At this time of year, many people's minds are on losing weight. And in our society, what is the default solution for being overweight?
Go on a diet.
Despite depressing statistics that dieting doesn't work and that most people's New Year's weight loss plans don't last more than a couple of weeks, why do we keep repeating the same process each year?
Most people I speak to, tell me that they realise dieting doesn't work. And yet when they tell me their new plan for losing weight, it invariably sounds suspiciously like a diet.
Part of the confusion arises because the general catch-all advice for losing weight is "eat less and exercise more". I've ranted before about why that is useless (unhelpful) advice. But part of the reason it persists is that the advice also happens to be true.
And the unfortunate conclusion that most people make is:
To lose weight = eating less
Dieting = eating less
Therefore: to lose weight, I must diet.
But dieting as it is practiced by most people is not just about eating less. Dieting is a mentality and an approach that undermines a person's ability to achieve long term weight loss.
If we were to break it down, dieting is about:
1. Making drastic changes
2. Focussing purely on short term weight loss
3. Putting up with unpleasantness in order to get to your goal.
And I might add, when I talk about focussing on the short term, I include any weight loss programme that you would be unhappy to keep doing for longer than a month or two. That, unfortunately excludes most of them.
This short term focus is the root of all weight loss failure. Just as you wouldn't brush your teeth once and expect your teeth to be healthy forever, why would you expect a one month diet to solve your weight problems for the rest of your life?
When people try dieting and fail, they arrive at the wrong conclusion. Instead of blaming the approach, they blame themselves. They give up. We have to realise that dieting is not the solution. It is part of the problem.
But of course, it's not enough to rail against the shortcomings of diets, without providing an alternative.
So here is my 5 point plan for breaking the diet cycle and adopting a healthier more sustainable approach:
1. Think of weight maintenance not weight loss.
Losing weight is not helpful if you gain it all back. It's better to think of how you can make changes that will ensure you maintain your healthy weight for the long term
2. Only make changes you know you can stick with forever
Forever is a long time, but that's the way you need to think about this. There's no point deciding to run two miles every morning, if in the back of your mind, you know that you won't want to be doing this for longer than a few weeks.
3. Make it pleasant
The natural follow on from point 2, is that if it's something you're going to be doing for the rest of your life, it has to be pleasant. Unpleasant changes are easily jettisoned at the first sign of difficulty.
4. Make small changes.
You don't need to make drastic changes. Drastic changes are more likely to fail. Make changes that you know you can handle. You would be surprised at how small the changes need to be. The fact is small changes add up over time.
5. Always take a long-term perspective.
There will always be ups and downs. Think of managing your weight as a lifelong commitment. Just because there is trouble along the way, doesn't mean you should give up. People who have successful marriages, endure the difficult times. The same is true of managing your weight. The only way you can fail at managing your weight is if you give up.
Even though most diets fail and more and more people are becoming overweight, we still turn to them (especially at this time of year) as a solution. This has to stop.
Dieting doesn't work. There are better, healthier alternatives. Let's make 2012 the year that dieting became history .