I finally figured out my least favorite word. Diet.
It’s that time of year when you hear this word SO much. Everyone’s searching for one (the best one!), starting one, starving on one, not finishing one, giving up one. It’ll all be over in a couple weeks, give and take.
There could be a whole dictionary filled with just the names of all the diets that ever existed.
The two reasons I dislike the word and the concept so much are this. One, I personally love food too much, so any sort of food deprivation is beyond my realm of possibility. But, two, and much more important, it leads to guaranteed failure.
Yeah, what?? Here’s the thing about this dirty little word “diet.” As soon as you go on a diet and become a “dieter,” you are setting yourself up to fail – not just with your diet, but with your goal of losing weight and your goal of being healthy.
Why? Because it’s scientifically proven. Psychologically scientifically. The science is so fascinating and compelling, I’m inspired to share it. I’m only the messenger.
But just imagine… how wonderful could your life be if you never had to diet again.
This all started with a book I read last year called Willpower. It sort of changed my life. Kinda would’ve been helpful if I discovered it a little earlier in life, but oh well.
Long story short: I judged the book by the title, took a chance, knew it might hold some magic wisdom, and never read anything that so brilliantly explained the psychology of willpower in one genius book. (Read it.)
It’s written by the prolific psychologist Roy F. Baumeister and New York Times science writer John Tierney. Through one entertaining study after another, they crack open your mind on the definition of self-control.
If I can do Chapter 10 – ‘The Perfect Storm of Dieting’ – any justice, here are three really good reasons why you should never diet again.
REALLY GOOD REASON #1: The “I give up” effect
Baumeister and Tierney call this the “What The Hell” effect, but the essence of this psychology is that dieters have an innate “I give up” default button. Here’s how it works.
When you’re on a diet, you have programmed your brain to not eat certain foods that you’ve deemed bad. You expend a lot of willpower every single diet day, clearly intent on following your “rules.” So many rules.
Somehow, in the mind of most dieters, these rules apply to a whole day, one day at a time. That is, if you make it to the end of your day having followed all your rules, you rock.
But IF you “mess up” at some point during the day and you slip – you nibble a little cookie or break one of your diet “rules” aaagghh! – then a subtle trigger goes off in your brain where you subconsciously decide to “give up” that day. You broke one of your rules, so you mentally categorize that day as a failure. And since you’ve failed that day, you figure you might as well go all out and enjoy that day. So you cave in and binge.
Tell me you don’t know this phenomenon.
In the long run, this psychological and physical yo-yo leads to a lot more unhealthy, weight-gaining binges than if you simply ate well-balanced meals like humankind did before we invented diets.
REALLY GOOD REASON #2: Your body’s biology
As a dieter, you might have a lot of self-control. Your willpower is probably above average. Hooray.
But that’s your brain.
Just one slight glitch. You forgot your body, which has a mind of it’s own. It might follow along with your rules, and shrink to fit in proportion to your willpower. But once it gets the hint that you are essentially starving your body of the good nutrients it needs, it begins to fight back.
Anytime you deprive your body of food (the basic idea behind most diets), you send physical signals to your body that it’s in a state of “famine.” (Don’t you feel famished?!)
In response, your body will do everything in its power to save the cells it needs for survival – fat cells. Fat can sustain you through the worst of times – and that’s what your body is preparing for. It has no idea YOU are the one starving it. And to think, it’s actually trying to protect you. Poor thing.
Now you’re in a tug-of-war with your body – you starve it, your muscles deteriorate, your body saves fat cells, your weight yo-yos up and down, and you never feel satisfied or happy.
REALLY GOOD REASON #3: Your willpower comes in a limited supply
This is the seriously juicy stuff.
That thing that you use when you’re on a diet – the thing that keeps you following your strict rules – that’s called willpower. It’s real, and it exists because there are brain cells that enable you to USE willpower.
But scientific studies have shown that willpower (or the ability to self-control) is like a fuel and you have a limited supply of it everyday. AND your brain does not distinguish what it uses it for. Every day, every time you make a decision or use any amount of self-control to get anything done, you’re using up your daily supply of willpower. And it has been clearly shown that you will run out as the day goes by, and that you run out faster if you use more willpower than normal.
The part of your brain working when you use willpower is functioning on pure glucose, that’s just how brain cells work. So, you can refuel. Eat a healthy meal three times a day and your brain will be replenished. Just remember, your brain is not only using its nutrient fuel for your willpower – your brain and body have a few other things to do, too.
BUT. When you diet, you are generally decreasing your nutrient levels, and often running on empty in the glucose category. So what you are doing when you diet is (1) forcing your brain to use an extraordinary amount of willpower to follow your diet rules, and (2) depriving your brain of the fuel it needs for that willpower.
In order to diet, you need willpower, but in order to have willpower you need to eat. This is the “nutritional catch-22” that guarantees that every diet is a lose-lose situation. And it’s not weight that you lose.
WHAT TO DO, WHAT TO DO
So, yes, I’m saying, promise yourself you’ll never go on a diet, ever, ever again – if you want to be healthy, lose weight, look fabulous, feel amazing. But here’s what you can try instead.
1. Love your body.
Know that your body needs sustenance. The nicer you are to it, the nicer your body will be to you. No fat was ever burned, no muscle ever toned, without healthy eating and regular exercise. Your guarantee of weight loss is etched in that formula: eat well, exercise daily, and both in healthy moderation.
2. Set realistic goals.
Try taking things slow for a change. I can’t say this enough: A healthy, toned body comes from slow and consistent efforts, not a fad diet or an extreme makeover.
3. Be mindful.
The best monitoring system you can use is to pay attention to your food. Sit down to eat. Take a moment to be grateful for your food. Eat with intention. Chew slowly. Your body will follow its natural internal cues to start and stop eating when you’re more conscientious about your eating habits.
4. Know your weak spots.
Take note of the times when you’ll need a little food buffer – before/after workouts, late afternoon slumps at work, on the road for a long trip, holiday parties.
5. Plan for the worst.
Once you know your weak spots, have a plan for how you’ll handle those situations. You can plan out what to stash in your desk drawer for work day cravings, or what to pack for trips on the road, or how you’ll manage a tempting holiday party.
6. Try Plan B: The not now, but later plan.
There is one more option to having a plan. It comes from a really interesting finding in Baumeister and Tierney’s book.
Let’s say you’re at a party and there’s something you think you really should not to eat. Those who say “I won’t have this right now, but I will later” tend to eat significantly less of the very thing they want to avoid, than those who tell themselves they’d never eat that thing.
Translation: When you tell yourself “I can have this later,” to some psychological degree, your mind feels like you’ve satisfied your craving. The reason: It takes more willpower to completely say “No!” to something than to say “Maybe later!” and it’s a lot less stressful on your mind.
That’s all. But perhaps that’s enough? 😉
Here’s what I’d love you to do. One, please never diet again. Two, write a comment below to “write out loud” your promise to eat healthy and never diet again. And, three, share this love (article) with your friends if you think it can help them.
Cheers to a beautiful new year and you!