The entire approach toward dieting - going hard for a short period of time and expecting lasting results - tends to result in failure and frustration. Embrace a gradual, realistic approach and BECOME the change that you want.
Could There Be A Better Way?
On the wagon, off the wagon
My dad’s a funny guy. We’re the same height, but he weighs a lot more than I do. He’s constantly looking to lose weight, and since his body probably wants him to, he can typically lose a few pounds without too much effort.
The process typically looks like this - he reads an article about a new diet and then drastically rewire his diet for a few weeks. He restocks the cabinets with “approved foods,” cooks meals dictated by the diet, and tries not to eat out (but when he does, he looks at the diet menu beforehand so he knows that he can order an approved meal).
With these changes in place, he inevitably loses a few pounds. Close friends and family start to notice, and he feels accomplished.
And then something changes in his life. Work gets stressful, he gets a deep craving for something that is “not approved” and then he falls off the rails and puts the weight back on - and then some.
It’s a process that repeats itself a few times a year, without fail.
Maybe you can relate.
The tortoise beats the hare
My mom, on the other hand, has been able to keep a body she’s been happy with for years and has more energy than almost anyone else her age. She has basically trained herself to crave healthy foods and reject unhealthy ones.
She does love chocolate and has a piece pretty much every night, but besides that she’s clean. When she eats a greasy, unhealthy meal, her body feels terrible; meanwhile, she has gotten her body to actively crave kale.
This wasn’t natural for her. Her diet wasn’t always like this. It happened over time. And without ever actually going on “a diet.”
The difference between my mom and my dad here is that my dad’s approach is to try to lose as much weight as possible, as quickly as possible, through drastic diet changes. My mom has been slow and steady all her life.
Most people try to change their diet the way my dad does. They get a burst of motivation, find a diet that sounds promising, and implement dramatic changes to their life immediately. They see before and after pictures, listen to success stories, and dive in.
What people don’t really talk about is that you actually CAN have success by dramatically changing your diet in an instant. But the only way it works is if you’re committed to sticking to this diet FOR LIFE.
Don’t keep falling off the wagon - choose an approach to dieting that works
Choose a Smarter Path
Transform your body without suffering
Paleo or low-carb diets do work in the short-term, but in order to keep the benefits, you need to adopt those eating habits permanently. If you’re using them as a traditional “diet” to lose some pounds fast, you’re almost guaranteed to put the weight back on the second the diet becomes overwhelming.
For most of us, a lifelong commitment is absurd. We want to enjoy our food, eat with variety, and have flexibility.
So if you don’t want to commit to being on a diet your entire life, changing your diet slowly and steadily is the probably the best shot you have at making lasting change.
How do you do that, you ask?
I’m going to make this MEGA simple. I’m going to give you advice you’ve heard before. But I’m going to give it to you in a way that will make it STICK.
It starts with behavior science
We’ll start with psychologist BJ Fogg’s behavior change model.
This model says that in order to change a behavior you need three things:
- Motivation - you want to change your behavior
- Ability - you make it easy to change your behavior
- Trigger - you have something reminding you to change your behavior
What is the behavior you are trying to change? Right now, it’s eating healthier.
To eat healthier, there are two pieces of advice that are pretty much universal.
- Add more fruits and vegetables to your diet
- Cut back on simple and refined carbohydrates
We’re going to exclusively focus on building these two behaviors. If you do these you’ll be well on your way to accomplishing any health goal you have.
Motivation - How to keep the fire stoked
If you’re reading this, you probably feel pretty damn motivated right now. When you feel motivated, you read about changing and then you tell yourself you promise yourself you are going to make a change. But motivation is a fickle thing. The second something unhealthy and delicious is in front of your face, that motivation will probably go right out the window.
To keep the motivation going, you need something extra.
While eating healthy is about more than being fit, let’s be real that most youthful people want to eat better to be more fit. There are health reasons and energy reasons too. But let’s start with the body.
If your “why” is to improve your nutrition for the appearance benefits, one of the best things you can do to add motivation to your life is to put a picture of yourself in a bathing suit on your fridge. Doing this means you’ll see a photo of yourself multiple times a day, and be reminded of what you’re working for. Yes, it’s a little fat shame-y, but we aren’t in the business of being PC. We’re in the business of helping you get what you want.
Ability - how to make healthy eating easy
We want to make eating healthy easy. How?
Number one. Do as my dad does, and restock your cabinets. Go shopping when you’re full, and buy foods that you’ll feel good about eating.
Lots of fruit and veggies.
When your motivation does fail you, your pre-planning will save you. You’ll walk over like a zombie to your cabinets hoping for chips or cookies, and all you’ll find is almonds and pieces of fruit.
Number two, choose one meal a day where you’ll add some veggies. Instead of trying to change everything, decide to add more veggies to breakfast, lunch, dinner or a snack. Try to do this every day.
Number three, choose one meal where you tell yourself you won’t have carbs, or swap refined carbs for complex carbs. Make this a meal where you typically do have carbs.
You can do this for meals you prepare for yourself, or if you eat out for a meal, find a specific dish that meets these criteria.
Over time, increase the number of meals where you make these changes. Try and up the challenge every week for a month.
Trigger - how to remind yourself to eat well
A key to achieving any of our desired goals is to plan our environments so that we are reminded of the positive behaviors we want to enforce, and to prevent us from temptations to do the things we want to avoid.
In the case of being a healthy eater, there are several concrete steps you can take to do this, as highlighted by the research of the wizardly kitchen transformer, Dr. Brian Wansink, the Director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University.
Dr. Wansink has an entire checklist of things that you can do to health-proof your kitchen. Take all of your snacks, and put them in a cabinet in your kitchen that is slightly inconvenient to reach. A good place is a cupboard above your oven or refrigerator.
Two: The ONLY food that you should have out on your counter top is a fruit bowl. That way, when you do go hunting for a snack, you’ll see the fruit bowl.
To get a download of Dr. Wansink’s checklist and find out your kitchen’s healthy eating score, click here and we’ll send you the full list along with some follow-up tips.
Other things we would recommend?
Write yourself a little reminder of your goal in a place you will see it every day. Similar to the picture of yourself in a bathing suit, try to match this trigger, or “cue,” to your source of motivation and your “why.”
You could write this on your whiteboard where you’ll see it in the morning, set up a reminder on your phone that triggers before meal times, paste a post-it note on your work computer, or any number of places, as long as it will get your attention.
The message could say something personal, and from the heart, with something like “I choose to eat healthy because I ________.”
Pulling it all together
If you follow these steps, over time you will naturally begin to crave healthy foods and avoid unhealthy ones, and begin having more energy, and look more fit than ever.
Before we say goodbye, here is one other suggestion…
Make Saturday or Sunday a cheat day where you can eat whatever you want. Even if your diet isn’t totally prescriptive, you can still reward yourself. And if you know a treat is coming on the weekend, you can be even more disciplined during the week.
If you follow these steps, eating healthy will not be something that “you’re doing” for a specific reason. It will become part of who you are. You will be a healthy eater.