Quit Diets and Never Pick Up Another
2010 marks the beginning of not just a new year, but a new decade.
Rather than using this as an excuse to set and/or stick to diet
resolutions of years past, consider setting an anti-resolution
to stop the cycle:
Decide today to quit diets and never pick up another one.
For some people chronic dieting is a way of life. Structured
diets help us feel secure and in control of our fate, while giving
us something to strive for and accomplish.
In a twisted way, diets can be comforting and giving them up
can be as difficult for some as quitting smoking.
But most people are not trying to stop dieting, they are trying
to do it better. Dieting is usually seen as a positive ambition,
a form of self-improvement.
But what if diets do more harm than good? What if they lower
instead of raise your quality of life?
Weight loss and better health through food and exercise are wonderful
aspirations, but contrary to popular wisdom they are not synonymous
with dieting. If your goals are long-term and not for specific
or imminent events, then dieting will never help you achieve them.
Healthy eating and regular exercise need to be your default,
automatic behaviors and not a special case scenario; weight loss
diets by definition are temporary-an exception, not the rule.
This is another way of saying our daily, habitual behaviors are
unhealthy and promote weight gain.
Typical diets address the symptom, but ignore the problem.
Most of us will sidestep this logic by convincing ourselves that
once our desired weight loss is achieved through dieting (and
that's a big IF it is achieved) we will enter into a "maintenance
stage." But maintenance is only a theoretical purgatory that
looks just like the original diet dressed up to be a little sexier.
The real test of a diet's success is not weeks or months, but
years and decades later. And since we never think of diets on
these long time scales, most will fail eventually. This is an
uphill battle of regular slip-ups and constant restriction.
How about a different strategy?
This decade instead of picking a diet with the goal of losing
X number of pounds, decide on a list of healthy habits you want
to adopt over the next several months and years that will help
you reach your long-term health goals. Building habits may not
result in the same quick results you'd experience on a traditional
diet (though they can), but you will continue to see results for
many months and the changes will be permanent.
Habits take approximately 4-6 weeks to form, and most people
can only adopt 2-3 new habits simultaneously. Use your list to
set up short-term behavioral goals throughout the year to gauge
To start, choose the habits that are easiest and most fun for
you personally. Set an end date to examine your progress in 1-2
months. Write it in your calendar and set aside 15-30 minutes
that day for the analysis. (e.g. By February 15, I will bring
my own lunch to work at least 4 days a week).
Remember that habits can be either positive or negative, such
as the proactive taking the stairs at least twice per day versus
the reductive limiting dessert to once per week. A good strategy
is to pair a negative habit with a positive one that can replace
it. For instance, limit red meat to once per week pairs nicely
with eat fish 3 times per week, particularly if you are accustomed
to eating lots of protein.
Once you have successfully integrated a few new habits into your
healthstyle, pick 1 or 2 more for the following months. Continue
to add new habits, minimize bad ones and assess your progress
at regular intervals. Start now, and don't wait until next January
to evaluate your results.
By the end of 2010 you should be able to adopt 5-10 new habits
that will significantly improve your health both immediately and
in decades to come. As your health improves, your goals may evolve
to reflect new and possibly more advanced ambitions. This is good,
it means you're making progress.
Not everyone will have the same aspirations or be able to tolerate
the same daily routines, so you should think carefully and set
goals you think you can achieve. Whenever possible, try to write
your goals in specific rather than general terms. For example,
instead of writing eat more vegetables, write eat something green
at both lunch and dinner.
Don't get hung up on setting guidelines you can follow 100% of
the time, the goal is to set routines you can achieve most of
the time. Remember, exceptions are okay and an inevitable part
of life. For this exercise we are focusing on what you do as habit.
That is, your average meals where you have control over what you
Here are just a few examples of healthy habits to get you started,
but these are only meant as inspiration. Spend some time making
your own list and assigning priority to each habit. If you have
any questions or suggestions, please write them below in the comments.
Healthy habits for a new decade
1. Make vegetables the centerpiece of dinner at least 5 days
2. Limit dessert to once per week or less.
3. Replace soda with sparkling water during lunch.
4. Do not eat from the bread basket at restaurants.
5. Include legumes in at least 4 meals per week.
6. Take the stairs to the office at least 4 times per week.
7. Eat breakfast everyday.
8. Do not eat foods with added sugar.
9. Shop at the farmers market every weekend.
10. Put down your fork between each bite of food.
What's on your list?
Darya is a scientist, foodie and advocate of local, seasonal
foods. For more healthy
eating tips visit her blog Summer Tomato. You can also connect
with Darya on Twitter @summertomato
January 7, 2010