Dieting: some blunt advice

Sometimes I just can’t keep the rant in. I blame the lethal combination of being a Sagittarian and my Dutch background ;) Whilst I can, for the most part, keep the bluntness in a box under my bed, there are times when it spills out and makes a mess all over the floor. This is one such occasion.

So, diets… That little thing that starts lurking in the back of your mind about now, ready to emerge in all it’s horrid glory on the 1st of January as you reflect on the previous months partying whilst looking forlornly in the mirror. Since you’ve got a good few weeks to dwell on the approach you intend to take this year, I’m here to share with you a piece of revelationary news: unless you change your life, no diet you ever go on will ever work.

Let’s think about what happens when you go on a diet – you select the one you want to follow, gear yourself up to start, and make changes to what you eat and your lifestyle. Some examples might be:

  • swapping bread for vegetables at lunch time
  • walking to work
  • joining a gym
  • switching to semi-skimmed milk
  • eating less cheese
  • adopting a “diet”, like Paleo
  • swapping chocolate for fruit or nuts
  • taking up running with a friend
  • only drinking at weekends

Now let’s fast-forward three months… You’ve lost 4kg. Woohoo! Go you! So, you return to your old way of life – the two glasses of wine with dinner, getting caught up in work and socialising and not making the time to exercise, you forget about the habits that you started and drift slowly back to square one, and without you even noticing all that weight comes back on. And not only the weight, but the damage to your metabolism and hormone systems that come from the alternating cycles of feasting and fasting.

If you want your weight loss to be sustainable forever and to be free from the cycle of constantly trying to lose weight, then here’s a tip that should get you started: make a list like the one above, with all the things that are feasible for you to do in order to consume fewer calories and move more. Don’t make them ridiculous things like running 50km a week or only eating salads – think about what will be achievable within the constraints of your own life and commitments.

Now look at that list and identify what from it you can integrate into your life forever. It doesn’t have to be everything, but it should be at least 60%. Ideally 80%.

Why 80%? Well the 80/20 rule (aka. Pareto’s Law) is one that’s often touted as being a ratio of healthy/debauched that just works. It’s achievable – 80% of the time you will be eating at work or at home, and life will be fairly routine and free from distractions, social events and eating out. It’s a substantial amount of time, leaving you with 20% to play with – cake with friends, weekend boozing, big family meals, and just lying on the sofa watching movies whilst eating a tub of ice cream.

Don’t be daunted – these things don’t have to be big changes. Taking an extra 10 minutes to walk somewhere in the morning adds up to a hours walking a week – not a big change in itself, but combined with something else – say taking the stairs up to your third floor office – and something else – only having biscuits at work two days a week – and suddenly you’ve ended up with a set of things that are far more powerful than they would be in isolation.

And don’t start thinking about it negatively either – you’re not denying yourself something, but rather embracing something else. Too many people see healthy eating and a training regime as some kind of exercise in torture and Catholic-like puritanical-ism. If that’s your attitude then you are doomed to fail from the outset. Be positive about your life, your health, and the changes you are going to make. Will yourself positively to succeed. Equally, and just as importantly, don’t do the opposite and beat yourself up if you fall off the wagon.

Remember the last time you had a vegetable you don’t often eat – let’s say some steamed kale with olive oil on. Wasn’t it delicious? How about some grilled fish? Start thinking about changing your mindset to revel in these simple details, and take my word for it that if you are successful then you can join the ranks of those of us who look at factory-made foodstuffs with disdain ;)

The same goes for exercise. Find something you LOVE! I saw an old friend for dinner the other day who’s a martial artist. He’s not doing martial arts training at the moment, but instead bootcamp style classes and a bit of running. It surprised me to hear him saying something about not enjoying his training, and that he just does it to eat more. This is not the attitude (and I intend to forward this to him to tell him so)! You are not looking to find something to do to torture yourself with in order to be able to eat more Hob Nobs. You are looking to find something that will enable you to celebrate the sheer joy of movement. If you love to dance, then why not start classes? Always fancied climbing? Want to learn to kick like a ninja? That was pretty much the reason that I started kickboxing classes many many years ago, and look where it led me.

And please don’t be a pussy about it – if you’re reading this then you’re an adult, and I don’t want to hear excuses about how you’re scared to go on your own and your friend’s busy on Wednesday. Take responsibility for yourself, otherwise don’t expect anything to change.

Making substantial alterations to your life is a very different thing to making them in the short-term, where you can return to your old ways at any time. It requires thought and commitment before starting, so whilst the family are bickering downstairs this Christmas, give yourself something awesome – the time to reflect on how you can change your life.

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1 Response

  1. Awesome post, Fi Fi! And so true. We are so happy to relinquish our responsibility for ourselves to someone else and so reluctant to take charge of our own lives. Once we break that cycle, however, everything changes for the better.

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