Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Cycle of Dieting

I hesitated to put the word "Dieting" in the title because it seems like everyone is trying to say that a healthier eating program is "not a diet."  But to me, changing your eating from your usual habits is going on a diet, even one that you can stick with for a long, long time.  So that's what I'm going to call it.

Now that THAT's out of the way, let's get to the heart of this with The Cycle of Dieting.........

Have you ever heard someone say something like this:
I read this book (or a blog ☺) about healthy eating by blah, blah, blah and from that very moment, I decided that I was going to change my eating.  I've been eating this way for the past 10 months and I feel fantastic!  
What?  Who does this? I know these people are for real because I've heard this in some variation many times.  But I'm not one of them.  I have failed far more attempts at changing my eating than I have succeeded.  The big picture is that my eating has changed drastically from 12 years ago.  The fine print, however, is an exhausting pattern of making some changes, doing fantastic for a little while, then somehow tripping up and ending up not sticking with it.  It's pretty frustrating, but if I can see it for what it is and realize that I do continue making progress and I shouldn't be so hard on myself.   However, I know it's got to be better for my health to be more consistent.  And this Cycle of Dieting can get old real fast.

When I first looked into cutting dairy out of my diet (there's that word again!), I read Marilu Henner's books. In her first book Total Health Makeover (published in 2000), she calls this cycle of not sticking with a diet as "The Rainbow Theory."   Even though it doesn't describe me perfectly, it certainly hit home and made me feel happy that I wasn't the only one that went through this pattern over and over.  You can read her version if you'd like, but here's how I see it happening for me.  And I doubt I'm the only one.  How many people start a diet and can't last much more than a week? (if they're lucky to get that far).

I'll just group mine in stages:

  • Stage 1 -- Revelation! --   You're starting a new diet!  You've discovered and you're convinced that this way of eating is going to improve your health AND help you shed a few pounds -- GREAT! Why would you want to eat any other way?  Of course you're not going to start today (there's a wedding this weekend, you have friends coming in from out of town, it's not a Monday -- diet changes always work better when you start on a Monday). So you start to plan and prepare for the new you.  Buy plenty of groceries, find a friend who will join you or better yet, sign up for an Facebook group for support.  This is going to be great!  
  • Stage 2 -- Celebration! -- You start your diet -- yay!  It's so fun to see how you feel.  Sure you may feel some detox (there's a ton of information on that, so headaches, grouchiness, feeling like you can't stay awake past 7:00 -- Bring it on!  You've got this and you're excited to continue!
  • Stage 3 -- Making Progress -- You've seen some improvements -- you're feeling lighter, more energetic, and are sleeping better.  You're not even missing the old food.  You're not sure you want to go out to dinner, though -- that may be too tempting.  You bow out of a dinner invitation until you think you can master that.  You don't really tell your close friends what you're doing yet because you'd rather just get a bit more confident and comfortable with it.
  • Stage 4 -- Settling In -- You are starting to feel like this way of eating is something you can live with for a long time. You might nibble on this or that occasionally, but it's okay if you're not 100% all the time.  We're all human and all your friends and relatives who don't eat this way aren't that bad off.  In fact, they're probably having a lot of fun eating that way.  Still, you can see the value of sticking with it and stick with it, you will!  You really need to stock up on more fresh foods though.
  • Stage 5 -- Too comfortable / Off guard -- You decide to order french fries when you're out for lunch with friends.  You don't really want fries, but their house salad isn't that good and you used to love eating fries when you ate out with your grandma many years ago. Just a few won't hurt.  Well, since I had those fries, maybe I should eat that chocolate that's up in my cupboard when I get home. I Then I won't be tempted by it anymore --  after all, I did already get off track a bit with the fries.
  • Stage 6 -- Fickle -- I really should get back to my eating plan, but I just want to bake some cookies.  I haven't baked cookies in a long time.  Maybe after this weekend, I'll get back to my healthy eating plan.  Besides, I won't eat that many cookies.
  • Stage 7 -- Remorse / Re-commitment (three weeks later after eating sugar, sugar, sugar) --Why did I blow it?  Can't I ever have some self-control?  I really need to get back on track.  *sigh!*

Marilu Henner says that it's really the most practical to stay somewhere in that middle range -- between Stages 3 and 4.  We can't all stay hyped up over our new goals forever -- it's kind of a honeymoon phase actually. It's energizing and fun, but day to day situations come and it's more realistic to stay in your stages of Making Progress (even if gradual, stagnant, or unnoticeable to others) and Settling In.

As you feel settled in, if you find yourself veering off  your path a bit, plan ahead for the next day so that won't happen again.   A wise man once said (okay, it was a man on Facebook named Scott Zimmerman who has reversed his heart disease my changing his diet to a whole food/plant based (WFPB) diet, but I'd still call him a wise man):
Planning trumps willpower. By that I mean carefully planning your meals and your snacks. If you rely on willpower, you will fail. 
He also had great advice to times that you don't stick to your goals completely (after sharing an experience of how he was in a remote place one day, got really hungry and ended up eating off plan at a restaurant because there were no healthy choices):
Here's my point: It was a learning experience. I don't need to beat myself up over it. I just need to learn from it. I need to learn the lesson that I have learned over and over again: The WFPB diet requires planning. 
So that's it.  Don't let yourself go through all the stages from start to finish.  Start if you must and even celebrate when you do if you'd like.  But there should be no finish line with healthy eating.  There may be a slight deviation, but it doesn't need to be a detour.  Realize what you need to do so that won't happen again and continue onward.  TTFN!

Diet Police Photo by Lydia via Creative Commons
Rainbow Photo by USFWS Pacific Region  via Creative Commons 
Path Photo by Loren Kerns via Creative Commons


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