You should never go on a diet
Going on a diet.
Has there ever been a more often used phrase when it comes to conversations about fitness and exercise? It’s the go to response to prepare for your wedding day, your summer holiday, after the festive season, as a New Year’s resolution, or for no other reason other than you have just been inspired by something or someone you saw or heard in an advert.
‘Going’ on a diet in the traditional sense usually means a period of time, normally a few weeks, where you restrict your food intake and try to eat celery 5 times a day in order for you to lose weight; fat, muscle or bone density it doesn’t matter, the number on the scale just needs to be decreasing.
Nowadays there seems to be a new diet that comes out every other week; we had the Atkins phase, the syrup and water, the so-called 5-2 diet where you eat whatever you want for 2 days then starve for 5 (or something equally unappealling), and the one where you eat exclusively birdseed on all the odd numbered days of the month and just eggshells and jam the rest of the days.
Ok, so I made the last one up but when it comes to diet ideas there is seemingly no shortage of pretty wacky ideas on how to lose those elusive pounds, and quick.
Dieting has an absmal success rate
An extremely rapid search on Google and according to ABC news in 2012 the diet industry was worth $20 billion in revenue in the USA alone, with over 108 million people on diets at the time.
That’s a third of the US population. But with all that money being spent the USA remains a country affected by obesity, with rates even rising year by year (closely followed by the UK and other western countries).
And with a new routine, product or pill coming out every week the industry experts and diet companies are clearly getting no closer to finding the holy grail, or we could just use the one method that works and get everyone slim.
You can’t diet indefintely
It is obviously not a revelation that diets are short term fixes that have terrible long-term success rates.
It’s like attaching a ball and chain to your leg and dragging it around all day while you have the key in your pocket; it won’t take long for you to get fed up with the discomfort and unlock yourself.
Restricting yourself and eating like a rabbit is going to only lead to making you miserable, no matter how well those jeans fit, and dieting just exacerbates temptation.
The notion of the diet is that you basically suffer for the sake of your appearance, which doesn’t really make logical sense when you think about it.
Is your appearance that crucial that you are prepared to torture yourself to fit a supposed ‘ideal’?
Just like torture you have a limit; at some point you will break your resolve and give it all up, only to end up back where you started.
Don’t diet, change your habits
As with so many things associated with ftiness and exercise the first step to progress is to accept that contrary to popular belief supported by the mass media there are two truths to reality;
a) everything worth having takes time
b) you can’t have everything
If you want lasting, genuine results there is no such thing as a shortcut. This applies to everything; building a business, forging a career, learning an instrument, learning a language, controlling your weight and staying in shape or having a muscular physique.
You can’t lose weight and eat cookies all day. You can’t lose a stone of weight in 3 weeks and expect to feel good and healthy.
It really does baffle me how people can understand the fact that learning to play an instrument well takes a lot of learning, practice and maintenance but either cannot, or will not, apply the same acceptance to dieting and staying in shape.
It is for this reason that the dieting industry and many facets of the fitness industry continue to exist and even grow. Ignorance and lack of will is like a fuel for profits and scams.
Well obviously the willpower aspect is something that is your own and there is little I or anyone can do to change that. However I believe it exists partially because people think it is too difficult or beyond their reach to change their lifestyles.
Related article: Finding motivation
Habit change is not as hard as it seems. If you do something everyday for 3 months you will have forged a new habit that will be easy to stick to. It may be hard at first but it only gets easier as time goes on.
Getting into shape needs to be looked at from a longer term view than ‘getting ready for summer’ or your wedding day.
When you were at school and had a year long project to complete did it ever cross your mind that you could do it all in 6 weeks and get a top mark?
Of course not, because that is unrealistic.
Look at your project to get in shape in the same way as learning a new skill or language. You have to learn and practice over and over, while making slow but steady progress.
You have to change some of your habits, like devoting a set time each week to practice, and learning the techniques to improving, either through a teacher or through reading information such as this.
Most of all acknowledge it will take time, and try to enjoy the process.
What I am trying to impress is that there is no timeframe for training, fitness and being in shape, it is a lifestyle process.
The trick is to not make drastic changes. One reason why diets don’t work is because you suddenly change your food intake overnight; obviously this is not going to be comfortable and therefore it is unsustainable.
Whereas if you start by eating healthy 2 days a week and fitting in 1 session of exercise you should find it much more manageable and easy to stick to.
After a few months you can increase the sessions and set more healthy eating days, and so on.
You definitely won’t see any drastic changes, but if you stick to it you will see a gradual improvement that cumulatively adds up to a significant, lasting change.
The same applies for muscle building; you won’t achieve that much change in 6 weeks, especially if you have already trained for a while, but if you monitor your progress every couple of months and then add it up for the year, you should see that the 2 lbs of weight you added or lost each month comes to a huge 24 lbs difference by the end of the year.
Another great thing is that generally if your muscle gain/weight loss was acquired in this way (i.e. gradually) then it will take much longer to undo; you won’t lose it all or pile it all back on in a few short weeks if you stop exercising.
Steady and gradual adaptation is the key
It is because your body has undergone a steady process of adaptation. When you crash diet your body fights to try and restore what it had before, so once you go back to normal the weight comes back quickly.
If you have gradually lowered your weight your new weight becomes the new norm, and the body finds it easy to stay in it’s new state.
Even better you will continue the process without a struggle because it is now ingrained in your habits; you go to the gym three times a week because that’s just what you do. You eat healthy Monday to Friday and then eat what you want on the weekends without setting yourself back because that is just your schedule.
So I would suggest taking the word ‘dieting’ out of your vocabulary.
If changing your habits and accepting that it takes a long time is too hard for you then I’m sorry but you won’t ever really progress; expect to spend your time, money and emotional energy on every new 6 week celebrity workout DVD and magic bean that ‘melts the pounds away while you sleep’.
If however you like to take things seriously, then start changing your habits and learning how to achieve stable, long-term and maintainable results with The Training Template.
Search for easy to follow training templates, no-nonsense advice and tips to help understand your body and how training works.
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