If you were presented with an opportunity to do something that would be pretty stressful, kind of time-consuming, not enjoyable, and has a 95% failure rate in the end…would you do it?
I wouldn’t knowingly…but I did for SO many years.
That “something” I was referring to is dieting. Studies have shown 95% of people who go on a diet or have restrictive rules for themselves around food (eat this/don’t eat that) gain back any weight they lost while “on the wagon” plus more in many cases (83% fall in that group) over 1 to 5 years after the fact.
Dieting itself is kind of an old-school word right now, but the concept is still very much alive. Even companies like Weight Watchers know this and have started diet-in-disguise programs like their new Freestyle “DIET”.
Restriction by means of an official diet or having food rules (eat veggies, don’t eat chips), or feeling guilt or shame after eating certain foods is THE biggest cause of binge or overeating or falling off the wagon. Having good days and terrible days. This messes up the metabolism SO badly, and even has been shown to raise the body’s natural weight set point. Research shows weight cycling (or yo-yo dieting) is more harmful to your health than weight stability, even if your stable weight is a higher body weight.
We all have a limited amount of brain space and when we fill it with fixating on numbers, food rules, or trying to shrink our bodies, we use up precious energy that we could be devoting to more meaningful things, like our family, job, friends, hobbies. Think about it, how much time do you spend thinking and stressing about food or what your body looks like? What else could you spend that time thinking about?
At the end of your life, will you really be fondly reminiscing over the size of your pants or the time that you spent at the gym? Fixating on these things takes you away from what is actually important.
Here are some things to focus on this year INSTEAD of dieting or the pursuit of weight loss:
First: Focus on living the life you want to be living.
Think about what you truly want in and for your life now, and long-term. Usually this ties closely to what you think weight loss will do for you. For example, do you want to be happier? Have more fun? Feel less stressed? Start dating someone? Get some cute new clothes? Apply for a new job? Travel? Spend more time with friends? Be healthier? Why wait to weigh less when you can do them right now?
Set small, actionable goals around ways that you can support yourself in moving forward and actually doing those things. When it comes to being healthier, we’ve been wrongfully told that thinness = health. Research actually shows that health/healthy behaviors are much more sustainable when we see weight and health as 2 separate things. When we focus on making healthy choices vs. weight loss choices, things tend to stick much better!
Stepping outside your comfort zone and trying something new is crazy hard, I actually dedicate an entire health coaching session on self-sabotage and how our brains are hard-wired to keep us “safe.” Taking the first step is the hardest, but you can do it!
Second: Figure out what you actually enjoy.
What nutritious foods do you actually like? What ways of moving your body do you really enjoy? If eating kale is like eating lawn clippings to you, don’t eat kale! There are so many other nutrient-dense foods you can have that there’s no need to suffer just because whatever magazine said it’s the BEST superfood out there.
You are far more likely to keep doing something that you actually like because it will bring you joy and it doesn’t feel forced. Life is way too short to torture yourself at the gym or force feed yourself food you hate. Along with this one comes actually letting yourself eat and enjoy foods you love – even if they would score a 0 on a nutrients test.
All foods have value and can fit into a healthy diet. Food is meant to nourish us beyond just our physical needs. What’s truly unhealthy is stressing about what you eat, because that spikes cortisol (the stress hormone) and actually promotes fat storage.
Third: Begin a regular practice of gratitude journaling.
“What you focus on grows. What you think about expands and what you dwell on determines your destiny.” By gearing your focus and energy toward the positive in your life, it will begin to breed more positivity.
Start getting into the practice of every day before you go to bed or wake up, keep a small notebook by your bed, and write 2-3 things you’re grateful for, and 1 sentence why you are grateful for them (fun short video about it).
Fourth: Focus on nourishment through self-care.
The easiest way to do this is to generate a level of awareness of what’s going on around you so you’re in tune to how you’re feeling, and can use that information to identify what you can do to support yourself each day so you’re able to do the things you want to do. I’ve done this over the years where I’ve mapped out my basic needs, and I do things regularly to fulfill them to keep my battery charged, to help me cruise through the day physically, mentally, and emotionally, and look and feel like my best self.
I have what I call “non-negotiables”. I prioritize those over pretty much everything else in my life, and schedule my life around them. Like cooking nutritious foods because I know I need to give my body the right materials or nutrients to stay healthy, getting in 30-45 min of exercise most days because I know it’s going to energize me and help me focus, sleeping 8 hours a day because I’m a zombie mess if I don’t, saying “no” to certain things in my week/calendar that feel like TOO much.
Having a gameplan like that is great, experimenting with yourself through trial and error to find what works best for you is really helpful. You can also take it a step further and check in with yourself throughout the day to tune in to what you need in the moment to feel like your best self. The other day I felt SO tired in the middle of the afternoon randomly, very uncharacteristic of me, so I listened to my body and took a break from work for 30 minutes and laid down. After the 30 minutes, I felt energized and focused.
When I had my corporate desk job I used to get feelings of hunger in the afternoon that I knew weren’t physical hunger related, I knew it was really me feeling bored or sick of just sitting down, so it’d walk up and down the 6-story staircase or do squats in the bathroom!
To recap: shift your focus from your weight or physical appearance to these 4 things:
- living the life you want to live, figuring out what you truly want and taking small action steps in those directions
- think about what you actually enjoy and add more of that to your life
- incorporate a gratitude practice, even a super quick and easy one
- focus on nourishment through self care
- bonus: create a vision board of what you’d like 2018 to look like for you!
By focusing on doing things that fulfill and make you happy on a regular basis, you will most likely find things that don’t serve you anymore start to fade away and disappear – even unwanted extra weight. When you focus on gaining health, possibilities become endless.
You start to enjoy the journey and recognize all the ways your life is improving. I’ve seen it happen so many times with my clients!