I recently read a statistic saying that the dieting is a 40 billion dollar per year industry. When surveyed women said they would trade five years of their life to meet their weight goals (for men it was three). Browsing the self-help section of any bookstore clearly shows our countries preoccupation with dieting. Unfortunately, I think that what is currently out there is mostly hype and very little substance. While I believe that many diet authors honestly believe they are helping people lose weight, I believe they are usually trying to change the minor problems in the dieting process rather than addressing the root issues.
I am not and I have never been a “dieter”. Being young and staying active, I have been able to stay fit and healthy. Several months ago, however, I made a very dramatic diet change in order to further improve my health. I switched my entire diet to remove all animal products (meat, dairy, eggs). In addition I removed virtually all of the junk food from my diet. When people take a look at my eating habits I usually get one of two responses. “Are you insane?” is the first one. I take perceived insanity as a by-product of living to the fullest, so I appreciate that one. “I admire your self-discipline.” is the second one. The funny thing is that my diet doesn’t require any self-discipline to maintain and is actually quite easy to continue.
I have very different views about what allows someone to successfully change their diet. I don’t believe that permanent diet change is easy in the beginning, but I do believe that a successful, permanent diet change is possible without relying on self-discipline. Considering the rising obesity rates in America along with the scores of failed diets, I would like to share with you what I feel are the nine critical components that allowed me to completely and permanently change my diet.
1) Condition the Habit
This applies for every single habit you want to change. You must condition an alternative to your habit. I wrote heavily about this process in my habitual mastery series, so I suggest reading the article on conditioning to get ideas on changing your habits. Conditioning is simply the process of repeatedly and consciously following a pattern until it is reinforced in your mind as a habit.
The 30 Day Trial is the method I use for changing habits. Popularized by self-help blogger, Steve Pavlina, the 30 Day Trial comes from other 21 Day Trial and short-term conditioning methods. The premise behind the trial is that after 30 Days reinforcing a particular habit or behavior you will no longer require willpower to run it. Once a habit is conditioned it no longer requires discipline or effort to maintain. Getting to this threshold is critical if you want permanent dietary success.
If you are planning to change any habit, I would suggest reading the Habitual Mastery series. In the series I previously identify the five key areas for making habit changes easier, more successful and even fun.
2) Love the Foods in Your Diet
Does thinking about eating the foods in your diet make you cringe with thoughts of self-sacrifice? Do you imagine being stuck with bland, dull and boring foods while your friends go and enjoy delicious and seductive cakes, fries and ice cream? If this is the case, stop right now. Your diet has already failed.
You must associate pleasurable emotions to the foods in your diet. Finding foods that are healthy and taste great is a must. If you constantly expect yourself to be stuck with bland and dull foods, you will never make a long term change. Find foods that fit within your diet that you find tasty, exciting and pleasurable. Look for various spices and exotic foods to try and mix up your dishes. Spicy foods are often very healthy so if you enjoy hot foods, that can be an excellent way to make your meals tasty and flavorful. Even if your need for heat is more pedestrian, other flavors can be added easily to foods without reducing their health benefits. Try buying different spices or sauces to make each meal an adventure.
Be stubborn in your pursuit of finding foods you will love. This is critical. When I started my vegetarian diet, it took me awhile before I found a lot of foods I liked that fit into the new category. More importantly there were tons of foods that I tried and absolutely hated. I remained incredibly stubborn. I would not give up until I had a large variety of foods that I absolutely loved in my diet. It took me about twenty meals of cooking tofu until I found a way to cook the stuff so it tasted good. If you want to find foods you love you need to be patient, creative and have faith.
Once you have found a lot of foods you love that fit within your diet, everything is easy. Instead of relying on unhealthy junk to fill your need for flavor and satisfaction, you will have an assortment of foods that are healthy and taste great. Don’t make flavor and fun a sacrifice of your diet, make a way to have both.
3) Aim For Health Not Weight Loss
Many diets out there today will create weight loss, but ask most nutritionists and they will tell you that they are not healthy for you. Weight loss can come from a variety of things, only one of them being healthy. People who are dying of cancer tend to lose weight too, but that isn’t usually the result of eating more broccoli. Aiming for weight loss can allow you to find diets that don’t promote health, but a unhealthy method of shedding pounds.
