I’ve never been on a diet that worked long term. I don’t have the patience to measure food, count points and calories, or think about my macronutrient (protein, carb, fat) intake. And I don’t want to wear a watch that tracks what I eat because it feels like an obsessive behavior that sucks the joy out of food.
Food is a lot of things: fun, social, fuel for your body, sensual, enjoyable, satisfying. But it should never be the enemy and tracking what you eat definitely shouldn’t be a part-time job.
So why are we obsessing over our food intake and never losing weight for good?
And it is not all your fault.
It’s not your fault that just trying to eat well is riddled with guilt, frustration, and confusion. You are constantly bombarded with terrible advice from well meaning parents, friends, blog posts, magazine articles, and TV pundits who preach “exercise more!” and “cut back!”.
Does it make your head spin that there are so many apps and programs out there to help you micromanage what your grandparents (and people who live in the Blue Zones) could do without effort?
Running your life by calorie charts, carb charts, and fitness apps that calculate the nutritional or caloric value of everything you eat or having a app bot text you on whether you should eat a raisin or a grape- is no way to live.
It’s time to graduate from diets. Even though pounds may drop temporarily, many of us regain the weight – then feel bad about it. And it’s not because we’re all unmotivated or lazy. It’s because diets are deeply flawed.
Here’s how diets are deeply flawed:
1. They rely on extreme motivation. Which is something most of us have in abundance on week one, but that is difficult to sustain.
Diets require us to use our motivation and willpower EVERY SINGLE TIME WE PUT FOOD INTO OUR MOUTHS. Whether we’re busy, stressed, tired, or cranky, diets tell us we HAVE to use our limited willpower first thing in the morning, every day, every meal, every snack...forever.
The results look something like this:
As you can see, the motivation trend is not your friend. Before long we give up, it's all too hard and life (this big beautiful life) gets in the way.
Thank you Ramit Sethi for the graph inspiration.
2. Even if we’re “successful,” we're never really free from “focusing on food.”
Congrats! You’ve counted every calorie and macro-nutrient for 365 days. You have really enjoyed yourself and loved eating right? Probably not. All that work, and at the end of the day even if you look and physically feel pretty good, it’s still complicated, a lot of effort, and really no fun...which isn't sustainable.
What is a Big Win?
Let's compare two people trying to lose weight.
Mary struggled with weight throughout high school and college. Nothing serious, just 10-15 lbs that she would gain and lose over and over again. After she had kids, her weight popped up another 15lbs and she found herself feeling uncomfortable in her clothes and constantly in conflict with food. She decided to really commit to weight loss and a healthy life, she found apps that counted her calories, how much she moved, and how much she slept. She kept a log of what she ate and even had an app and a coach that reviewed what she ate every day/week. She made progress, even lost weight, but when she took an honest look at her life she realized so much of her day was consumed with thinking food, planning meals and feeling good or bad about herself because of what she ate or didn't eat or what an app told her. She may have lost the weight but she was not definitely not free.
Elaine was a chubby kid. Her family was heavy and she just assumed that genetically she was destined to be overweight. By her own words she was a fat adult. She didn't sugar coat it, that is how she described herself. She dieted, tried most fad diets and even though she knew they weren't healthy the promise of losing weight always pulled her in. But at 45 she had an epiphany, "The restrictive obsessive diets that focused on micro managing everything she ate, weren't working." Instead she decided to harness what she knew from so many years of studying food and behavior change. Eat more plants, structure your meals and snacks and enjoy your body. She stopped counting calories.
She planned her meals, and didn't put food in her body that triggered overeating.
It was a bold move. Within months she had lost much of the weight that had plagued her for years.(37 lbs) She had more energy and picked up an old hobby again, gardening.
What is the difference between these two people?
Mary focused on tiny, meaningless tactics that experts told her she “should” do. Elaine, who successfully lost weight and obsessive focus on food, focused on doing a few important things, and mastering them. She focused on Big Wins.
Big wins are the 3-5 actions that can significantly impact your diet, health, and life. – such as transitioning to whole, plant-based foods, and stocking your pantry with healthy choices.
The beautiful part about Big Wins is you do the work up front — and they pay rewards for the rest of your life. One decision to eat plant-based whole foods means you never have to count calories again. Imagine that! (Not to mention you are doing more to improve your health than any amount of calorie counting and exercise ever could.)
Next time you hear the same old tired advice on dieting — track macro-nutrients or count calories — ask yourself: Has that really worked for the millions of people who’ve tried it? Are they really not “trying hard enough?” Or is there perhaps a systemic problem urging people to waste their limited willpower on near-meaningless tasks with little reward? Should we instead focus on high-leverage areas that will result in massive payoffs?
Put another way — how can we focus on using Big Wins so we can enjoy eating (and life) again?