I was talking to a friend this week about the process of dieting or ending any self-destructive habit is really a matter of dealing with a sense of deprivation. Viewing dieting as just giving up foods that are loved and not looking at the whole process naturally makes one feel like the pumpkin has arrived for good and the glass slipper is gone forever. Viewed in this manner, it is no wonder that people hate dieting.
How Are You Framing Your Dieting?
Dieters tend to lump the act of dieting into one process and surround it with negativity. In reality, the process of losing weight should be viewed as a series of small steps that happen over time based on self-knowledge and planning. From my experience the five biggest mistakes that people make in their attempt to lose weight are: not having a clear and strong reason for losing weight, having an all or nothing mentality, not understanding what drives their unhealthy behaviors, not having a satisfying “what to do instead” plan and not defining and being aware of “the payback” for all the hard work. Without addressing these five areas it’s no wonder that most dieters feel deprived and do not have success at keeping the weight off.
Address These Five Areas First Before Dieting
1. Have a clear and strong reason for losing weight. Are you losing weight just to look good? Ask yourself why is it important for you to look good. Get to the emotion behind it. Are you tired of people making comments about your weight or food choices? Are you tired of having to squeeze into small plane or theater seats? Are you not having the passionate sex you were having before? Are you not able to twist your body into those wonderful yoga twists without the belly fat getting in the way?
Get to the meat of why changing your physical appearance is important to you, not just “to look better”. If your reasons include health, then know specifically why. Is it because your father had a heart attack in his 50’s? Is it because you’ve seen how hard it is for you mother who has diabetes to give herself insulin? Is it because you had a close family member have a stroke?
If health is an important motivator, then have your cholesterol and fasting blood sugar done before you begin and repeat them 6 months later. Perhaps track your blood pressure and know how any medications you are on work. Losing weight often means some blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, gastric reflux and even asthma medications can be reduced or stopped.
If your reason is to lose weight for your spouse or significant other, then be cautious. External motivation, especially if you are feeling pressure from your partner to lose weight, is not always a strong motivator. Making lifestyle changes for someone else can lead to resentment and the belief that success can only be determined by the other person, not yourself.
2. It’s not all or nothing. Learning to eat differently is not easy. We have to eat to live but we don’t have to live to eat. There are many ways to reduce calories while still enjoying your favorite foods. Dieting doesn’t have to mean giving up all those foods you love but it does mean planning for them and being strategic so that you get the outcome you want in the long run. There are going to be some days where your willpower will be stronger. Give yourself permission to eat more than you wanted of something or to give in to urges but look at those occasions as opportunities to learn.
So you ate a pint of ice cream. Examine why you did it. Were you bored? Did you not eat enough at dinner? Are you worried about something? Did you stay up later than usual and you were hungry? Did you not have a night snack back up plan? Did you keep a really tempting ice cream in the freezer? Could you have waited ten minutes for the craving to pass? Could you have had some hot tea or a frozen Light and Fit Yogurt container instead?
It might take a few weeks or even a month to give up the old habit of snacking on ice cream at night. It’s natural for it to feel uncomfortable and for you to waiver but begin to notice how you feel about yourself the next day when you have success at getting through an evening without ice cream. Even if you can get to the point of having a serving of ice cream, in a bowl and not out of the container twice a week on the days you plan for is a huge improvement! Life is about the journey, not the destination.
3. Understand what drives your behaviors. A client I worked with recently stated that she notices she eats binges on unhealthy foods when she is bored. She realizes that she may need support for her food addictions. This was a powerful statement that took some courage to state and wisdom to acknowledge. She has strong personal motivation to lose weight and realizes that part of her strategy to lose weight is to address the emotional side of eating and plans on joining Overeater’s Anonymous. I believe the more structure and outside support she puts into her daily routine the more success she will have.
The more you understand your patterns and triggers to your unhealthy food choices, the more success you will have with having lasting weight loss.
4. Have a “what to do instead” plan. Ok, so you have been night snacking on those crunchy, munchie, salty, crispy ,colorful chips and crackers for years. Do you really think that beginning tomorrow you are going to suddenly give them all up? Talk about all or nothing deprivation. Making these kind of changes calls for some serious thinking and planning. Can you pre-portion some snacks that are less tempting but still satisfying? Can you experiment with different healthier foods like fruit or air popped popcorn? Can you turn the TV off and make some nights a reading or game night? Can you go to bed earlier? Can you get some really nice special teas and sip on them instead? Can you suck on one lollipop? Can you eat a bigger, more satisfying dinner? Can you keep the night snacking to just Wednesday and Saturday nights? Can you get the other people in your household to get on board with you by keeping certain trigger foods out of your house? The more you plan, the more is in your hands!
5. Define and be aware of the payback. What are you going to define as success in your weight loss endeavors? Is it to not fall asleep in the afternoon? Is it to get your fasting blood sugar or LDL below 100? Is it to slip into that little black dress comfortably? Is it to participate in a road race? As you begin your weight loss journey, notice subtle shifts in food attitudes, emotions, energy level, responses from friends and family and physical changes. Be aware of the feelings of accomplishment when you successfully navigate night snacking, exercising regularly, cooking healthier meals, mastering self talk and see changes in your body. Notice your energy levels two hours after meals and the difference you feel when you eat balanced meals versus ones that are not. Become aware of how your body responds with less heartburn, less belly pain, more regular bowel movements, better breathing, better energy. Notice if you have a more positive outlook on life, you’re smiling more. Notice if you have more success in other areas of your life – like improved relationships, more daily productivity, and better sleep.
Deprivation or Desperation
If your dieting leads you to constant feelings of deprivation then no wonder it is a drag. But sometimes there needs to be a feeling of desperation to make lasting changes. Sometimes it takes a feeling that “I can’t keep going on like this because I know I deserve better.” As they say in health coaching, in order to make lasting lifestyle changes one must be sick and tired of being sick and tired. When someone gets to that point, any action is a positive action and any feelings of deprivation are way overshadowed by the payback in making gradual lifestyle changes.