I’ve heard this infuriating statement or something similar too many times not to respond: “I’ve tried many diets, I even tried the lifestyle change once. Nothing works.”
I think there are a lot of people who aren’t sure what the difference is between a diet and a lifestyle change. Eating healthier foods, eating less, counting calories, getting exercise- sounds like a diet doesn’t it?
Making a lifestyle change isn’t about the actions you take, it’s about your intentions and state of mind. The Diet mentality says “Follow this plan to lose weight. After you lose the weight, you can go back to your normal life. Don’t worry if it’s painful, it’s only temporary. You don’t have to like it, just stick with it until the weight comes off” The Lifestyle Change mentality says “I need to change my life for good. I need to find a way to eat and live that will work for me and won’t leave me feeling deprived and miserable but will also allow me to maintain a healthy body weight.”
I can’t tell you exactly what a Lifestyle Change looks like because by definition it must be different for each person. We all have our habits, good and bad. Chances are you already know what some of your bad habits are and what you should change far better than any stranger could ever tell you.
This is another thing that makes a lifestyle change different than a diet. It cannot be a plan given to you by someone else. It has to come from you. You can’t just follow something by rote, you have to educate yourself and understand why it’s important to make changes.
There are a lot of people who have lost weight and are maintaining their weight yet are still stuck in the diet mentality where everything is a difficult struggle. They are still feeling upset and deprived that they can’t eat the way they used to. They are still holding on to the idea that eating in a way that doesn’t cause weight gain has to be strict, inflexible, and generally unpleasant. They are addicted to the struggle.
I know I have made a true lifestyle change myself because I am happy and content with my new habits. I don’t miss my old life one teeny tiny little bit, and there’s nothing anyone could say to convince me I would be happier if I went back to eating huge plates of nachos and getting no more activity than walking from the couch to my car to my desk. Those things don’t make you happy. If you’re looking for happiness and contentment in food and television, it’s time to rethink your definition of happiness and contentment!
If I posted this on a diet forum, without a doubt, I would be attacked. There are quite a few people who take offense to the idea that one can keep weight off without it being difficult and miserable. I understand this illusion. It seems too good to be true to imagine that you can change your mind. But only you can change your mind and the only way you can do it is if you acknowledge that you are in control of your own actions and reactions. So many of us are all too willing to give up our power. When I hear someone say “But I CAN’T have just one cookie.” it sounds absolutely ludicrous and a bit insane. Do you mean to tell me the cookies force themselves into your mouth, one after the other, without your consent? If you believe this, it’s no wonder you find weight maintenance miserable.
The truth is, cookies don’t make you eat them. You choose. If you cannot choose, you probably need a psychiatrist or maybe Over-eaters Anonymous, not an overly restrictive diet. You can choose only when you choose to choose. When we give away our power to food (or any other inanimate object/substance), we lose an incredibly amazing thing about ourselves: our ability to make informed, rational decisions even if they are different than what we’re used to. Whether you think you can or you can’t, you are right.
Making a lifestyle change isn’t simply about losing weight but dieting is only about losing weight. When you change your lifestyle, generally the primary concern is health and well-being, coming from a place of respect and love for yourself. Weight loss is a pleasant side effect but it isn’t the end-all be-all of everything. There has to be a better reason than simply wanting to lose weight. Wanting to lose weight is pretty much universal in the US, but it’s a false goal with a false promise of reward. We equate thinness with success and happiness, but being thin will not make you happy or successful. If you expect it to, you’re in for a rude surprise. This is something else I notice among some people who have lost the weight and are keeping it off by being strict and stressed about it: they are miserable. They’re thinner, but they are terrified of gaining the weight back and they freak out at every fluctuation on the scale. Often times they feel even worse about their bodies than they did before the weight loss. Living life in fear and misery is no way to live.
Some people are going to read this and agree wholeheartedly. Others won’t get it. They will insist that they must be super strict and vigilant or all hell will break loose. They will insist that all or nothing is the only way. They are stuck in the Diet mentality. It isn’t easy to escape because it is what our world presents to us.
But I am positive that for all of us, there is another way if you open your mind to it.