Have you tried every diet and still feel stuck, frustrated and defeated by excess weight or declining health? Do you 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 you started?
Do you find yourself asking, "Why can't I stick to any of these diets? What's wrong with me?" These questions are actually the key to the answer.
You see, most diet plans breed a destructive all-or-nothing mentality in which, 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 … but it's the furthest thing from the truth. In fact, it's 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?
On the Road of Life and Health
Here's a metaphor I often use in my coaching classes: Say you're driving a car which represents your life, health and fitness. At some point you realize you're driving down a road you don't want to go down, but you can't see any other alternate route. So you try handing your steering wheel to someone else who promises to lead you with a powder, a pill or the latest New York Times bestselling diet book.
Unfortunately, their foggy path isn't what you really wanted, but they promised 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 (that is, your health) for you!
Eventually, the road gets too bumpy. Out of frustration, you reclaim the wheel and pull a U-turn back to your original path. Or, you end up on a worse path, broken down in a ditch or just stuck in the mud.
An Activity to Reclaim the Steering Wheel
But you don't have to be stuck. From this point forward, choose to make repairs, take back the steering wheel for good and ensure that any future plan or fitness or nutrition coach you follow is a motivating, guiding passenger rather than a dictatorial driver.
Whether you've dealt with chronic dieting for decades or you just feel stuck in your current habits, try this activity.
Step 1: Journal
Divide a piece of paper into five separate columns. At the tops of the columns, write down the names of your last five diets. 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 called on you to do or restrict or change.
- 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 12 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.
- 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.
Step 2: Take Action
Using this information, you can likely get a sneak peek into which actions and 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 food to your diet rather than cutting things out. By adding those fruits and veggies to your meals and snacks, you will likely feel 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.
Or, if you feel more confident in changing your physical activity habits rather than eating habits, choose to focus on that. For instance, commit to going to the gym or playing a sport a consistent number of days per week, or increasing your daily step count.
Different eating and physical activity approaches work for different people, so learn from your past and consider your present. This way, you can confidently and gradually find the long-term results from knowing what works best for you.