Diets are temporary and often backfire. To lose fat and keep it off, you need to first change how you think. Here's what to do.
The Problem With The D-Word
The thing about "diets" is that they can become a serious burden. If you try to dramatically change everything about your eating at once, you'll likely fail. So a better goal is to become mentally prepared to eat better at every opportunity; fix your thinking so that it's easy to eat better.
And that ability right there is the difference between a lifestyle and a diet. Anyone who tells you that their diet is a "lifestyle" is not telling you the truth if they have to eat certain foods, avoid other foods, and publicize their eating plan on Facebook. That's a standard diet.
Sure, there's nothing wrong with using a specific diet on occasion. But just realize that they're best used temporarily. A lifestyle is when eating healthfully comes naturally to you; it doesn't require a second thought or a trendy guru or label.
You can become a person who eats this way, but it requires some strategy and mental preparation. Here are five ways to get there.
1 – Change Your Surroundings
If you struggle to control your diet, then at least work on controlling your environment. For starters, stay away from any place or product that benefits from your bad choices... at least for now.
Meg Selig, author of the book, "Changepower!" uses the term, "habit profiteers." She says these are businesses, people, or organizations which profit from your bad habits. If you're not paying attention and guarding your efforts, then you'll do exactly what they want you to do...
You'll eat the popcorn in the theater; buy several boxes of cookies from the little girl down the street; go to a restaurant for the endless breadsticks; grab a candy bar while standing in the checkout line; or polish off a container of ice cream because a commercial told you that "you deserve it."
The average person will continue to do these things even when they're desperately wanting to lose fat. Why? Because they've been educated by these habit profiteers, and now they feel deprived whenever they try to go without. They're well-behaved consumers.
So if you want to be leaner than the average person, you have to anticipate which situations might cause you to fail and avoid them... just until you can control your behavior no matter what you're surrounded by.
No, don't avoid going to the store or waving at your Girl Scout neighbor, but do limit your exposure to things that will make it harder for you to resist temptation.
Of course, significant fat gain isn't caused by the rare splurge. It's caused by the chronic consumption of crap. But if the environment you find yourself in repeatedly profits from your failure, then you'll only make it harder on yourself to change the way you eat on a daily basis. You have to change the places you go and the things you're surrounded by.
And if your own kitchen is full of crap food, then you've brought the battle into your house and it'll be far more difficult for you (and your family) than it needs to be.
2 – Create Incentive
Fitness experts often recommend scheduling an event, like a competition, photo shoot, or vacation. Not a bad idea. It's a form of extrinsic motivation that can reignite your passion and increase your self-discipline.
But if the idea of being around people (let alone impressing them with your body), makes you feel exhausted instead of motivated, then planning an event and finding the desire to look good for it won't do the trick. Don't even try to force it.
So what are YOUR incentives? Consider things that go beyond looks. Even if a better looking body is what you want the most, it may not be a strong enough incentive to keep you from eating crap food when the opportunity arises.
And don't say "health" is your incentive. That's such a big generalization that telling yourself you want to be healthier won't make you want to change. What's a compelling incentive? Think on it. Let it simmer in your mind until it absolutely compels you.
Here are a few to try out. See if any of these are enough incentive for you to change:
Learn which indulgences are worth it and which ones are a total waste. Next time you eat junk food, let the deliciousness fade from your mouth completely, then think of how short-lived the actual pleasure was.
Of course there are times when delicious food really is worth it, but the more rare they are, the more special they are. Habitually eating crap food makes it not worth it. You derive less pleasure from it, which means you might as well be eating broccoli and chicken habitually... since you'll have developed pretty much the same appreciation for it.
Wouldn't it be nice to have a vaccine that killed your cravings for junk food? Well, in a way you can. To immunize yourself against cravings you'll have to abstain from that which feeds them.
The microbiome in your gut feeds off of the things you eat, which means your gut bacteria is often the source of your cravings. So changing the foods you eat will ultimately change the foods you want.
Replace crappy food with higher quality options (ideally containing protein) to help you gradually lose the desire for sugary stuff. And if you're diligent about this, eventually you won't see junk food as food anymore.
When people feel the first signs of fatigue at night, they tend to want to eat instead of sleep. The food will give them a false sense of energy, which will wear off quickly and then they'll reach for more food. Is this you? Set a bedtime, set a dinner time, and make sure they're separated by at least two hours with no food in between.
Unless you're hormonal, or your workouts have gotten dramatically harder, chances are you're not hungry; you're sleepy. And you'll be happy with yourself the next morning if you preemptively hit the sack.
Avoiding Someone Else's Health Problems
Notice all the ways in which people struggle when they've made decades of bad dietary decisions – immobility, heart disease, diabetic amputations, constant discomfort, etc. If you want to face those same exact struggles, eat like them and move like them.
The path to where they are now may be a slow, insidious one and you may not even realize you're on it until you're there. But if you want to avoid their conditions, start now, get serious, and eat the opposite way they do.
