Stuck? An Activity to Overcome a Chronic Dieting or Defeated Mentality

Overcoming Chronic Dieting

Overcoming Chronic Dieting: How About Half a Burger and a Big Salad?
Image Courtesy of Microsoft Images

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?

Revolutionizing the Resolution…Set Health and Fitness Goals that Stick!

A Veggie + Chicken Stir-Fry Resolution

Image: Stoonn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Guest post by Dwayne Brown, CSCS

The date is January 1st. Today is the day when most people are trying to put into action the resolutions that they hastily made on New Year’s Eve. Gyms across the nation will be bursting at the seams with new members and I’m pretty sure Weight Watchers’ business is always at its best right after the New Year. For the next couple of weeks people will make a valiant effort to keep those resolutions. Then after the New Year buzz wears off (pun intended), people usually fall back into the same old patterns that led them to make their New Years’ resolutions in the first place.

So how can we avoid resolution hangover (the disappointing feeling of not accomplishing goals)? The first step is to take a serious look at your resolution once you’ve left the New Year’s Eve party, preferably once you have had time to let your head clear. Look at them with a critical eye and decide whether they can be realistically attained and/or if you really want to attain them. For example, you and your significant other’s decision to become vegan this year might not seem as enticing when you open your refrigerator and find the parts of four different animals staring back at you saying “eat me”. A better resolution would be “I’m only going to eat red meat once a week”. This way it’s not such a shock, and once it becomes easy, you can progress it further.

The next step to keeping your resolutions is to get them on paper. Studies show that writing things down makes them more likely to actually happen. Once you write your resolutions down, make copies and put them in places where you’re sure to see them. So if you have a weak spot for cookies and you resolve to lose weight then tape that resolution to the cookie jar. You’ll quickly begin to realize that these kinds of reminders will either deter from doing the wrong things or encourage you to do the right things.

The final tip for keeping resolutions is to keep them everyday. What I mean is whatever the resolution is…do it every day. If you resolve to be more physically active, aim to move a little bit more everyday rather than just blasting yourself with one extra workout on the weekend. This means if you have the option of taking the stairs or the elevator, then there is no option. You’re taking the stairs. When it’s feasible take the extra time to walk to the store instead of driving.

These are just a few suggestions for avoiding the “I didn’t keep my resolutions” blues. Remember:

  • Make sure your resolutions are realistic and attainable.
  • Write down your resolutions and place them in places that will motivate you to take action
  • Take steps towards achieving your resolutions every day…practice makes perfect!

Even though we only make New Years’ resolutions one day in the year, it takes 365 days (and more) to keep them.

How Thinking Like a Kid Can Improve Your Health and Fitness

Kid Playing Bball

Photo courtesy of: photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I have the pleasure of training some awesome clients at a boutique gym in Jersey City, Hamilton Health and Fitness (HHF), that has an on-site pool. Pools are coveted in urban areas, so there are a lot of swimming programs at HHF – including many for kids. As a result, these kids briefly walk near the training floor on their way to the pool. I’m always amused at how they look at all of the weights and machines in wonder. Sometimes they’ll just stare and other times they ask their parents, “What are those people doing?” We are, of course, training and exercising. And every so often a kid will start imitating a movement or climbing on a piece of exercise equipment (to the behest of their parents).

One time I watched a young boy, maybe 4 or 5 years old, walk over to a 90 pound dumbbell, squat down (in perfect form, I might add) and try to pick it up. Unsurprisingly, the weight won. But still, I was intrigued at how this kid just saddled up to a huge weight most adults wouldn’t go near (and a weight that was definitely heavier than him) and just “give it a go.” While some may view this boy’s attempt as foolish or unrealistic, I found a few lessons to be learned that adults can use to improve their chances of success when making positive changes to their eating and physical activity habits:

Kids Explore Possibilities

As adults it’s way too easy to get stuck in a rut or routine. And sometimes that routine is what leads us to an unhealthy lifestyle. We need to break that status quo. Kids’ minds, on the other hand, are a blank slate looking to explore; they look at everything with wonder and curiosity. They seek to interact with and understand the world around them, regardless of whether they go to a new country on vacation or are adventuring in their friends’ backyards for the 1,000th time. They notice changes in their environment and come up with lots of ideas of what they can try in a particular situation (can I pick this up? can I go there? can I climb on that?). Similarly, you can take a curious approach to eating better or becoming more active.

