I don’t think I know anyone who actually enjoys going on a diet. Do you? Diets are just a means to an end, a temporary misery that we endure in the name of losing weight or getting healthy. But even though diets are temporary, it often doesn’t feel that way. Instead, it goes something like this: Go on a diet > give it your all > screw up > feel bad > eat more > go on another diet > do great for a while > screw up again > feel bad > eat more, etc, etc, etc. It’s called the Diet Cycle, and it’s what keeps the diet industry thriving. It’s the never-ending cycle of wanting to get healthier but constantly feeling guilty about doing it “wrong” and always failing. It’s a nightmare most people want so badly to wake up from!
Wanting to be a healthier version of the already-awesome you is a very respectable goal. We envision eating wholesome foods (and enjoying them!), effortlessly passing up the sugary stuff we’ve been told is “bad,” always finding time to get in some fun exercise, and generally enjoying our existence on this earth. Sounds pretty lovely, right? If that utopia is your goal, I can tell you two things: 1) It IS possible, and 2) Diets are NOT going to get you there.
The Diet Cycle is NOT the key to your success
I know, I know. You’ve been told for as long as you can remember that the “answer,” or “key,” to weight loss is a diet. If you haven’t been successful, it’s just because you haven’t found the rightdiet yet, they say. Each diet promises to help you be more successful than the previous one. Each one promises you’ll lose weight if you just follow their rules. And man, oh man, that is tempting! Like “Yes! Someone found the answer and all I have to do is follow exactly what they say!” It seems so easy. We leave it up to the “expert” who created the diet. We relinquish control because we’ve convinced ourselves that we can’t be trusted. They tell us it’s easy, and we believe them.
And then, we fail (or really, the diet fails), and the cycle starts again. That Diet Cycle is THE reason many people never reach the peaceful relationship with food that they’re ultimately seeking. The Diet Cycle is THE reason you’re not finding the peace with food that you’re seeking.
So How Do We Break the Cycle and Get Healthier?
If the answer to better health (and weight loss) isn’t a diet, what is the answer? The answer, dear reader, is to practice healthy skills. I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating (over and over again if need be). Diets fail because they’re miserable, they’re unsustainable, and they’re short-lived by their very nature. The key then, is in the long game.
Envision that healthy person you’re striving to be. How does that person act? What do they do that makes them healthy in your eyes? Every healthy action or behavior that the healthy-version-of-you does, is simply a learned skill.
Perhaps there are skills you need that you haven’t learned yet. That’s expected, and normal, and totally okay! Just because you haven’t done something successfully yet, doesn’t mean you can’t learn. And once you learn, you simply practice. As often as you can.
Practice Means Progress
This is a key place where the diet cycle, or diet mentality, differs from the skills-based approach we use with our clients: With skills, there is no ON or OFF, every piece of practice is valuable. With diets, you’re either doing it, or not. And when you “go off the diet” it feels like failure, and it becomes hard to get back on the proverbial wagon, for fear of failing again.
But long-term health isn’t about guilt-trips for not being perfect on a given day. There IS no “perfect.” There are just actions or behaviors that can be practiced. The more you practice, the better you get. You can’t undo your previous practice by missing a day. You just practice again next time. No problemo.
Some Awesome Skill Analogies!
I love analogies, and this idea of skills, and constantly improving through practice (even when practice isn’t perfect) is illustrated well in so many ways:
Riding a bike is a skill. You’re not good at it when you start, and you fall down a lot. But you keep practicing, getting a little bit better each time. Eventually, with enough practice, you become a person who can ride a bike. Sure, you still need to pay attention so you don’t crash into a tree! But you know how to do it, and one fall due to an unexpected obstacle doesn’t mean that you’ve completely lost all ability of how to ride the bike. You don’t even need to practice every single day, but whenever you DO practice, you get better.
Learning a new language is a skill. You certainly don’t become fluent overnight, but you practice, and each time you do, you get better. Even if you miss a few days of practice, you don’t forget everything right away. You keep practicing, and you keep getting better. Eventually you become someone who can speak Italian (or whatever other language strikes your fancy).
Any sport you can think of, is a skill. Sure, some people are born with more talent than others, but every single person you know who does well at a sport has practiced their ass off to get to that point. If you want to golf, you practice your swing. Want to dance? Practice your choreography and technique. Trying to win an Olympic swimming medal? Go practice laps and strokes and breathing, etc. With practice, you become a golfer, or dancer, or swimmer.
Put in the Practice to BE that Healthy Person You Envision.
That peaceful relationship with food and eating that we ALL want is possible. It’s the result of practicing the actions and behaviors of a person who values their health, happiness, and sanity. If being healthy is a personal value for you (and I hope that is), put in the practice to help you learn how to do that, how to BE that.
Perfection is never, ever the goal. I don’t eat “perfectly” or follow “rules” about food. What do I do? Simple actions, each day, that speak to my value of being a healthy and balanced person.
I don’t avoid sugar, or gluten, or meat, or anything else that someone somewhere is telling you you must avoid.
I eat when I’m hungry.
I avoid overeating.
I enjoy a healthy balance of nourishing foods and the less-nutritious sugary stuff.
I do exercise I enjoy, when it’s enjoyable to do it.
I take time to relax and be kind to myself.
Life is about balance
You DO NOT need to do any healthy behavior, or action, or skill perfectly. Things will come up that make you alter course some days, and that’s okay. Your practice until that point is not lost, and you can get back to practicing and improving at the next meal, or day, or whatever. Give yourself grace to NOT be perfect. Just keep practicing.
Your peaceful relationship with food, and your embodying of that healthy person you envision, is just some practicing away.