Diet Mentality v. Lifestyle Change

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By Pat Barone, CPCC, MCC, BCC
“America’s Weight Loss Catalyst”

In the quest for a healthier weight, it is becoming more and more evident diets simply do not result in long-term, sustained weight loss.

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles have confirmed what many scientists have been saying all along: Losing weight is easy. Keeping it off is another story.  (Their study appeared in the American Psychologist, a publication of the American Psychological Association.)

The UCLA researchers analyzed 31 diet studies and over two-thirds gained back the weight they lost. A very small number were able to successfully maintain their weight loss.  Traci Mann, the UCLA psychologist who led the study, said, “People should be quite clear that a diet is a temporary fix.”

Dr. David Katz, head of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center, says, “If dieting worked, there would be a bunch of skinny people walking around.”

So, why do we continually diet?  In the United States, we maintain hope the next diet will work because we are engrained in a thought pattern called “diet mentality.”

Diet mentality is based on the belief we can eat what we want now and “fix” excess weight later.  It also says weight loss can be fast, then we can return to old eating habits and the weight loss will stick around.  A little rational thought quickly dispels that belief.

Diet mentality follows this cycle:

  1. We instill “black and white thinking” – we are either “on” or “off”, “good” or “bad”, “with the program” or “banished to the dark side.”  We fight eating when an unmanageable instinct tells us we need food.  It’s like fighting a perpetual losing battle.
  2. The more diets we try, the more diets fail – they fail because we can’t eat the same way forever.  Eventually, we either get tired of the restricted eating style, or our rebellious internal 4-year-old hits the road in search of self-determination.  That may sound like “I’m outa here” or “I’m entering a free food zone for 13 days” or “Gotta have sugar.”  Because it’s unnatural to eat the same way every day, the body rebels against diets too, with that powerful force called hunger.
  3. When we fail at some task, particularly one as personal as weight loss, we tend to blame ourselves and attach the “failure label” to ourselves.
  4. The longer we diet and yo-yo the number on the scale, the more engrained the “failure label” becomes.
  5. Repeated dieting destroys the metabolism.  No matter what your age, ending the diet game now (today!) means better health and a lower weight in the future.

In my own experience, if I had received positive feedback in high school about my size and shape, and stayed that weight, I would have avoided a lot of pain, psychological damage, illness, disease, deprivation, depression AND hundreds of pounds.  All the stringent diets I tried did NOTHING but add weight and make my ultimate job harder.

Diets make more fat.  Plain and simple.  They lower the body’s ability to burn fat in the future.

Here’s a visual way to compare “diet mentality” to “lifestyle change.”  When you are aware, the difference and outcome is measurable!

Diet Mentality                                         Lifestyle Change
Rules come from outside you                   Rules come from inside you
Has a specific duration – short term      It lasts forever – long term
Requires great effort/willpower              Is easy but consistent
Involves deprivation                                   Feels like a gift to yourself
Often fueled by guilt or shame                 Fueled by wanting healthy, or to feel better

Diet mentality is that destructive 4-year-old in our head who throws all good efforts away in a tantrum of deprivation.

Diet mentality feels stressful, guilt-ridden and hard.  It destroys enjoyment and fosters a negative relationship with food as we attempt to control the body’s natural appetite.  In the long run, it actually forces us to focus MORE on food.

Life doesn’t start or stop, based on whether we’re complying with a diet.  And we deserve love and complete respect, no matter what we ate a minute ago, a month ago, or years ago.

Here’s a healthy challenge:

  1. Live like a human being.  Be kind to yourself and others.  No stuffing your poor body.  No relentless self-punishing inner dialog.
  2. Make food choices as reasonable and healthy as you can.  Every time you’re in charge of a meal, make it the healthiest you can.  There will always be circumstances where you can’t control what is served.
  3. Don’t eat when you are not physically hungry.  Physical desire isn’t reason to eat.  We all want that donut.  So what?  Remember, when you eat when you’re hungry, at least your body has the ability to convert that food to energy.

Be honest with yourself.  Practice good self-care and patience.  Your body will lead you to your healthiest weight naturally, and it will be easy to sustain..

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