“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.
I used to count calories in my head while I was running. I distinctly remember the feeling of pounding the pavement as I rounded the bend at the Hollywood reservoir trail adding up the sandwich I ate for lunch and the cereal I had for breakfast and subtracting the 380 calories I had burned in three and a half miles and wondering if I should do another loop so I could have dessert after dinner. It was a horrible feeling. I don’t wish compulsive calorie counting on anyone and that is why I want to share with you how I more mindfully track my nutrition now.
Calorie Counting is Only a Fraction of the Big Picture
I’ve spend a lot of time researching how to lose body fat and gain lean muscle (i.e. “get toned”). It’s my job, so I’ve done a ton of research, tried everything under the sun for myself and worked with a bunch of clients in the 10 + years I’ve been a trainer and here’s the bottom line: Calories matter, but there are a BUNCH of other factors that also matter to fat loss and muscle gain. Here are just a few: macro-nutrients, food quality, sleep, stress, hormones (that’s a BIG one), current muscle mass, genetics, intensity of exercise performed, mindset (yes, the way you think matters!), gut health. This list alone is enough to make your head spin and it’s only a partial list of all the factors that affect fat loss and body composition. Also, if there is anything certain I have learned in counseling people it’s the different approaches work for different people. You cannot tell someone to do something you do and expect them to get the same results you do. Just because it worked for you doesn’t mean you should write a book (or blog) telling everyone you found the definitive answer to fat loss, individuality matters.
Basic Take Away: Instead of only focusing on calories in and calories out, focus on creating healthy habits that will stay with you for a lifetime. Here’s how…
How many times have you set a weight loss goal or made a resolution in your life and not been successful?
…Or been temporarily successful, only to put the weight back on or backslide later? Some of my clients come to me with a history of repeated failed attempts at weight loss. I know this can be disheartening at best and at worst can lead to a vicious cycle of yo-yo dieting and self-loathing. As an athlete in a weight class sport for ten years, I sympathize, the scale can feel like your worst enemy.
The scientific and nutritional reasons why diet and exercise often fail people is a topic for another blog. I’ll touch it briefly by saying that successful clients don’t focus on calorie restriction (especially low calorie, low fat and hi carb diets) and excessive exercise. Instead, they focus on real food choices, food quality, lifting weights & finding joy in sports (like Muay Thai, Jiu Jitsu, basketball, rock climbing or tennis).
Today I would like to focus on how to set a fitness, health or even a life goal, something that when done correctly can bring great happiness and fulfillment to our lives. I’ve written before about willpower and neuropsychology has lately been the research topic that is most interesting to me. Goals setting is just a part of the willpower and habit human experience. If you want to know more, see the end of this blog for recommended reading.