BY DEAN ANDERSON OF SPARKPEOPLE
What comes to mind for you when you hear the word diet? If you’re like most people, you probably imagine eating carrot sticks, going to bed hungry, and giving up your favorite foods—and that’s why so many diets fail. Most people just can’t tolerate those kinds of restrictions for very long.
The more you try to eliminate your favorite foods, the more feelings of discomfort, deprivation and resentment build up. This can result in bingeing on all the foods you’ve been denying yourself, undoing all your hard work in a single day. But even if you can avoid that problem, are you willing to eat like a rabbit for the rest of your life?
Studies show that 95 percent of people who follow a highly restrictive diet to lose weight will put the weight back on when they return to “normal” eating again. So what’s the alternative? How do you manage to lose weight without eliminating the problem foods and problem behaviors that made you overweight to begin with?
The alternative is moderation—in your eating and, perhaps most importantly, in your thinking.
What is Moderation?
On the surface, moderation simply means avoiding extremes. It involves finding strategies and habits that can be maintained over the long-term, without cycling between one extreme and the other.
At a deeper level, moderation is a commitment to balance and wholeness. It is rooted in the recognition that each person has many different (and often competing) needs, desires, abilities, and goals. Living up to your full potential means finding ways to incorporate all of them into your decision-making processes and choices.
Practicing moderation in your weight loss program begins with practical strategies, such as counting calories, measuring portions, learning about your nutritional needs, and planning healthy meals. Achieving a reasonable rate of weight loss (about 1-2 pounds per week) by combining a tolerable calorie restriction with exercise is the moderate way to go. Fad diets, eliminating food groups, severely cutting calories and using diet pills are just as extreme as completely denying yourself foods that you enjoy.
The idea is to follow a healthy, balanced, and enjoyable nutrition and fitness plan that you can stick with—for life. There’s no “ending the diet” or going back to “normal” eating or anything that will cause you to regain the weight you’ve lost. When you reach your goal weight, all you need to do is gradually increase your caloric intake to a level where you can maintain your weight loss.
Sounds simple, right?
Like many things, it’s not quite as easy as it sounds. Chances are…you want results quickly. And you probably know that your current routine is problematic in one or more ways—too much fast food, sugar, or fat and not enough physical activity. Your natural inclination is going to be making big, sweeping changes to your diet and activity level right away.
In short, everything in you is clamoring for a very anti-moderate approach. You’re primed to play the extreme diet game, even though your odds of winning are less than five percent.
Moderate Your Thinking
To rescue yourself from your own impatience (and the clutches of the diet industry that feeds on it), you need to moderate your thinking. Here are two core concepts that will help you do that:
Concept #1: Food is not the enemy. There are no “good” or “bad” foods. True, some foods offer you a better nutritional deal than others. Refined sugar, for example, provides calories for energy but no other nutrients, while fruit is sweet but also provides vitamins and fiber in a low-calorie package. But refined sugar isn’t evil or bad—it can have a place in a healthy diet. It’s important to know what you need nutritionally and where you can find it, so you can take charge of balancing your needs for pleasure, nutrition, and fuel.
The Payoff: When you stop labeling foods as good or bad, diet or non-diet, you won’t feel guilty when you eat a food that isn’t on your “approved” list. Instead you’ll have more energy to learn about nutrition and improve your ability to make informed choices. And you won’t have to give up your favorite treats if you find ways to work them into your meal plans so they don’t interfere with your health goals. Without the guilt and deprivation, you’ll be able to break the pattern of cravings, emotional swings, and binges that defeats so many diets. Without all those “diet” rules to follow, you’ll learn to trust your own instincts and make good judgments.
Concept #2: Progress—not perfection—is important. To be successful, you don’t have to always make perfect decisions and have perfect days where things go exactly as you planned. If you eat more or exercise less than you wanted to one day, you can make up for it over the next several days if you want, or you can just chalk it up to experience and move on. Remind yourself that what happens on any one day is not going to make or break your whole effort. This is not a contest or a race, where every little misstep could mean the difference between winning and losing. It’s your life—and you’ll enjoy it a lot more when you can keep the daily ups and downs of your eating and exercise routine in perspective.
The Payoff: By refusing to be a perfectionist, you can take most of the stress out of weight loss. You’ll see small problems as what they are—very small problems, not major calamities that mean you’ve blown it. You’ll be able to find pleasure and satisfaction in the fact you’re learning as you go and doing a little better all the time. No more making things worse because your perfectionism caused you to write off the rest of the day or week after one little slip.
There are many more ways practicing moderation can help you both with weight loss and with creating your healthy lifestyle. Be sure to check out the new Wellness.