Don’t go on a diet

No Gray Area

We all know that most diets — in the traditional sense of “I’m going to lose 20 pounds now!” — work in the beginning.   Most weight loss “plans” will indeed help you drop some extra pounds.  But odds are good they won’t stay off.  This has been shown time and time again, and odds are good you’ve already experienced it firsthand.

If you really want to improve your life, lose those extra pounds and keep them off, and be healthier overall, don’t go on a diet.  Instead, change your diet.  It’s a critical distinction.

Years ago, a dear friend of mine was significantly overweight.  She used a very popular diet service (that shall remain nameless, but I guarantee you’ve heard of it) that provided all of her meals for her.   Happily, she lost all the unwanted weight —  she was even featured on the cover of a women’s fitness magazine!

But then she stopped using that service, and over time, all the weight came back.  Why?  Because they didn’t teach her how to eat properly for the rest of her life, and she didn’t fundamentally change how and what she eats. It merely helped her shed those pounds by eating only their prepared food.

There’s a better way:  You’ve got to decide on a just a few critical, overarching rules and stick to them. To make this work in the long run, though, they have to be reasonable, healthful, and, above all, manageable & sustainable.

The trick is that there can be no gray area.  There is no “wiggle room” on this —  it has to be absolute. (With only one exception, which I’ll get to in just a moment.)

If you say “I’m going to eat less <of whatever>”, it’s extremely difficult to gauge that in everyday life.  What does “less” mean?  How do you keep track of it and accurately achieve it?  It’s a fuzzy goal — and, perhaps most importantly, over time the definition of “less” may evolve to become a non-existent one.

Quitting smoking and drinking come to mind here.  Smokers that are successful at becoming non-smokers do so because they draw an absolute line and never touch a cigarette ever again.  Alcoholics Anonymous requires that you can never drink alcohol again — not even a sip.  This keeps you off that slippery slope. There’s no “oh, it’s just one smoke,” or “oh, it’s just one drink,” or, in our case, “oh, it’s just one bite.”

That “just one” mentality leads to, well, you know… that whole chocolate cake is suddenly gone.

So you’ve got to draw the right lines and stick to them.

Having said all of that, I recognize that we’re all human and we can’t live without <insert delicious but unhealthful food here>.   There’s one exception that allows you to cross the line, and that’s where the “cheat meal” comes in.  I’ll write about that next time.

Do you have experience with drawing absolute lines in your life?  Success or failure, or somewhere in between?  Share in the comments!

A photo of Andrew Wilder leaning into the frame and smiling, hovering over mixing bowls in the kitchen.

Welcome to Eating Rules!

Hi! My name is Andrew Wilder, and I think healthy eating doesn’t have to suck. With just three simple eating rules, we'll kickstart your journey into the delicious and vibrant world of unprocessed food.

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October 8, 2012 4:51 am

I am a victim of the “just one” mentality. Experience has taught me that this does not work. I just found your site and it really speaks to me. As a person with the all or nothing mentality, your point of choosing doable yet healthy rules will help me in changing my diet.