn the basics first- how much you should eat, which foods you should eat more of or less of. There's some trial and error involved where you figure out what is too much, what is too little, which foods your body doesn't respond well to. It's all very unique to you.
Going on a diet is basically like throwing you in a car, manual transmission, at rush hour, on the highway. If you've only ever driven a bike, you won't make it far. You'll crash or stall. You missed the basics! This is setting you up to fail! Especially when paired with a nagging voice saying "No you have to do this right! YOU FORGOT YOUR BLINKER YOU FAIL!! GET OFF THE ROAD YOU FAILURE!!!" (How much is that different from "you ate the cookie and that's not on your diet you FAILED!" Not much, right?) If your driving instructor did that to you, would you quit trying to drive or find a better instructor?
When you take the time to focus on the learning process of eating better, you gain a life long skill with long term results. It's OK and even good to start very small, with baby steps. Frequently that is simply tracking your food, to see what and how much you are eating, without any specific goal on changing those food habits yet. Then you look at your patterns, and see where you can make healthier choices. That can start with eating a smaller portion of dessert. It doesn't have to be a HUGE overhaul! Small changes add up, and when you focus on one until it's second nature then you have more mental energy to dedicate to the next small change. You can move as slowly as you need to, each small step adds up, it's NOT overwhelming, you're unlikely to burn out from it, and although the results may come slower, they come will less stress, less guilt, and much more long term results.
And once you have the basics down, small adjustments won't stress you out. Your body hormones may change with age. Or you may move to another country with different foods available to you. It will likely throw you off at first, but when you have that knowledge and skill set to eat better, you can more effectively make the adjustments so you don't go back to entirely unhealthy eating (with the inevitable weight gain.)
When you are learning better eating habits you're ALLOWED and EXPECTED to make some mistakes. They aren't a big deal. Just a part of the process! You adjust and try again. There's a lot of wiggle room and you are able to find what works for you- not only for losing weight but also what fits into your schedule and what strikes a balance of enjoying your food while still being healthier. Perfection isn't the goal- the goal is good enough. You CAN have that cookie.
On the flip side, if you "go on a diet" you are having to follow strict rules, that may be hard to follow or hugely disrupt your life, when you make a mistake you quit, or you burn out, and you end up no better than when you started. You likely didn't learn anything that will help you make continued progress without trying in vain to stick strictly to the diet or a different diet again. With dieting, failing is really truly failing. With learning better eating habits there is no failing unless you quit. Mistakes are progress, because you learned something from them.
So I challenge you to shift your mindset right now, from a diet mindset to a learning one. You may find you are much more able to make changes without as much emotion coming into it, and you are very likely to make more long term progress because of it. Of course, it can be extremely difficult to shift that mindset on your own especially when it has been your default mindset for years! This is why coaches like me exist, for people who need a little extra boost and reminders that they are on the right track.
One last thing to consider- some people are able to learn certain things easily, while others may need to take more detailed notes, or talk to the teacher after class, or even hire a tutor. Some people can learn certain new skills in a day that their friend takes weeks to master. We all have some skills we learn more or less easily than those around us. This is no different with learning better eating habits. Don't compare yourself to those around you. If you are taking more time to get things figured out, that's OK. It isn't a race. Remember there is no failing only quitting, so keep on going, if you are feeling overwhelmed take a step back on focus on smaller steps. You WILL get there.
If you found this all helpful, please don't forget to like, comment, and share! Help your friends get off the diet roller coaster.