Mindlessly clicking through link after link of holiday food recipes and posts, looking over my own backlog of things to try and simultaneously noticing that my own experiment begins in a little more than two weeks I found myself with what I remembered to be the typically claustrophobic experience of dieting. Now I remember why in the long run it never worked for me, and why it probably never worked for anyone else either.
Why do people usually start dieting? The primary reason is often weight loss. The runner up to that answer would probably be that people just aren’t feeling right and they want to feel better. In both cases, but especially the first, the usual solution is to batten down the hatches and start some radical new diet. Perhaps there will be a “Master Cleanse” diet of drinking nothing but cayenne pepper, lemon juice and a dash of maple syrup mixed into water all day for days on end. Perhaps it will be cutting calories down to some anemic levels eating nothing but cabbage soup, or bacon and broccoli or something like that. You see the trend though don’t you? It’s all about cut cut cut.
When I was stuck in the “diet to lose weight” cycles for countless years I tried to do that a bit differently. I would try not to make it just about dropping weight fast, although I did that too. I would try to make it about actually eating the way I knew I was supposed to eat. I’d go on an 8-12 week “fitness plan” of reduced calories plus adding in sorely missing exercises. I’d then hit my goals and take a week or two “off”, meaning go back to my normal eating, and then hypothetically start another fitness plan phase. Unfortunately I never got to the second phase, I’d just coast for another many months until once again I felt the need to lose weight. What made it so hard to transition into the second phase, even with the best of intentions and with a good setup? I think it’s about how “dieting” psyches us out.
Just like I did yesterday, what do we do when we see a “diet” on our horizon. We sit there and look at all the foods we will be “depriving” ourselves of. Our mind is sitting there having a little pity party because we won’t be able to have the cookies, or the candy, or the (insert your favorite food that you are supposed to be avoiding). Can you never let a single morsel of cake touch your mouth? I suppose if the cake has something you are allergic to you might, but how often did you want to eat cake anyway? One “banned” food to the next flood your mind until you feel an overwhelming sense of dread and misery at the thought of being forced to eat nothing but bland, tasteless, unenjoyable food! Oh well, maybe I’ll think about “dieting” next week instead. It obviously sounds melodramatic, and it certainly is, however I’d wager this grand bargaining out of making a lifestyle change is probably something most people are familiar with. I call it “diet claustrophobia” because you can feel the walls caving in on you as your mind convinces you why you should just give it up and keep things status quo.
Rather than succumbing to the effects of perceived grand deprivation, it’s best to try to concentrate on a more positive point of view. For each of these phases I’m going to have to try entirely new recipes, eating styles and foods. Why not concentrate on that rather than worry about the trials and tribulations of not being able to eat a cheesecake? Why not think about the huge quantities of freshly picked and cooked vegetables that I’d probably end up skimping on to make room for said cheesecake more often than I should. I can also look forward to a much more vibrant palate since it won’t have been deadened by overly salty and/or sweet processed foods. Since our brains are wired to automatically shift to the Eeyore claustrophobia mindset, I can’t say that the positive way is all that satisfying. It is however a way to stop yourself from bargaining your way out of making positive steps towards improving your health.
The bigger thing to remember in all of this is that nothing is written in stone. The foods you currently love will not disappear from the planet, should you choose to go back to them. There will of course be new favorites that pop up, as is true for life in general, but some of those old ones will kick around. Having a few bites of those on special occasions or every once in awhile, isn’t necessarily a bad thing either. If the thought that you can never have your current favorite food again is stopping you from eating healthy most of the time, then grant yourself the fact you will indulge from time to time. Unless that indulgence is very healthy, which is probably not the case since it is a mental road block from changing eating behaviors, that shouldn’t become a staple item. However think of it more as it’s always available for a bite or two, but not something that will be a daily treat.