We have all been there: we start a new diet, we are super excited to get our health back on track, and then, several days later, we find that one cheat meal has turned into a cheat week, and the diet has failed miserably.
Even if we do manage to stick with a diet for a while, and get those results that we have been looking for, it can be incredibly hard to keep the weight off, especially when life gets super busy.
But why does this happen? Why are diets so difficult, and why do most seem to fail?
1. Changing the way you eat without changing the way you think.
When it comes to diets, so many people focus on changing the way they eat, while forgetting to change the WAY they think about food. Yet, as I talk about in my book Think and Eat Yourself Smart, what you eat is both directly and indirectly affected by how you think—obviously, you choose what you eat, and your choices are determined by what you think and how you feel. This is why big food companies spend so much money on marketing their products: they are trying to convince you to choose their foods by tapping into your thoughts and emotions (this is why, for example, big soda companies always show people having a great time when drinking their products). If you don’t change the way you think about food, you will find it incredibly difficult to change the way you eat because old eating habits are still embedded in your mind, setting you up for failure in the long run.
In fact, your thinking does not only affect what we choose to eat, but also how your body digests food. Negative, toxic thinking patterns can negate the positive effects of healthy food, while a good attitude can help you get the most from your meal. This is because what you think before, during and after a meal impacts the trillions of cells in your body, including those in your digestive system. If, for example, you are upset and gobble down that tub of ice cream, not only have you allowed your emotions to get the better of you, preventing you from making a healthy food choice, but your body will go into stress mode, affecting how that ice cream is digested, potentially causing a number of health issues, including bloating and indigestion. Similarly, you can eat healthy kale salads, but if your mindset is toxic you will not make the most of the nutrients because your digestive system will be in chaos.
You cannot out-think a bad diet, nor can you out-diet a toxic mindset!
It is therefore so important that you focus on changing the way you think about what you eat and how you eat, and not just changing your eating patterns. This will help you not only get the most from your food, making sure your brain and body get what they need to function well, but will also help you maintain a new way of eating and resist falling back into bad habits. For example, instead of seeing food as a means to the end of looking a certain way, see food as a way to celebrate relationships and spend time with loved ones around the table, or see food as a pleasurable experience and the opportunity to enjoy new tastes and flavors that represent different cultures.
To this end, I have created a Think and Eat Yourself Smart online program, which that helps you change the way you think about food and eating over 63 days, which is roughly the time it takes to create a new mental habit. This program is designed to help you change your mindset towards food and physical health, and help build healthy eating and thinking habits.
2. Assuming that one diet will work for everyone.
Almost every day it seems there is new “it” diet that people claim is the best way to eat. Yet human beings have existed and thrived on a variety of diets throughout history, including low-carb diets, plant-based diets, high-fat diets—you name it. It is important to acknowledge that what may work for one person may not work for another; we are all different, and we cannot have a one-size-fits-all attitude when it comes to what we eat. You need to find out what works for you, what makes you feel energised and ready to take on the tasks you need to complete, and what keeps you satisfied without causing you physical discomfort. Sometimes this means experimenting with different ways of eating, and that is perfectly okay! True, lasting health takes time; if you don’t get it right the first time, don’t give up! Be open-minded when it comes to different ways of eating, and be intentional about examining the effects on your body and mood. Make incremental changes and keep a food journal to help you figure out what works best for you. For example, one diet may work extremely well for your friend, but it may not work well for your body type. Do not get frustrated at this; stop and analyze why it may not be working and see what changes you can make.
It is important, however, to recognise that the best food to eat is real food mindfully. As I explain in my book Think and Eat Yourself Smart, many of the products that are available in stores and restaurants today are manufactured, highly-processed foods, and have contributed to the global rise of obesity and food-related diseases. So, when it comes to eating, avoid foods made in a factory, and stick to ingredients you can recognise and use in your own kitchen, such as fresh produce, nuts, legumes and meats. The best “diet” is one that is suited to your body and lifestyle, when you eat real food mindfully.
3. Thinking that diets are the only way to lose weight.
Reaching your ideal weight is not just about what you eat. It is important to acknowledge that the best way to be healthy is to live a healthy lifestyle, which includes mental self-care, proper exercise and sleep.
Sleep, for example, is incredibly important when it comes to making good use of the food we eat, as sleeping helps us regenerate and protect our brains and bodies, while a lack of sleep can lead to unhealthy food cravings and overeating. So, make an effort to practice good sleeping habits, including naps if you are feeling tired during the day. Keep a sleep journal, or track your sleeping patterns on an app, and see where you can incorporate more rest into your daily schedule.
Exercise, too, is important, especially when it comes to our overall health and our memory. Exercise can actually improve all areas of brain health and cognitive function, including thinking, learning, and memory, especially with age! So, think of ways you can move more throughout the day, even if this is just parking further away from the grocery store entrance! If you find it difficult to take the time to exercise during the day, try workout with friends or family. Not only does this make working out more fun, but it also gives you an accountability partner!
4. Using short-term solutions for long-term goals.
When it comes to your health, you need to focus on long-term goals, not quick-fixes or sudden diets. When we try to cheat our own biology with extreme diets, we may lose weight in a short amount of time, but we could also be doing untold damage to our brains and bodies (including our ability to lose weight in the future). A crash diet can wield results quickly but it is not sustainable since you do not have not develop healthy thinking or eating habits that will help you make better food choices in the future--you have not changed the way you think about food, which is the root of your choices.
If you want to lose weight and improve your health in the long-term, it is best to focus more on the process of creating healthy relationship with food rather than the end goal of fitting into a certain size. If you only focus on the end goal of loosing a certain amount of weight, once you achieve it you will be left asking yourself "what now?". Indeed, at this point most people will think the work is done, and now they can relax and eat more, or exercise less, especially when they are starving and tired from trying to lose weight too quickly. This, in turn, will often result in them putting the weight back on, and the cycle starts all over again.
It is much more beneficial to spend time building healthy habits. Focusing on this process rather than some unrealistic goal builds a strong mental foundation for true change by strengthening your character through self-examination and discipline, while helping you learn about yourself as you examine your relationship with food. As you turn your attention towards cultivating a mindset and attitude that enjoys the process of eating, you can actually build and develop good, long-term mental habits. Like I mentioned above, it is incredibly hard to keep off the weight and maintain all the benefits of a sudden diet, because diets are, by nature, short-term solutions to long-term issues. Improving and maintaining your mental and physical health requires constant work, which, in turn, requires a strong mental foundation.
So, rather than going from one diet to the next, it is far better to work at developing a healthy lifestyle that will allow you to succeed in the long-term, one which incorporates healthy thinking, eating, sleeping and exercise habits. When you adopt this big picture approach to your physical health, you can truly can focus on improving every area of your life and sustaining patterns of behaviour that help you live your best life.
For more tips on how to avoid dieting mistakes, see my blog on why wellness fads are dangerous.
For more information on how to optimize and improve your mental and physical health, wellness, and nutrition, see my book Think and Eat Yourself Smart. You can get it today for less 20% with the code TAEYS20 at checkout!
If you would like to learn more about how to manage your mental and physical health and help others, join me at my Mental Health Solutions summit this December in Dallas, TX! This conference is for everyone: teachers, CEOs, students, parents, doctors, life coaches...everyone! For more information and to register click here.