Long term diet success relies on the fact that your diet is inherently healthy. Don’t look for fad diets. Chances are you already know tons of things you shouldn’t and should be eating without picking up a book. It doesn’t take a diet book to tell you to stop eating french fries. Aim for health, not weight loss and you can ensure that your diet is successful in the long term, not just the short term.
4) Learn to Eat Differently Than Others
In order to successfully run a diet you must learn to eat foods that are different from the people around you. This is a subtle, but critical, point. If you feel compelled to eat whatever your friends, family or dinner guests are eating you will sabotage your diet at any social interaction. If you feel compelled to eat a slice of birthday cake, just because everyone in the office is doing the same, every time someone feels like celebrating you will break your diet.
I have a fortunate ability in this regard. From infancy I have had allergies to dairy products and nuts. As a result, from early childhood and upwards I became very accustomed to not eating what other people were eating. In birthdays and restaurants I got used to not eating anything while other people would eat extravagant deserts and treats. I was fortunate to be given this skill, because most people cannot resist temptation when everyone around them is eating treats. I have a recent experience going to a steakhouse for a family members birthday. Seeing as there wasn’t a single entree without meat, I had them prepare me a larger plate of steamed vegetables and to get some of the bread for appetizers. I’m used to not eating what everyone else is, so eating some steamed vegetables while everyone else is eating sirloin steak wasn’t a problem. For most people that would have been torturous.
Many of the people around you will not be making healthy food choices. If every time someone near you eats something that doesn’t fit within your diet and you struggle with temptation, your diet will never last. Learning to be unique and different is a skill that is necessary in all areas of life. If you want to adopt a healthy diet but can’t handle being different, you have no hope.
Practice this ability by conditioning yourself to eat foods different than the people around you. It is important to make this step gradually. You want to build your familiarity and comfort with different dietary choices, but if you go to McDonald’s to practice not eating a Big Mac and you give into temptation you’re sunk. Try gradually conditioning yourself to eat food that is different from the other people around you. The key here is to build a skills so that you won’t break your diet even if you don’t have any tasty food that fits your diet and other people are eating something decadent. Although you should plan your life to make these moments in the minority, some discipline when they inevitably arise can prevent you from making a mistake you will later regret.
5) Think Long-term
Short-term diet changes are fairly easy. Long-term diet changes means you must carefully design your diet to no longer require any willpower or discipline. Long-term diet changes must also be economical and healthy for your body. If your goal is quick fixes, you can never have sustainable results.
If you are thinking that this diet change is going to be ‘just until you lose those few pounds’ then you can never keep the weight off permanently. Diet changes have to be a lifestyle change. This is why I think vegetarian diets are often more successful than other diets. When someone says they are becoming a vegetarian, that is not just a behavioral change, it is an identity change. The person that becomes a vegetarian doesn’t usually stipulate it will only be for three months.
Regardless of whether you adopt a vegetarian diet or want a different method, make your diet change an identity shift. You need to make the food you eat who you are. You have to be a person that eats healthy foods in sensible portion sizes. This cannot be a temporary change, it must be a fundamental shift in who you perceive yourself to be. An identity shift in this way is not actually as difficult as it sounds. Changing who you believe yourself to be is actually far easier than trying to change a behavior without taking this step.
6) Don’t Make Exceptions, Ever!
Here is where I differ from most diet books and authors. I don’t believe that you should ever make exceptions in your diet. Period. If you really want your diet to work, it has to be something that you do for the rest of your life without exceptions. Every exception you make in an attempt to ‘treat yourself’ has the unwanted side effect of un-conditioning your habit patterns. Don’t let this happen.
If you need to make exceptions in your diet, then you really didn’t use key number two, loving the foods in your diet, it’s that simple. If you need to make a break in your diet to eat foods that are unhealthy to satisfy your urges, you cannot have long term success. If you truly love the foods you are eating, then this step really isn’t that hard. Your diet should represent the boundaries of everything you eat, not just a rule you follow most of the time.
For some people this step seems unbearable. They can’t possibly conceive sticking to a diet without exceptions for their entire life. I see it the opposite way. I think it is sickening and horrible to have to use willpower to make the foods choices you need to use every day. I think it is painful that people cannot get the body, health and vitality they deserve. I think it would be painful to have to live 95% of your time in the agony of never eating foods you truly love just to break your diet in the 5% to eat the foods you want. I love the foods I eat every day that are healthy for me.
