We all know by now that you cannot out train a bad diet.
But when someone says “changing your diet”, 90% of people’s minds immediately go to eating boxes of steamed broccoli, being the person who says “no” all the time, never having dessert, and certainly never having anything resembling any fun.
If you build it up to be a big enough deal in your head, and you can successfully convince yourself it’s too much, and thus absolve yourself of any responsibility for changing (congratulations, you have an excuse to continue sitting around eating Cheez-its!).
Being a grown-up, though, requires taking responsibility for yourself and your own actions. So what could you do instead?
You could start by taking genuine stock of what you are eating now. Watch yourself carefully to see what you’re up to. It’s best to write it down for 3-7 days in a notebook, because no one can remember everything they ate in a week.
I know, I know. Everyone already eats really healthily, never has anything “bad” and just has this mysterious belly they need to lose that they can’t figure out because their diet is already perfect…but humour me for 3-7 days and write it down.
Spoiler alert: What you’ll find is:
- You eat less protein than you thought.
- You eat less vegetables and fruit than you thought.
- You eat larger servings of starches, sugars and processed foods than you thought. And more often too.
Having taken stock of your diet, you should then ask yourself the following question:
“What’s one thing that I could do to make this just a tiny bit better next week?”
You’ll find something pretty quickly…if you actually want to look.
The trick is to do it. Pick ANYTHING, and actually do it. And then keep doing it.
It should be something that is small enough that you can make it work, but large enough that it makes a small difference.
“Include a serving of protein with 2 meals every day” would be pretty good.
“Begin alternate-day fasting, with raw, organic vegetables harvested with a golden sickle under a full moon” would not.
Some people can take on more than others.
If you’re a full-time athlete being funded by the state, maybe you can jump straight into the perfect diet. If you’re a single working parent of multiple young children, maybe just remembering to eat twice per day would be a great first move.
Everyone has got their own level of tolerance for new habits, and it’s lower than you think. Aim small. If you think it’s “too easy” to have 1 extra serving of protein per day, go prove it. Do it without fail every day for 2 weeks and see.
What you’ll discover is that old habits are powerful, and they will call out to you constantly. The human brain does not like too much change. We like to do what we’ve always done, because we feel like it is “safe”. New habits are stressful at first, but when you persevere, they become easy over time.
When whatever you changed about your diet starts becoming automatic, that’s the time to add something new. Take stock of where you have now gotten to, ask yourself again how you could make it just a tiny bit better, pick a new thing and GO DO IT.
If you repeat small incremental changes like that for a year, you’ll have a new body by the end of it. If you make it so hard that you can’t keep it up, or even worse, so hard that you never even get started, you won’t get anywhere.
You’ve got to get your ego out of the picture, and have enough humility to actually make a small change.
Big changes are very grand. Swooping in, overhauling your whole life and posting moody black&white photos with hardcore quotes on social media will get you lots of likes and convince people you’re making great progress from the outside…but you know what’s going on.
You’ve tried that crap before and it didn’t work. Lose a bunch of weight, have to stop because it was too hard to keep up, put the weight back on again, rinse and repeat. Gets a bit boring after a while.
Little changes won’t get you “likes”. People in the office aren’t going to notice and comment admiringly on your new habit of chewing your food slowly and stopping when you’re 80% full. But that will get results. And it will get more results than sprinting up hills in the rain every morning at 4:45am, because you can keep doing it long enough for it to work.
So that’s all well and good, but what if you’ve got way too much going on in your life already to make ANY positive changes? You haven’t got the time, or the mental space to do anything with your diet, and it’s too much for right now. There are 2 ways to move forward from here.
Firstly, AIM LOWER.
You’re thinking too big. Maybe you can’t start prepping and eating 4 meals per day right now. But could you buy an apple from that shop beside work every day and eat it on the way home so you’re not starving when it’s time for dinner?
Of course you could.
Now you might think “that’s not enough, what’s the point of doing that?”. Well, that’s 5 more pieces of fruit than you ate last week. That’s extra vitamins, minerals and fibre that will improve your energy levels a little. When you get home, you’ll have had something to eat between breakfast and 8pm, so now you won’t be totally panicked and starving. Maybe now when you order the pizza for dinner you’ll feel ok about ordering the large pizza instead of the extra large one. Now you’re eating 2000kcal of pizza instead of 2500kcal. That’s 500 less kcals per day, or 3500kcal per week. That’s 1lb of fat per week. Do that for a year and you could lose 52lbs.
Little changes have a compounding affect. When you’ve been buying your apple every day without fail for a few weeks you’ll start thinking things like “Look at me, I made a change and I stuck with it! Not bad. I wonder what else I could do? Maybe I could get up 5 minutes earlier and make some eggs for breakfast…”
And before you know it you’ve got a new life.
Still not convinced? Really can’t make even 1 little thing about your diet even a little bit better? Then the second approach you could take instead is:
Stop doing things that are making it actively worse.
Don’t think you ever actively make things worse? Then you’re probably not watching yourself very closely.
Remember the time when you ate that biscuit, and a little nagging voice somewhere in your head that you weren’t quite paying enough attention to said “oh my god, here I am eating biscuits AGAIN. I’m such a failure, I don’t deserve to lose weight anyway. It’s pointless. I might as well just eat the entire packet and go drinking for the weekend, after-all, how much fatter could I really get anyway?”
More or less everyone has done something like that at some point in their lives, and probably will again.
So the next time things start to wobble a little, practise giving yourself a break. Slipping up doesn’t negate any work you’ve been doing up to now. If you do way better with your diet for 2 weeks, and then you eat some biscuits, that doesn’t mean the last 2 weeks were for nothing. You’ve been working hard, you’ve been doing better, and those weeks were the beginnings of forming new habits that could last a lifetime if you keep going. Just because you stopped for a moment doesn’t mean you can’t start again.
If you have a wobble, it’s just a wobble. Recognise it, say “fair enough”, learn something from it and move on with your life. Don’t let it become something that spins you straight off the rails, crashing into a heap of sugar and alcohol on the floor, and leaves you wallowing in self-pity for days. A packet of biscuits beats the living hell out of 3 packets, a trip to the pub and a takeaway.
The next time you eat or drink way more than you meant to, put a mental box around it and say “OK, that wasn’t in the plan. It happened, but it’s over now and I’m moving on”.
Maybe there’s even a lesson to be extracted from it. Maybe you were too tired, too stressed out and too hungry, and maybe there are things you could do about that which would make it easier to do better in the future. Maybe you could treat it as an opportunity for learning, instead of a pity party.
Get out of bed the next day, cook your eggs, go to the gym, eat your vegetables, and get back to doing the best you can with what you’ve got at the moment.
Start small, aim low, keep going and have the courage to start again if things go wrong.
You’re tougher than you think you are, you can do more than you’re doing, and you’re perfectly capable of changing the things you want to change about your life if you approach it in the right way.
So let’s go do it.