Depriving Yourself for Fitness Success Doesn’t Work

“8 out of 10 dieters fail.”
“95% of people who diet gain the weight back.”
“New Year’s resolutions fail.”

You’ve probably heard all these alarming and pessimistic statistics and maybe even felt quite defeated by them. Well, if you’re a nerd like me you’ve looked up a few scientific studies on diets, weight loss and willpower and while the results regarding the possibility for diet failure (i.e. regaining the weight) are inconclusive, the studies often lacking in proper sample size and sometimes using unreliable methods, there is one thing I am certain about: You are not doomed to fail if you decide to make positive changes in your life.

Unfortunately, many diets don’t focus on positive habits. Instead, they remind people they need to sacrifice, just try harder, give up things we love to get smaller and ban certain foods altogether. Even if there are certain bad habits and poor choices in our lives, we will do better without, I have found that focusing only on trying to quit them is not as effective as you would think.

There is a huge difference between dieting vs. creating new healthy habits. Dieting is depriving yourself ample calories so that your hangry outbursts make your friends want to shove giant chocolate croissants in your mouth to shut you up, becoming a cardio bunny who runs for hours on the treadmill and eats nothing by carrots, lettuce, ice cubes, Balance Bars and fat free Jello pudding snacks, and telling yourself that your favorite foods are now “Off limits!” which lasts until about 7 pm when you then eat the fridge and then in a final act of “fuck it” thinking make a trip to the 24-hour drug store for a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey.  Positive lifestyle changes i.e. adding healthy habits into your life that modify the way you make decisions is a much saner, happier approach.

Let’s be clear; I’m not saying all diets fail in every sense of the word. Sure, we all know that one friend who eats 1200 calories a day does spin class religiously Monday through Friday and looks like Kat Moss, and maybe that’s what you are going for, (who am I to judge?) However, we also have no idea what kind of cray-cray is going on in that head of hers or what her medical lab work shows. A lean body exterior is not always an indication of a healthy mind and body. We also know people that weigh and measure every morsel they eat with great results, and they seem entirely sane in every other respect (or not); but as a general rule, just telling yourself “No!” might not be the best approach. I mean, if diets worked like a charm the weight loss market would not be a $60.5 Billion dollar industry because the weight would stay off the first time.

I propose a more sensible, slow, moderate and positive approach to a healthier, leaner, sexier you. Now I know that the words, “practical” “slow” and “moderate” don’t inspire you right off the bat, and I get it… I know that headlines like, “Shredded Abs in Seven days!” and “Do this ONE thing and drop a dress size!” sound super sexy and appealing, but the problem is sensationalism has never worked.

“In this age, which believes that there is a shortcut to everything, the greatest lesson to be learned is that the most difficult way is, in the long run, the easiest.”

– Henry Miller

That may sound confusing because you ask, “How can the most difficult way be easier?!” That’s because often what we think of as difficult IS, in fact, easier. Easier because we are not always taking one step forward and two steps back, easier because we don’t become neurotic little balls of stress from telling ourselves twenty times a day we can’t eat this and that, easier because we get results. Not drop two pants sizes in 5 days results, but slow, steady, long-lasting results.

How can you do this you ask?

…Well, I propose that you do this one thing for better fitness success.

Slow and steady is starting to look kinda sexy, huh? Well, sure it’s more than just one thing, I kinda fibbed there,  but this one thing will be the catalyst for much future change and success.

The one thing is: Ask yourself, “How can I add more to my life?”

Just adding more, it can change the way we look at everything. Now, adding more does sound sexy, adventurous, creative, fun and something you can rally behind, right?

Okay, here’s how it works; take a typical diet statement of deprivation and spin it around into something positive that adds more to your life. That more part being things that are good for your body, mind, and sanity.

For example:

  •  Instead of, I will lose 10 pounds.
    • Take your mind off the scale and make it a goal to goal to go the gym consistently three times a week.
  • Instead of, I will not eat cookies.
    • Make it a goal to add veggies to all of your meals and have fruit for dessert.
  • Instead of, I will not have wine every night.
    • Make it a goal to learn how to make your Kombucha and then drink it while calling a friend to catch up while you make a healthy dinner for yourself. 
  • Instead of, I will get washboard abs and look like Jessica Biel.
    • Make it a goal to practice self-love and acceptance by telling yourself you are a sexy, feisty fox every time you look in the mirror.
  • Instead of, I will not eat my favorite food in the world (ice cream in my case).
    • Make it a goal to reward yourself with a serving of ice cream a couple of times a week after a hard workout and a balanced, healthy meal.
  • Instead of, I will force myself to get up early and run on the treadmill (which I hate).
    • Make it a goal to try a bunch of different athletic activities, sports, types of workouts, etc. until you find something you totally LOVE doing!

