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The word “diet,” the way we use it today, is basically an admission of failure. Going on a diet means we have somehow failed in our quest to look or feel a certain way, and now we must change.
“Dieting” means we are following some protocol with a fancy name, excluding certain foods, probably reading an associated book, and possibly following a celebrity touting the diets powers. Not to mention, we are supposed to post about this diet on social media.
Conversely, the ideas of “habits” or “lifestyle change” makes most of us think of a slow process that could take forever to see results. It’s human nature to live in the moment and want results right now, so most of us choose “to diet.”
If we want to actually improve the way we look and feel, the process is somewhere between a diet and a lifestyle change. Yes, we have to get after it a bit. But this doesn’t mean doing anything extreme, giving food morals like “bad” or “good,” or working out eight days a week. It doesn’t mean waiting forever for anything to change, either.
When it comes to people who are not succeeding in weight loss, there are three main things I notice as a dietitian and coach. These signs are usually evident within the first few weeks of a weight-loss attempt, and unless these people change course, they won’t even make it a month.
1. They Try to Make Changes When They’re Not Ready
Have you ever become excited by a new idea or product, only to be disappointed after you get it? It happens all the time with diets. You are on a trip with your friend who just lost thirty pounds on the [insert any diet name]. Your friend talks it up like it’s the second coming of Brad Pitt. It’s the easiest, tastiest, most effective diet. Like, ever.
So, you buy the book or program when you get home and get started. Of course, you lose a few pounds. But, after a few weeks, the burden becomes too much, and you slowly stop following the program. A year later, on another trip, you find out your friend also stopped doing the diet, regained some weight, but is now on another, better diet.
See the cycle?
The diet industry is set up to get people excited and therefore get their friends excited about the new craze. But, outside of a medically prescribed plan, I’ve never seen anyone follow a popular diet for over a year. Maybe a South Beach straggler made it a bit over a year. I’m sure there are people out there who have been following a particular diet for quite some time, but they certainly are in the minority.
The truth is, most of us get excited over a testimonial or other marketing and jump into something before we are ready. And regardless of whether a diet is actually a solid program or not, if you aren’t ready, you’ll drop off within a month or two. (I’ll define what I mean by “ready” after we get through the other two topics.)
2. They Take No Personal Responsibility
I hate to sound mean, but when we quit something, it’s our fault. Sure, the diet was probably extreme and not based on science. But you decided to do it. The same goes for why you want to change in the first place. Don’t blame your kids, spouse, or anything else. Except for very few medical cases, you got yourself where you are.
That also means it has to be you getting yourself out of the hole. You are the only one who can change yourself. Others can help with accountability, motivation, or information. Only you can take the leap toward changing.
Too often, diets fail because they are too restrictive. But, in truth, it wasn’t the lack of carbs or drinking too many shakes that made it unbearable. You were doomed from the start. You jumped into something without being objective about the reality of what you were getting yourself into. Our emotional reactions can get us into a mess that leads to a letdown. We’re ultimately responsible for this, too.
3. They Have Unrealistic Expectations
The last part of the diet-fail trio is creating expectations for yourself that are not realistic. Specifically, I mean expectations about your own actions.
Have you ever fallen off the wagon? Well, guess what — there was never a “wagon.” You had a choice and you chose to create a wagon from which you could fall off. The wagon could have been zero carbs for three months, no sweets for a year, or doing cardio three times a day.
Logic would tell us these things are unrealistic, yet we attempt them anyway. When we inevitably fail, it’s a letdown. And each time we diet and fail, our enthusiasm wanes. This can lead to emotional consequences, from feeling hopeless all the way to a potential eating disorder. It can also cause physiological stress on the body when we restrict too much of calories or nutrients.
The 3 Things Successful People Do
The great thing about dieting and failing is that we can learn and grow from it. In fact, many successful people have tried fad diets in the past. But after some learning and growth, they became ready for the right program at the right time.
What were the qualities and mindsets these people who succeeded at weight loss developed? Being ready for permanent change means:
1. Being Objective About What You Are Contemplating
Have you ever seen the financial tricks to keep you from spending, like freezing your credit card in water? It’s meant to make you wait before a purchase. In most cases, emotions fade, logic takes over, and you decide not to make the purchase. If you wait for the credit card to thaw out, and still decide it’s a good idea, it’s usually a warranted purchase. Of course, you could put the ice block in a heated pan. No program is bulletproof, but you get the point.
The take-away: When your friend tells you about their new amazing diet, smile, nod, and think about it for at least a week. If what they are doing still makes sense to you, perhaps it’s worth it.
2. Making Sure All the Pieces Are in Place
This brings us back to personal responsibility. Making sure certain pieces are in place before starting any changes is vital. This means your family needs to know what you are doing and they need to be supportive or at least not detrimental.
The nutrition pieces being in place can mean more home cooking, so coming up with a shopping and meal preparation schedule is important. If you are going to exercise, have a plan in place as well as the necessary equipment and a schedule. Basically, have all the obvious roadblocks torn apart before you start. Of course, unexpected things will come up, but at least have your main pieces in place. This will eliminate many excuses and much blame.
The take-away: It’s up to you, and only you, to set yourself up for success. This is an important attitude. In fact, I’d say 100% of successful people understand they are in charge of both success and failure.
Success, by the way, is changing your health for the better, and keeping it. This doesn’t mean you always have to be perfect, but you are always to the right side of the spectrum. It’s the opposite of what we would call yo-yo dieting.
3. Creating the Proper Expectations About Your Actions
If you had to create a game, would you really make it so you could never win? Yet, this is what many of us, including myself, have done in our lives.
As a general rule, start with small actions, and after two weeks if you are still accomplishing them, add a few layers. For example, let’s say you want to lose weight. You may start with something like having two fewer snacks per week and five additional glasses of water. If you crush these goals, add in something a little more, like five fewer snacks and walking two days per week.
The take-away: Start with small attainable actions and prove to yourself that you can win at them. Slowly add in layers and keep winning.
Find Your Lifelong Path (Instead of a Diet)
In the beginning of the article, I said success thrives somewhere between the terms “lifestyle change” and “diet.” For some of us, starting real small and adding in layers of change very slowly works best. For others, we may start small, but then every two weeks add in more aggressive changes. Results can happen with either approach.
What’s important to remember is that you are unique. There is no perfect way and there is no single path. But being objective about who we are and what we are doing is essential to moving forward.