I frequently work with clients who have “tried every diet” and feel stuck, frustrated, and sometimes even defeated by their excess weight or declining health. They keep trying the latest fad diets – eating like a caveman, avoiding all gluten, drinking endless juices – gain a little traction and then lose it, sometimes slipping back further than when they started. Lose 20 pounds, regain 30. Wash, rinse, repeat. They come asking, “Why can’t I stick to any of these diets? What’s wrong with me?” And those questions are actually the key to the answer.
You see, most diet plans breed a destructive all-or-nothing mentality where if you don’t follow their program perfectly, you’re labeled a failure. Do this enough times, and you may even start to believe it…which is the furthest thing from the truth. It’s actually all of the diet plans and cleanses that are flawed because they leave out the most important part of the equation: YOU! Do you really want to go the rest of your life without a cookie, a glass of wine or a slice of pizza? Or would you rather determine a set of sustainable eating and physical activity habits that get you the results you want, while allowing you to live your life, too?
How Your Health and Fitness is Like a Car
A metaphor I often use in my coaching classes is that you’re driving a car, which represents your life, health and fitness. At some point you may realize that you’re driving down a road you don’t want to go down, but you can’t see any other alternate route out yourself. So you try handing your steering wheel (and money) to someone else who promises to lead you away: a powder, a pill or the latest NY Times best-selling “diet” book.
Unfortunately, their foggy path isn’t what you really wanted, but they promise to get you off your current road, so you go along for the ride. You labor on this new route for a while, not really understanding what you’re doing and just hoping it gets you somewhere you want to be. During this process, you may start to feel helpless, out of control or overwhelmed – which makes sense since someone else is driving your car (parts of your life) for you!
Eventually, the road gets too bumpy and out of frustration, you reclaim the wheel and u-turn back to your original path. Or you end up on a worse path, broken down in a ditch (injured) or just stuck in the mud. But you don’t have to be. From this point forward you can choose to make repairs, take back the steering wheel for good, and ensure any future plan or fitness/nutrition coach becomes a motivating, guiding passenger rather than a dictatorial driver.
An Activity to Reclaim the Steering Wheel
A great first step for taking back the steering wheel, whether you’ve dealt with chronic dieting for decades, or you just feel “stuck” in your current habits is the activity below, excerpted from Death of the Diet:
“Divide a piece of paper into five separate columns. At the tops of the columns, write down the last five diets you were on. Then for each diet column, write down the following information:
- How long you were on the diet (specific dates work best, in chronological order).
- What the diet involved doing/restricting/changing.
- The results of the diet.
- How you felt during the diet.
- What caused the diet to end?
- What happened to your weight or physique over the six to twelve months following the end of the diet (assuming you didn’t start a new diet)?
- What about the diet worked for you? Think about things you could see yourself doing again…for the long-term.
- What did not work for you in the diet, and potentially led to you ending the diet?
If you don’t have a history of chronic dieting but feel stuck in your current habits, despite wanting to make a change, think about and answer the following questions on a piece of paper:
- Was there a time when you were happy with your health, fitness or weight? Describe that time, and the habits you had then.
- How did you get into your current situation?
- What has changed between then and now? How did those changes create your current habits?
- Is there anything you used to do that you can start doing again?
- If you’ve never been happy with your health, weight or fitness, consider what you think you may need to feel or experience to know that you are breaking out of your current habits and making positive changes.
Using this information, you can likely get a sneak peek into which actions and Easy Eight Habits will be easiest for you to start with. For example, if you know you like fruits and veggies, it might be easier to start adding in food to your diet rather than cutting things out. By adding those fruits and veggies to your meals and snacks, you will likely get fuller faster or be less famished at meals, so you will naturally eat less. And eating less results in fewer calories consumed, which typically means a slimmer waistline!”
If you feel more confident in changing your physical activity habits rather than eating, you may choose to focus on going to the gym or playing a sport a consistent number of days per week (or month), or increasing your daily step count.
Different eating and physical activity approaches work for different people, so learn from your past, consider your present, and confidently, gradually drive your car towards long-term results knowing what works for you.
FEEDBACK: What do you think of the car metaphor? Can it be made better? Considering your current road, what is one eating or physical activity habit you would like to improve to start down a fitter, happier route?