You really can’t do key number two unless you commit to this step. Loving the foods in your diet can only come when you have to find foods you love that fit within your diet, and trust me there are many. But you won’t find them until you give up the bad foods that you currently love. Chances are you haven’t eaten 10% of all the possible foods and dishes on this planet, I know I haven’t even scratched the surface. It is a matter of stubbornness and creativity. Explore and create new options and you will find them.
7) Make it a Must
My favorite quote from Tony Robbins is when he is talking about the difference between must’s and should’s. Tony tells us that we need to make things a must in order for them to change, most people only have should’s. “I should lose weight, I should quit smoking, I should, I should, I should. The next thing you know you’ve should all over yourself,” comments Tony. I think many people are covered in should because they fail to have any must. In order for your diet change to happen, it must be a must in your life. Diet changes cannot be a should, they must be something absolutely essential to your life. Being healthy, fit, and full of energy is not a should in my life. It is an absolute must.
The number one killer in America today is heart disease. This is a disease that can be directly linked to diet. According to the research of Doctor Colin Campbell, only 3% of the risk factors for cancer are genetic. Diseases such as arthritis, macular degeneration, diabetes and Alzheimer’s all have dietary links. Diet change is not just issue of looking more attractive or having a little bit more energy. For human beings, it is a matter of life and death. Unfortunately, most of us don’t realize this until it is too late. Make your diet change a must, never a should.
8 ) Be Feasible
I commented on this factor of diets earlier, but it is worth restating. Ensure your diet is feasible for the long term. A diet that requires you to eat nothing but plankton and kelp is not likely for long term success. High-protein, low-carb diets like Atkins have a very low rate of long term success. Don’t pick diets that you can’t sustain in the long term.
This might also mean that you can’t do your entire diet transformation at once. I know many people who adopted a strict vegetarian diet started by just eliminating animal meat, then later eliminated eggs and dairy. If you don’t have the skills or willpower to make your change all at once, try splitting it into manageable parts. You may just want to try and eliminate or change your eating patterns one food at a time. If you break down the steps enough, diet change can be feasible.
9) Have a Purpose
Why are you going on a diet in the first place? To lose weight and become more attractive? Shallow goals tend to lead to shallow results. Don’t get me wrong, being attractive and having a nice body is important, but it simply isn’t inspiring enough for you to completely change your dietary lifestyle. Having a deep and committed purpose to all of your dietary changes ensures that they last for the long term.
Finding a strong compelling reason for change is the key to creating it and diet changes are no different than any other change. For myself, changing my diet meant I would have improved health and fitness. My diet also gives me more energy which means I can spend more time doing the work I love. Making this change was also a test of my own ability to take control. By having a compelling purpose for my diet change, I was able to push past a lot of initial resistance and obstacles.
Steve Pavlina once commented that the true essence behind time management was a compelling purpose. Without one, he noted, saving fifteen minutes here and there really won’t seem compelling to you. I extend this notion further. Having a compelling purpose is the real drive behind doing everything, and dietary changes are no different. If you run your life so that every single moment is being squeezed for its maximum energy, enthusiasm and passion towards an obsessive purpose, dietary changes aren’t really that hard. Diet change cannot be effective if your only reason is to look a little better or lose a little weight. A successful change works when changing your diet is associated with your ability to help others, your love and passion for life, your energy levels and your life itself.
If you forget all the other eight keys, remember this one. Why will create the necessary how. If you have a strong enough reason to change your diet, you will do it regardless of all the other concepts I have presented earlier. If your purpose in life and work is truly fulfilling and compelling, you will take seeming drastic steps just to get a little bit more out of it. Making slight adjustments in your diet to get even more energy and success out of it is only going to happen with a strong enough reason.
Are you considering changing your diet? Don’t listen to fad-diets promoting quick weight loss. Focus on building a healthy lifestyle that centers around long term health and fitness. Most people already know what they could do to eat more healthfully. Minutia such as whether to eat fish oils or ingest some extra vitamin or vegetable are only important once you’ve already refined your diet to an extremely high level. Health, energy and fitness are key components to your own personal development. Improve your diet to really get the most out of your life.
Enjoy this article? Considering changing your diet? Anyone who wants to make a change, big or small in there diet, I invite you to post it here. Getting leverage on yourself through a public commitment is a good first step in making change. Good Luck!