See your “old” surroundings with “new” eyes and build awareness about ways to live healthier. You’ll start to notice things you never knew existed, but in fact may have been right under your nose the entire time, such as a new area to go for a run near your house or an area of a kids’ jungle gym that you can use for an outdoor workout space. Or you could decide to take a walk around your workplace or neighborhood and stumble across a new place to grab a healthy meal or snack. Maybe you’ll see a new fruit or vegetable in the produce aisle that you want to try.

Kids Are Optimistic

Kids don’t know no and can’t; they assume yes and success. They smile much more than they cry. They want to be baseball players and astronauts regardless of whether they can swing a bat or breathe in space. They imagine what could be and then work towards it, assuming they will achieve it. They don’t have “baggage” that negatively influences their future pursuits. Similarly, no matter what you’ve done or tried before, approach each new health or fitness opportunity with the belief: if I put in the effort, success is inevitable.

Unlike kids, however, you may have to deal with baggage from previous experiences. But remember, with experience comes wisdom. Consider what’s worked for you in similar situations in the past and learn from what hasn’t. As I always say, “there’s no such thing as failure, only feedback.” Take your wisdom and leave your baggage; it makes for a much lighter, and easier journey.

Kids Are Persistent

Kids experiment. That’s how we learn to ride a bike or play a sport/instrument. If a kid falls down (or misses a note or fly ball), they don’t just throw their hands up in the air in exasperation and say it’s impossible. They get back up and try, try, try again. And eventually, they get better at it. Eating better and becoming more active is no different.

To get the results you want, you will likely need to develop new skills such as running, lifting weights, cooking, reducing how often you indulge or ordering different menu items when you’re at restaurants. And if the skill is new, you’ll probably mess up a few times. But rather than just give up and stay down after one slip up (i.e. oh no I ate dessert tonight, my diet is ruined, I’ll just eat whatever I want the rest of the weekend), accept what happened, get back up, dust yourself and keep moving forward. Think of each mistake you make as a missed note when playing the piano; one or two off-notes rarely ruin the entire performance, especially if we get back on key as soon as we realize it. However running away from the piano after our first mistake will.

Successful businessman Marshall Thurber once said, “Anything worth doing well is worth doing poorly at first.” I agree, because living a healthy lifestyle is undoubtedly worth doing well.

Take Action & Respond: Live life and “think like a kid” for a week, or even a day – explore your surroundings, think like you can do anything and be persistent…then tell me what changed about your “usual” actions and habits.

In the Mind of a Nutritionist

Mmm, water.

Mmm, water.  At Basic, in Jersey City.

I originally wrote this post for the Hospital for Special Surgery blog, which you can find here.  The HSS On the Move blog has a great series of rehab, fitness and nutrition blog posts, please do check it out!

From the HSS On the Move Blog, “In the Mind of a Nutritionist” (me!) –

“I eat chocolate. And I eat salads. I don’t count calories, but I pay attention to my portions (i.e. I know when I’ve eaten too much). I try to eat slower, a constant battle considering my genetics. I drink diet soda a couple times a week, but I drink a lot of water every day. I drink a glass of wine or beer on occasion. I drink a green smoothie most mornings (thanks to meeting my wife). I exercise a fair number of days per week, but I’d always like to do more. And I’ve maintained my 30+ pound weight loss for the past eight years – which got me into this whole fitness and nutrition field to begin with (I used to be an engineer). These are my habits, and they allow me to achieve what I want in my life.

Will things change in the future?  Sure they can. And then I’ll tackle those goals when they come. If I wanted to train for a marathon, I’d have to change some habits. If I wanted six pack abs, I’d have to restrict a lot more. In fact, I went for them back when I was losing my weight in 2005 and when I got to single digit body fat percentage and a good outline of 4-pack abs, I felt like food was becoming my enemy – not a good feeling. I guess that’s why most bodybuilders are miserable right before competition.  So I’m ok not being ripped.  I can still deadlift 300 pounds. And I can run. And I can spend time with my family. And most importantly, I’m happy with all of those results because no one is the judge but me.

This is why the glut of fad diets and misrepresented nutrition research infuriates me. People stop listening to the most important part of the healthy eating and living equation – themselves. Yes, I have the background in nutrition and exercise science that can help someone run faster, jump higher, drop inches or recover from training better. But in the end it’s not about me. It’s about you. I can’t force someone to be motivated and accountable (a.k.a. the dream client, or a fair number of athletes). I can merely explore the hopes and dreams a person has and figure out how eating and exercise can best complement them in that pursuit.

When I meet with clients, I always remember there are two experts in the room: I may be an “expert” in nutrition and exercise. But my client is the expert in their own life, preferences, routine and habits. And to get long-lasting change, we need a partnership. I promote people, not plans.”

TELL ME: What’s your dream?

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