“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.
Resolutions are often focused on breaking habits.
To quit smoking I used running. In 2003 I was still a smoker. My bad habit had been picked up by being a club kid in my teens and a bartender in my twenties. When I moved to Los Angeles in 2002, I started training Muay Thai seriously and became addicted to the sport. I knew my smoking and clubbing had to stop, and I should focus more on training.
I wasn’t a heavy smoker, but I was still in the habit of a two to three cigarettes in the evenings. Instead of smoking, I decided to go running more. Running made me feel accomplished and also reminded me how much I needed healthy lungs for Muay Thai. Eventually, I just stopped smoking altogether and built a life around training.
A couple of years ago I stumbled on a booked called How to Change Habit by Charles Duhigg. It describes how we can’t just tell ourselves to stop habits like eating sweets, smoking, drinking, or nail-biting. We need to REPLACE that habit with an action that gives the same reward. This is why so many people switch one bad habit for another, like eating more sweets when they quit smoking or smoking more when they stop drinking. But swapping one bad habit for another never entirely addresses the bigger problem.
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.
Ask yourself these questions: Do you just have to have something sweet after meals? Does the idea of living life without bread and pasta scare you? Does afternoon fatigue prompt trips to Starbucks or a candy binge on a regular basis? If someone offers you cookies, cakes, ice cream or candy at a party is it impossible for you to decline them? Is it hard for you to stop after one cookie, candy, etc.? Is drinking black coffee or tea without sweetener out of the question? Do you obsess over your next sugary treat? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions you are probably addicted to sugar.
Sugar is addictive. Many doctors now recognize the damage of sugar addiction, although it might be several more years before we can sue Coca-Cola for pushing its “drug” on kids. Maybe it’s not as noticeable as illegal street drugs, but sugar does give you a mild “high” – why else would we jokingly call it “kiddie crack”? I’m not fanatical or preaching sugar abstinence. I love ice cream just as much as the next gal, but I find that many of my clients are plagued by sugar cravings and feel out of control when it comes to their diet. I can relate.
You’re talking to a girl who single-handedly picked every chocolate chip out of her roommate’s trail mix (sorry, Monica). I remember when I was little stealing cookies from the jar at my grandmother’s house and eating them behind the couch so I wouldn’t get caught. I’m pretty sure I also remember also eating an entire frozen pound cake – while it was still frozen. I am no angel when it comes to sugar. My history with sugar goes deep into the core of my psyche – but although I love the occasional treat, I am no longer consumed by sugar. I rarely have insane cravings, and I can stop after just a couple bites. How did I achieve this you ask?