Have you tried a diet before? I have. Quite a few actually.
Low carb for maybe 3 days. I was miserable and hungry and instantly knew it was ridiculous.
A detox. Made it only a day. Same result, same feelings.
The Slim Fast diet. Actually made it 2 weeks on this one, mostly because I did like the chocolate shakes. I freaked out one night and wondered what I would eat ongoing if I didn’t buy the shakes. Again realized it was ridiculous.
The Clean Eating diet. This one seemed rather innocent actually, like most whole food meal plans. I was eating quality amounts of foods, often throughout the day. My hunger felt in control and my energy good enough. Then I realized I was scared to use ketchup, eat dessert other than my Sunday night treat meal, and was in pure agony trying to make food decisions at social gathering and at dinners away from home.
I know diets don’t work long term. Our country is screaming loud and clear that diets don’t work by our health epidemic and food obsession and search for the one plan that will actually work. I have chats with friends and clients who know diets don’t work and then the next week I see their Whole30 post on Instagram. Sigh.
Diets don’t work long term but we try to do them anyways.
Here is the thing. It doesn’t really matter what anyone else says. If you feel a diet can help control your eating, benefit your health, or improve your life in some way, you are going to try it and experience it for yourself until you make up your mind. Which is fine. No judgements because everyone is entitled to their own experience.
Here is where I can help.
Today’s post is going to cover how to transition yourself off a diet so you can actually apply what you learned from it (because you probably did learn something even if it was that it didn’t work), continue to get results, and trust yourself around food without a meal plan, without a food list.
I am not a doctor. I am not a registered dietician. I am not here to diagnose anything or tell you what to eat, in what amounts, at what times.
I am here to share concepts and tools that can benefit you by relinquishing the need to be on a diet, on a meal plan, in control all the time.
The ideal end results? A lifestyle that is less obsessed around food, dieting, and quick fixes, a mindset that is in for the long haul, and a body that follows.
Here are 3 “food for thought” insights to help get you outta the diet mindset and into a lifelong way of eating, chocolate and wine included.
Food matters, habits matter more.
It matters that you eat quality foods in appropriate portions but this advice alone will not help you long term. It matters, but habits matter more.
Habits are not bad but they are tricky.They somehow emerge without your permission and develop without your knowledge.
Habits can be good because once they become automatic they require you to think less. The brain likes effortless. The key is to adopt habits that serve your life, your goals and desires.
Snacking at night is a habit. Even though you may not want to be doing it, it feels very easy for the brain and will take a lot of effort to break.
Playing with your dog or kids before bed instead of snacking is also a habit. It too can feel effortless and resisting that fridge will not feel quite so draining.
When you think of habits you want to change, think of ways you can improve them first. Be better before strict. You do not have to resort to changing everything.
If you constantly forget to eat breakfast could you just start by grabbing a yogurt on your way out the door instead of trying to make a full breakfast?
If night time snacking is your enemy could you allow yourself to have a banana and peanut butter or an egg and 1 piece of toast or something along those lines that feels satisfying?
It may seem like a lot but if you are going to snack your way until bedtime these 200 extra calories will be a huge improvement.
Expose yourself to the food you fear.
Diets always have rules. There are always restrictions. There are always tools that keep us tracking something. Eat this, not that. Eat only 40% of calories from carbs. Count your calories and don’t go over. Count your calories to match your activity level.
I don’t think tracking is bad but I don’t think it is something that most can fit effortlessly into their lifestyle, or would want to fit into their lifestyle. In any sense this can become an obsession. There was a time when people didn’t think quite as much about what they ate and were much healthier and happier.
So instead of analyzing what you should and shouldn’t eat all the time, I challenge you to this.
Expose yourself to the food you fear. Are you scared that you will eat the entire pizza instead of just 2 slices? Are you unable to keep ice cream in the house because it will only last a day? Do you eat all the chips and salsa before your dinner arrives?
Chips and salsa use to be my kryptonite and I use to eat them all! I would get so upset with myself that I banned chips and salsa from my life not allowing myself to have even 1.
One day at a Mexican restaurant I wondered in my head if I was really going to never eat chips and salsa again and how depressing that felt based on my simple fear of no control. So I allowed myself a 3 chip rule, and whenever exposed would allow myself 3 chips but not a single one more. I did this for years. Now I can happily be presented with them and not only control myself but not count either.
I eat knowing that a few will satisfy me and leave me feeling good physically (no bloating and being stuffed) and good emotionally ( not regret, guilt, or self shaming).
Give it a try. A piece of chocolate a day. A glass of wine mid week when you think you should only save a bottle for the weekend. Your favorite snack that you always go overboard on.
Set an initial number to follow and then see how it plays out over time. You may overindulge the first few times but don’t give up. Keep practicing until that food no longer has control over you.
The term delay discounting is a term and concept I learned from one of my favorite books on self control, The Willpower Instinct, by Kelly McGonigal, which states that the longer you have to wait for a reward (in this case food) the less it means to you.
Future food rewards don’t seem to mean as much to us humans as having the food right this very moment. Neuroscientists have actually studied this concept and when we put a delay on food our brain treats it like a future reward not immediate gratification. To put it simply it means less to us.
You can implement this starting this very moment. Whether it is avoiding donuts in the office or you are headed to the fridge after dinner: try waiting 10 minutes before you eat what you want.
Create some distance and remove yourself from the kitchen, the office, or cover up that candy jar calling your name. Once your 10 minutes are up stop trying to resist and see if you still want what is calling your name.
Or could you perhaps delay that another 20 minutes? Or all day?
Sometimes you may choose to indulge and that is ok but sometimes you may realize that your desires were more about having something instantly than having anything at all.
Listen, I get the temptations with diets. They fill us with hope. It feels like this time will be different. This will be the time when all your food struggles dissipate and you can finally have the food freedom and body you are seeking. You can envision the person you want to be come and set yourself up with very high expectations.
Committing to a diet makes us feel good before anything is even done and is often the most rewarding part of the process. I truly believe they can teach us what works or doesn’t work for our bodies but only you can learn through your experience.
If you do use a diet just to get motivated, have some control and direction remember the following:
Habits matter more than food rules and lists. Focus on habit change as much as you focus on eating healthier otherwise your old pattern will show up down the road guaranteed.
Exposure yourself to the food you fear so you are not spending your life in a constant battle with it. It’s fine to resist bread for a week but are you really going to avoid it forever?
Delay your desired food to test yourself to see if you really want it. This is a great tip you can apply anywhere.
As always would love to hear your thoughts. If you like these insights and want more, I share them each week in my FREE weekly health and fitness newsletter which you can sign up for here.