Are you getting the idea?  Try it out yourself! What is one thing you always tell yourself that is negative, depriving and therefore harmful to your success? Write it down, cross it out and then flip it to a positive affirmation.

Do it right now! Really….

 I’ll just wait and watch this cat video:


Done? Okay, good. Next put it on your to-do list to make a whole list of these affirmative action goals!  Yes, write down all these new positive goals next to your old thinking, then tack the new list of additions to your life to your fridge, your mirror, your computer monitor, anywhere you will see it often.

Then, and here is the trick, tackle only ONE new action at a time. The thing about willpower is that it is like a muscle, it takes time to develop, and if you go for too many gains too fast you are likely to get injured and fail. I’ve written about willpower before, so make sure to read up on that if you want to get savvy with how to trick your brain into taking right actions.

By tackling one action at a time you are making slow, steady progress and creating more sustainable change. Some goal savvy people may be able to deal with a small handful of actions goals at once, but be careful not to bite off more than you can chew (pun intended).

Make sure to make your action goals are specific, the more specific, the better. Instead of, “I will join a gym,” “I will join this particular gym and go to these specific three classes every week.” Sure have a plan B if you can’t get to the class one day because your boss holds a gun to your head and tells you the report is due by 8 pm, but get specific!

I have had much success with this technique over the years, and the fitness community is slowly starting to make changes in small ways with the mindset of fitness goals and lifestyle changes. There is even such a thing as reverse dieting, a technique used to increase metabolism after a period of calorie restriction by slowly adding more calories incrementally to increase fat loss and muscle gain. However reverse dieting is not a fun in practice as it sounds in theory. It mostly requires meticulous food tracking and lots of math, so don’t just go trying it by eating everything in sight without some professional assistance.

Still, I like the fact that even fitness physic competitors, who historically have been role models of deprivation are embracing some terms that feel more in line with moderation and health.

You can also take this technique of adding more to your life into realms outside of fitness. How can you bring, more positive practices that bring you happiness into your life? A few weeks ago my friends at Whole9life suggested on their Instagram feed that people make a list of tasks and activities they did daily, followed by a list of things they loved doing side by side. I did the exercise and had some eye-opening results. I realized that…

1) I Facebook, email, paper shuffle and stick my face in my cell phone way too much


2) I didn’t do some simple things I love on a daily basis.

As a result of making the list, I have since fit sunbathing on my rooftop deck while reading novels a part of my (mostly) daily routine. While I still have to Facebook, email, text and shuffle some papers for work, I’ve since delegated many of the tasks I didn’t enjoy to other staff at my gym, even if it was at a cost to me. Then, I made more time in my weekly schedule for dates and actives with my boyfriend. I also ramped up my workouts from three to five a week (by getting specific with my workout times) because lifting heavy things and punching stuff brings me great joy.

Doing the things we love should be a part of our daily activities. Why wait until the weekend to do things we love. If we deprive ourselves, we are lumps of tense, stressed out, wound up jerks by the weekend, and then all we want to do is drink a pitcher of bourbon and eat cupcakes. If your daily life is filled with boring tasks and deprivation you are bound to let it all go come Friday night, and not in a healthy way. Do the things you love now!  Do them as many times a day as you can. If we are not enjoying this life we created with hard work, what is the damn point of it all?

Currently, I’m focusing on improving my life through better time management. I listened to an audio book on a flight back east called What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, which is a crash course in time management. I was delighted to hear that all of the suggestions were about how to add more wonderful things to your life! The book hardly even mentioned the things you had to give up to be more productive (like sleep), all I heard was how to add more awesomeness to life like weekend activities, spiritual time, creative passions, family time and career development!

The truth is we do have time to add things to our lives and get proper sleep, and sure to add more we’ll end up giving up something else, but if we plan right it’s usual the bad habit we were trying to stop all along that gets tossed.

I quit partying so much by deciding to become a Muay Thai fighter. I quit smoking by running more. I quit chronically, neurotically dieting by lifting more. I stopped eating an insane about of chocolate every day due to insatiable cravings by eating more protein and healthy fats. I quit making poor choices in men by broadening my idea of who was right for me. I am now in the process of quitting my excessive social media addiction (it is a necessary evil in my line of work) by reading and writing more. We can’t just tell ourselves “no!” Instead, add more.

Today, before you leave for work, leave the house, go to bed, whichever it is, I urge you to do some writing about how you can add more to your life. Make that list of goals, making sure to flip them into positive action goals. Make that list of things you love doing next to the things you do daily.  Figure out how you can add more fun stuff to your life because I promise you the happier you are, the more likely you are to succeed at anything you do, including fat loss, athletic goals, or in my case, a bigger booty 😉