Probably one of the most resounding New Year’s resolutions year after year is, “This year, I’m going to get in shape and lose weight!” You know you’ve heard it and if you’re a gym regular, you’ve actually seen it: come January first, every bench, cardio machine, and dumbbell has been taken. By mid-March, the gym crowd has subsided back to “normal” as those who had flocked to the gym with high hopes become discouraged and ultimately, give up.
Quite frankly, it’s probably not the workout aspect that is causing frustration and setting the well-intentioned resolutioner up for failure. Rather, the culprit is more than likely the person’s chosen diet. There. I said it. That dreaded “D” word which, every time I see it in print, mentally registers as the word “die” with a “t” on the end. Atkin’s “Die”t. Paleo “Die”t. Cabbage Soup “Die”t. Grapefruit “Die”t. The Zone “Die”t. While others may not mentally register the word the same way I do, I guarantee you that the word instills a sense of dread in anyone who comes across it. Why is this?
I believe a negative connotation exists around the word “diet” because, let’s be honest—who hasn’t tried to diet before? I have. Most of my girlfriends have. Even my husband tried to diet at one point. Were we successful for a little while? Of course. The real question to ask, though, is: were we successful for the long haul? No… and I’ll tell you why. The reasons these diets, and others like them, fail are because they demand two things: first, these diets require a restriction or total abandonment of one or more types of foods or food groups. Secondly, the creators of said diets assume the dieter will adhere to the strict guidelines set forth in the plan… forever. These two factors together aren’t a road map to long-term weight-loss success; rather, they’re a road map that will lead you right off the edge of a cliff!
When a person decides to follow a restricted plan, they typically adopt what nutritionist Keith Klein, of the Institute of Eating Management in Houston Texas, calls the “dieter’s mentality.” Essentially, the dieter says, “I am not going to eat _____ ever again or drink _____ either because they’re not a part of my new diet!” However, as Keith points out, once you tell someone
they can’t have something… well… they suddenly become preoccupied with it! The person may fight off the urge to eat the forbidden food or drink the forbidden beverage for a while, but once the right opportunity presents itself, the person will typically crumble and binge on what he had been craving.
For example, I had a friend who had put on about twenty-five pounds in a year. He got pretty fed up with his weight and proclaimed to me that he was giving up beer forever. This was a pretty bold statement, so I asked him, “Tell me, why do you drink beer? Do you drink it because you actually like the taste, or do you drink it merely for the social aspect of it?” His response came quickly, “Well I drink it because I like it!” I gently pointed out to him the fact that eventually, he would break down and possibly binge drink one weekend because he had “deprived” himself of something he truly enjoyed. He agreed, but then became frustrated because he didn’t know where to begin when it came to losing the weight and keeping it off.
The truth is, if you can’t see yourself following a certain diet three months, six months, or a year down the road, then the diet isn’t one you should consider in the first place. Your success with weight loss is not determined by how fast you lose weight; rather, it’s going to boil down to how successful you are at keeping the weight off. In order to do this, you need to have an idea of how to eat for success.
A part of this “eat for success” education should include how to incorporate the foods you love into your new lifestyle. Note that I use the term lifestyle here. In order to achieve lifetime results, you should see your food choices as lifestyle changes. For some people, making these changes will be easy. For most, however, the changes may have to come in stages or “baby steps.” Back to my friend: I knew him well enough to know that dropping beer cold turkey wasn’t a viable option. So what was? I learned he had a habit of drinking eight beers in one sitting, so I asked him if he thought it was possible for him to drink four instead. He agreed this was a much more realistic option, so he started from there. While this may not seem like significant change, he slowly began dropping weight! Once he saw the result he got from one minor adjustment, he willingly made other minor adjustments that, eventually, added up to a twenty pound weight loss within the year.
At this point you are probably wondering, “Ok, so what adjustments did your friend make? How can I achieve success, too?” Some of the most common answers to this question are: eat small meals at regular intervals throughout the day; carry your meals with you; concentrate on eating nutrient dense foods; limit processed anything; eat favorite foods in moderation; and try to prepare most of your meals at home. All of these tips are spot on. If you implement one or two of these strategies into your life or, if you are really zealous, implement all of them at once, you are bound to see change. Two of the best sources I can think of that will really outline how to use these strategies and why these strategies work are Lee Labrada’s book entitled The Lean Body Promise and Keith Klein’s book entitled Beyond Diet.
Still, I think the two, best pieces of advice when it comes to getting started on your new lifestyle journey are these: first, make choices you know you can live with! I happen to be a huge fan of cereal. If you tell me that in order for me to lose weight I must never eat cereal again… well, that’s just not going to happen. What I can live with is choosing Kashi Go Lean Sweet Potato Sunrise over Fruity Pebbles. What I can live with is choosing to have one bowl of it instead of two. What I can live with is having it once or twice a week instead of every day. These are reasonable requests in my world.
Secondly, don’t beat yourself up if you do slip! No one eats perfectly all the time! Probably one of the most refreshing moments of my life came when I got the chance to enjoy a glass of wine (or two) with my nutritionist. Of course I didn’t imagine she never strayed from her typical healthy lifestyle regimen. Still, it was nice to see that she was totally comfortable enjoying the things she loves and not feeling an ounce of guilt for doing it.
Make a commitment to living a healthier lifestyle, but don’t waste your energy fretting over the things you feel you aren’t doing or that you feel you should be doing. Instead, follow Keith’s advice and realize that “small changes, so long as they’re sustainable, create big changes over the course of time.” Place your focus on how the changes you’ve decided to implement are having a positive effect on your weight loss goals and, more importantly, on your health. By doing so, you will reap the rewards of your new choices not just today, but well into the future.
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Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice, nor is it to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician before starting or changing your diet or exercise program. Any use of this information is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the user.