I’ll cut right to the chase: The best diet to lose weight involves never dieting again.
I get interviewed for books and podcasts, in part because I appear to be an exception to what’s being increasingly accepted as a rule: The more desperate we are to lose weight, the more weight we gain.
When I was 300+-pounds, I was desperate to weigh less. But every time I dieted, I ended up heavier than when I started. This is a common experience, but one we don’t often hear about. Why?
Without numbers to back this up, I’ll posit a theory: If television revenues rely on advertising, and much of those ads are for weight loss diets, there’s not gonna be much prime-time coverage of how ineffective diets are.
Just a theory.
If diets don’t help us lose weight, and, if they do, rarely result in long-term weight loss maintenance, then what does?
If we’re overweight and uncomfortable in a large body, is there a healthy, sustainable route to a more comfortable weight?
After years of struggling with my own weight, and almost a decade watching my personal training clients come to grips with theirs, It’s become abundantly clear that the key to healthy, sustainable weight loss is the same as the key to wellness in all facets of life:
Committing to take the best care of ourselves that we can, one tiny choice at a time.
Before you roll your eyes right out of your skull, hear me out.
If we are uncomfortably overweight, we can lose weight in a healthy and sustainable way that doesn’t feel like we’re having a food-related asthma attack. To do that, we practice taking the best care of our bodies as we are capable of in this moment.
And we begin doing that NOW.
Stop me if you’ve lived this one:
We’re following a weight loss diet because we’re sick and tired of being fat. We stay on the diet a few weeks. One day, the fact that we’re not thin after WEEKS of hard WORK makes us feel angry and crazy. Those feeling 1 demand relief, and eventually, inevitably, we get that relief in the surest way we know how.
If we’re 100 pounds from where we’re most comfortable, and we’re on a diet specifically to reach that distant goal, it’s only a matter of time before the voice of self-sabotage reminds us that not eating this one piece of cake won’t make a lick of difference. Losing weight (the goal) and not eating the cake (one step we’d need to take to get there) ain’t even in the same time zone.
The tremendous disconnect between What and How we’re eating (no cake) and Why we’re eating that way (to lose 100) has much to do with so few of us ever reaching, and even fewer of us maintaining, that long term weight loss goal.
In order to change our deepest defaults, most of us need to get frequent, positive feedback from our new, healthier behaviors. Specifically, our new, stronger choices need to bring us pleasure.
So what’s a woman who wants to lose weight supposed to do?
Drop the Weight Loss Goal.
If losing weight’s been our motivation forever – if it’s been “Why” we’ve eaten certain things or in certain ways – dropping the weight loss goal may sound ridiculous. I know. So let’s start with something more accessible. Until can ditch the weight loss goal once and for all, let’s work on developing some other “Whys,” other reasons for making certain choices around what or how we eat. These caring, present-focused goals can help us make stronger choices consistently over the long term.
Here are some “Whys” to try on for size:
1. Eat to feel better.
The same foods that cause us so much internal strife can also produce physical discomfort. Most fast and processed foods, because they contain high amounts of sugar and/or hard-to-process fat, give us a brief and fleeting lift before we come crashing back to the ground, exhausted, anxious, and even hungrier than when we started. Steering clear of foods that deliver that post-binge Hulk Smash means feeling better TODAY, without having to wait for any pesky, theoretical “future.” OK, OK…the future may be a real thing. Sorry about the extraneous quotes.
2. Eat to curb the crazy.
If we’re compulsive around or addicted to certain foods, dropping those foods means experiencing peace the likes of which we may never have known. Ditching our trigger foods quiets cravings, obliterates obsession, and eradicates regret. Abstaining, mind you. Not limiting portions. If we have addictive tendencies, that limiting portions crap can get ugly.
3. Eat to demonstrate care.
Anyone who’s ever had a beloved pet or a kid knows how to make caring choices even when it feels hard, like when Fido doesn’t want the flea medicine, or when little Snooky doesn’t want to brush her teeth. We’re invested in keeping our beloveds healthy, because they are our responsibility, because we care about them, and because we are in charge of taking care of them. 2 Sometimes we care for and about these characters to the exclusion of caring for ourselves. As adults, we are responsible for us. We deserve nothing less than the same care and consideration we give others, because we’re just as important, and just as precious. 3
4. Eat to cultivate love.
There’s a big push to accept our bodies as they are, and to cultivate more love and positivity around the bodies we have, without struggling to change them. But that doesn’t just HAPPEN, no matter how many articles we read or how many body-love gurus we follow on Facebook. To get to that place where we feel LOVE, we need to just start going through the motions as though we already care about and love our bodies just exactly as they are, whether or not that feels particularly sincere.
When we practice taking the best care we can of ourselves and our bodies because we want to feel better and more peaceful, the action and the goal are clearly, 100% related. Every single choice we make produces positive feedback. Every caring action produces pleasure. And every ounce of pleasure inspires still more caring action.
This is the choice-action-positive feedback loop that’s missing when we go on diets, and part of why those diets are so seemingly impossible to sustain.
I know it feels counter-intuitive. I’ve gained weight a few times since I lost over half my body weight 10+ years ago, and each time I did my first instinct was to go on a diet. Old beliefs die hard. But I’ve proven many times what science is demonstrating: that dieting almost always results in weight gain. This is the rule.
Today, I am the exception to the rule, but not because I’m special or different or have anything at my disposal that most women who still struggle don’t have. I just worked to change my “Whys.”
Today, I maintain my weight by eating foods that keep me comfortable. Today, I maintain my weight by eating foods that cut down on my crazy. Today, I maintain my weight by eating to show myself care. You can, too.