Yes, this one's a little harsh, and you may feel "judgy" thinking this way, but it can be effective if you're worried about becoming just like someone else.
3 – Don't YOLO At The Dinner Table
Most people aren't outwardly TRYING to sabotage you when they say, "You only live once! Enjoy yourself and eat what you want!"
But if you believe them, you will absolutely fail. People who say this usually just want you to have a good time. But it's messed up because short-term pleasure does not beat long-term health or maintainable leanness.
Your inner-child doesn't want to accept this fact: A higher quality of life is something you'll experience every second of every day, while a fun night only lasts a night. Of course, you don't have to eat "perfectly" to make progress, but having a good time shouldn't cause you to take several steps backward in your pursuit of a lean body. And it certainly shouldn't do that every single weekend.
The problem is, if we avoided every single person who encouraged us to eat crappy food, we'd probably all be lonely. These are often our loved ones and friends. But they do need to be called out if they're derailing your efforts. They might not realize that it's a thing they do.
But let's just say you're doing it to yourself – you've been rationalizing bad dietary choices because "life is short" or whatever. If you've been YOLO-ing every meal, then these indulgences are no longer a special. They're your everyday life and they're probably not bringing you much enjoyment anymore.
4 – Stop Putting Hunger On A Pedestal
This is huge. Most people associate hunger with progress when they're trying to lose fat. So naturally, they think they're doing such a good job when they skip meals, or avoid eating for long periods of time. And then when they do finally eat, they're so hungry that they overcompensate for the calories they omitted in the first place.
Then the next morning, when they're still full from the night before, they skip more meals, and pat themselves on the back for being so strict. Then the evening binge-fest begins again.
This isn't always the case. While it's possible for people to skip meals and stay lean, it's definitely not a strategy that works for everyone. If it did, there wouldn't be so many studies on obese breakfast-skippers. And if skipping meals makes you insatiably hungry then it's not the right strategy for you.
When your hunger is insatiable, you'll do anything to stop feeling it... and that means throwing caution to the wind and eating anything you can.
I first started fiddling around with intermittent fasting in 2009. I remember doing middle of the day fasts (skipping lunch), then at some point moving onto skipping both breakfast and lunch. I was neither fat nor lean back then... but I did have a chronically puffy face.
I actually thought that was just the shape of my face. Luckily it wasn't, and I now refer to what I had as "binge-face."
My intermittent fasting was essentially intermittent binging. And it was a hellish cycle that I couldn't get out of because I thought meal skipping was the "right" thing to do if you're not truly hungry. But because I had gotten used to overriding hunger signals and fullness signals, I no longer knew when to eat and when to stop eating. It was like these biological signals were destroyed.
And you can't blame the food I ate. It was sensible, mostly lower carb, meat, nuts, vegetables, cheese... not your typical junk food.
The deceiving part about it is that it FELT like such a good strategy. My energy in the daytime was through the roof. But then in the evening, my appetite was insatiable. No amount of food was enough, and I'd go to bed looking 6 months preggo. It was so disturbing, I thought I'd have to be single forever.
You could argue that we're all different and my experience isn't everyone's experience, and that's a valid point. But I do still recommend that no matter what you do with your food, don't allow your hunger to get to insatiable levels. And certainly never get there on a regular basis.
Fat loss can happen – believe it or not – without a lot of hunger. For more on this read what Dr. Jade Teta says about keeping your HEC (hunger, energy, cravings) in check.
5 – Picture The Consequences
We lie to ourselves sometimes. We can know the drawbacks of eating a certain way, but still tell ourselves that we'll feel comforted, energized, or satisfied if we do it again.
The thing is, even if these good feelings do occur, they won't last long before we're faced with the drawbacks of what we just ate or drank. And this applies to everything from the type of food, to the amount, to the timing.
So, to stop eating a certain way, you've got to pause and recall what you know for sure will happen as a result. Spend some time thinking about it, then choose how to eat by choosing which consequences you want to avoid.
- If you know that eating chips leaves you wanting more, don't even start. Skip the first bite.
- If you know overeating will make you feel lethargic or bloated, then spare yourself those feelings. The desire for more will fade if you give your meal plenty of time to digest.
- If you know that your habit of snacking all night will make you wake up with a puffy face, remember that. Battle your nighttime cravings with that binge-face in mind.
And if you want to really master this, use "if-then" statements which are these handy little assertions you can make in your head: "If I do this, then that will happen."
In order to change your behavior, recall what happens when you eat a certain way. Remember how good you feel when you make better choices and how bad you feel when you make worse ones.
What Makes Leanness a Lifestyle
If you're ready to exchange dieting for an actual lifestyle that you can live with, then make it your goal to make better food choices... ones which won't completely turn your life upside down. Change what you do just enough to make good progress, but not so much that you can't maintain it. Start with a few of these strategies and it'll become a real lifestyle.