Being successful in adopting a new diet takes the following:
- Make the change permanent.
- Change your mindset about what is acceptable food.
- Change your perception about what food is for. It is fuel.
- Never allow cheat days, or what I call them, sabotage days.
- Find many data points to track, not just the scale.
- Avoid sweeteners, even if they are artificial and zero calorie.
I will explain each one of these individually.
Make the change permanent. It’s not a temporary diet, but a change in lifestyle forever. You have to go into it with this mindset or you’re doing it for nothing. You have to change your relationship with food; look at it differently. That means you have to change your mindset about what is acceptable food and change your perception about what food is for. Food is, first and foremost, fuel. It’s what gives us energy. In our culture, it has become the center of our social lives and celebrations. Heck, we even mourn with food. Social gatherings will always have food present, and it’s a tough situation to be tempted by all the foods present at these get-togethers, but you have to limit yourself to one normal serving of acceptable foods and then leave the food table. For me, this is probably the most difficult aspect of adopting a healthy lifestyle.
Never, ever allow cheat days. I call them sabotage days. Cheating is defined as gaining an unfair advantage over a competitor. By eating foods that are not in your diet, you are not gaining an advantage over anything. To the contrary, you are damaging any progress you’ve made and endangering your ability to stick with the diet. Every sabotage item or meal is like taking a hammer to a brick. Sure, one whack may not do much damage, but repeated strikes will eventually cause the brick to fall into pieces. Each sabotage meal breaks your resolve and your ability to stick with the diet. It’s a slippery slope.
Find many data points; not just a scale. We all like to track our progress when we adopt a new diet, but something we aren’t taught is that our weight does not gradually drop in a linear fashion. A graph of typical weight loss will look more like stairs descending. For some people, it’s hard to stay motivated through plateaus. The good news is that there’s typically a lot of other improvements in health going on while one’s weight is stagnant: clothes are fitting looser, waists getting smaller, improved energy levels, and even improved health. Blood tests are a good measure of your body’s health changes while you are transitioning from unhealthy to healthy. People who focus on the scale alone will be unhappy a lot of the time they are on their journey, and it can make them want to give up.
Avoid sweeteners, even artificial sweeteners that claim to be zero calories. The way sweeteners act on the brain is exactly the same way sugar affects the brain. It causes cravings and makes it harder to make it from meal to meal without a snack. Our brains equate sweet with sugar (duh!) and our craving mechanisms are enabled when we have something sweet.
Losing weight is not hard. It’s not easy, either, but with preparation and discipline, anyone can lose weight. You just have to want it and put the effort into it.