This time of year we are all bombarded with diets and quick fixes to help us make up for all the holiday celebrations. Our tendency is to fall for the claims and dive in thinking this time it’s got to work. Many of us believe that weight loss is the best solution for improving our life. Each year, we make make New Year’s resolutions, but less than half of us actually maintain those resolutions six months later.
At the beginning of the new year, many of us feel motivated and have high expectations for what we can accomplish. Often though these expectations and the goals we set around them are unrealistic. As a result, we become frustrated and give up. This way of thinking is a popular phenomenon and actually has a scientific name, “false-hope syndrome”. This term, coined by social science researchers, refers to the false belief that self change is easy, therefore leading us to set goals that are unrealistic. When reality sets in and the change becomes unsustainable we go back to our old ways once again.
We have been conditioned to think that the only way to have good health or reach a healthy weight goal is to eat perfectly and exercise intensely – or nothing at all. No in between. This all-or-nothing, perfectionist approach is what contributes to the dieting rollercoaster many of us find ourselves on, on a diet one month, off the next, repeat. This pattern of all-or-nothing thinking is commonly called “the diet mentality” and is actually linked to negative, not positive, outcomes such as weight gain, weight obsession, poor self-image, disordered eating patterns, and excessive or inadequate exercise.
It’s true, dieting and restrictive eating are actually directly correlated to weight gain, not loss! Think about it, when you have restricted food in the past, maybe carbs for instance or one of the 30 day plans, how long did that last? Did you end up with a net loss of weight or in the end did the scale actually go up? Multiple well controlled studies have shown that diets and restrictive eating ultimately result in weight gain over time. The exact opposite of what we set out to achieve.
Does this scenario ring any bells? You start a diet, you cut out certain food groups or amounts of certain foods, and embark on a list of rules and regulations around eating. This often results in missing these restricted foods. These feelings of deprivation may be quiet at first and then louder as the diet continues. You have a stressful day or week or some social or family eating situation comes up and you break a diet rule. This leads to overeating of a “forbidden” food which then results in guilt, shame and negative thoughts of failure. You think if only I could have better self-control and willpower…and the cycle continues. This dieting cycle is emotionally and physically draining but yet we attempt it over and over.
It is interesting when I meet with clients and ask them about previous diets they have tried or previous attempts to lose weight. I get varying answers, of this diet or that diet that “worked” for them in the past, but in the end those clients are right back where they started or maybe even heavier than before. So did they really “work”? In these instances though they don’t blame whatever diet they were on, but instead blame themselves for “not having enough willpower” or “not being able to stick with the program”. What they don’t see is that these diets, fasts, cleanses, supplements, whatever are destined to fail from the start. That it isn’t their lack of anything and not their own failure, but instead that the diet itself failed them.
Diets, cleanses, etc. sound really great and promising in the beginning, but are not sustainable long term and are built for only short term results. This realization that it isn’t our fault, but the fault of the diets themselves is the ONE thing that if more people could accept and embrace we would all be a lot healthier both physically and mentally.
You might be asking if diets don’t work and are only short term fixes, what do we do instead? We want to take advantage of this motivation to change and do things differently in the New Year, but how can you do that in a way that makes you feel empowered and successful rather than defeated?
Your best bet is to take the focus off weight and put it on health and habits. I know this goes against everything we’ve been taught and what popular culture believes, but weight is just a symptom or result of unhealthy habits. Until we change our underlying habits to healthier ones those old habits will always sneak back in to sabotage us, no matter what diet or detox we go on. Here are some things to think about:
Avoid the all-or-nothing trap. Cleanses, detox’s, and strict plans and diets are the perfect example of all-or-nothing thinking that ultimately lead to failure, again not because we have failed, but because they are built to fail and are not sustainable. They are rampant and do not improve your health, either physically or mentally, in the long run, no matter how good the person peddling them makes them sound. Make a pact with yourself that you will not fall prey to this way of thinking yet again.
Make goals that are small, manageable, and realistic. From years of working with clients I know how it feels to want to lose the weight NOW and it is easy to think that setting grandiose, overly ambitious goals is the only way to accomplish that. In actuality though if we can break those larger goals down into more realistic and manageable mini goals that is where we can find the motivation to keep going. Maybe your larger goal is to eat better and as a result lose a few pounds, instead of going drastic, try mini goals. Maybe your mini goals are: 1. Have a fruit or vegetable at each meal, 2. Eat snacks that are real food, instead of processed, packaged crackers, bars, and chips, and 3. Eat the majority of your meals at home or from your own kitchen, instead of out. Write your goals down and check in with them often. Work on just a few things at a time instead of everything all at once. Making goals that are realistic and achievable makes them far more sustainable and more apt to create the changes you want over the long term.
Plan for obstacles and barriers. Thinking that just because you made a goal and have good intentions that it is going to be picture perfect is not realistic. Challenges will come up, you can count on it. When making a goal ask yourself, “what might get in the way of that?” If you plan for barriers in advance and know they will happen you will be better prepared for when they do. If you are repeating the same goals over and over but not finding success it can be helpful to think about what it was that tripped you up in the past and find a different approach.
Think about the “why” behind your goals. Connecting with the deeper reasons for what is behind the goals and reminding yourself of those reasons often can help to keep you on track. Maybe you want to improve your health to be a better example for your kids or you want to avoid the heart disease or diabetes that your Mom or Dad had. Whatever the reasons, knowing them can help keep you motivated. I encourage clients to create their own “why” statement, write it down and put it in multiple places – on the bathroom mirror, on the fridge, in the car – to remind them why they are working every day to make better choices.
Remind yourself how awesome you are. We are our own worst critic. We think that if we berate ourselves enough – Jillian Michaels style – that that is what will keep us motivated. On the contrary, it is positive self talk, not excessive expectations and harsh self-judgement, that drives us to change habits. Our thoughts and beliefs about ourselves are powerful and greatly impact our mood and confidence, as well as our ability to reach our goals. Notice how you speak to yourself and when you recognize negative self-talk, immediately replace that thought with something more positive. The more you do it, the more that positive self talk will become the norm.
The answer to seeing different results in 2019 is to approach your resolutions and goals in this New Year with a different mindset and break the cycle of years past. Self change is not easy, but is possible when you approach it with the right mindset and small, manageable, realistic goals.
Need help putting everything together, staying accountable, knowing which steps to take next? That’s where I come in. I’m here if you need me.