Here’s a tale as old as time…
Starting a Brand New Diet! – a story in three acts:
Act One: New diet rules! Excitement! Doing everything perfectly! Results!Act Two: Life happens, you can’t do it perfectly.Act Three: Quit. Eat all of the things. Despair.
That’s how most people do on diet plans. They get way overhyped for Act One, and they don’t prepare for Act Two at all.
It’s not their fault. Most diet programs tell them to do that. They’re taught to take everything as if it’s an ultimate law that can never be broken, it inevitably follows then that they’re entirely unprepared for life happening, and they get totally smashed.
If all you’re ever given is XYZ New Magic Diet Rules™, and you’ve never learned any skills to manage the ups and downs of life, you’re always going to get smashed in Act Two. Life always happens.
Game of Thrones is long over, and has long since let us all down, but I always remember that quote, that eventually winter always comes around. So too, is it only a matter of time before life gets in the way of your best laid nutrition plans.
This is not a problem, it’s just the way it is.
You should expect life to get in the way. You need to plan for it and develop skills for it.
Three Things Diets Don’t Teach You
Skills for social situationsSkills for navigating ups and downs of stressStrategies for navigating perfectionism
If you don’t have options for when these three things come up – and they will! – any diet or any nutrition program you try will fail or become completely exhausting, eventually. In fact, it doesn’t even matter which way it goes, it sucks either way.
You Need Skills for Social Situations
Let’s start with an example from our friend Jennifer who was doing XYZ New Magic Diet Rules™, and she manages to white knuckle through all the parties, business dinners, and impromptu get-togethers she’s had in the last three months.
She’s never fallen off, but in staying with it, she’s missed social events, had awkward birthdays, and has missed out on some truly delicious food. She’s proud of herself for sticking to her diet, but is so fatigued with constant maintenance of these rules and struggling through social events and family meals.
Diet adherence does seem to prop up her self-esteem for short periods of time, but she feels dominated and defeated by her constant vigilance.
If the only thing you have is a rule about what you can and can’t eat, then you either need to force social situations to adhere to those rules, or you need to sit them out. That sucks. But what if you had multiple things you could work on, and the foods you can eat was only one of those things?
For example, the practice of putting your fork down between bite. This method of slowing down your eating can also go along with checking in with your stomach about your fullness. These are very important skills to have!
When you develop the skills to eat slowly and stop when full, you can actually eat anything, in any social situation.
Of course, it’s more difficult to notice when you’re full and stop eating when pizza is involved. So, if it’s a wonderful cheesy pizza, try putting three slices on your plate, eat them slowly and place the slice of pizza down between bites.
This deliberate and mindful manner of eating can help you in that fateful pause before you decide to grab more slices.
You can eat in any situation, if you can:
Slow downSavor the foodNotice when full, and stop.
The first, foundational piece, is to slow down.
Yet, even when knowing that this is a valuable skill, you can find this very difficult to learn, if you haven’t put in any structures to make it easier. Without that, it’s just too easy to eat the same way that you always do, likely too quickly and with no pauses at all.
You need some concrete structures to really figure out what’s happening. Putting your fork (or the slice of pizza) down is one of these concrete things. It’s a trackable skill that you can tally up and record. Tracking how many meals you were able to perform this gives you a nice way to see how you are doing in your program beyond just numbers on a weight scale.
Try doing this for a week:
Start with putting your fork down between bites for one part of each meal. You don’t even have to do the whole meal yet, just start whenever you remember.
Practice at least once per day. Whichever meal you are most likely to overeat, practice at that meal each day. Notice that you can practice putting the fork down (or pizza, or sandwich, or chopsticks) regardless of whatever food you’re eating.
You Need Skills for Navigating the Ups and Downs of Stress
In another example, our friend Melissa was also on XYZ New Magic Diet Rules™. She was doing great until she got a huge project at work, and at the same time her kids got sick. She fell off the diet and feels terrible. She beats herself up about it and feels like a failure. She is more and more hopeless about ever being able to make any nutrition changes that stick.
Diets always say that following XYZ New Magic Diet Rules™ is a full time gig. You practice 100% of the time or you “fall off the wagon.”
They never take into account that our lives are varied and changing. That we have different demands on our time and energy at different times. That there are multiple things that matter to us in our lives, and sometimes priorities shift.
Sometimes you have a super stressful work deadline.
Sometimes a sick kid keeps you up all night, and you’re exhausted.
Sometimes your friend needs help and you show up for them.
Any of those could be more important, in the moment, than doing meal prep to follow some diet rules. If it comes down to either preparing your meals for the week or showing up for a friend in need, it probably fits your values to skip the meal prep and show up for your friend, right?
We absolutely will have important responsibilities that we have to handle, and sometimes they simply take precedence over our nutrition. What if we built that into our plan?
You shouldn’t hope that nothing important or urgent or stressful ever happens in your life. That’s super unrealistic. Instead, expect that to happen and plan for it.
Unlike a rule, which implies all of the time forever and ever, skill building is cumulative. You don’t have to practice guitar three times per day to get better at guitar. You can practice once per day, or just a couple times a week. Of course you’ll get better faster with more practice, but you’ll also get better with any level of regular practice.
Eating skills are the same way. If you’re working on stopping eating when you are full, you’ll get better at it the more you practice. You could practice just once a day, and still get better at it.
So, if in times when your life is chill and you have a lot more energy and time, work on noticing when you are full during 2 or 3 meals per day. And when life is stressful try at just 1 meal per day.
Instead of quitting, like people do with rigid diet rules, you’ll reorient, adjust up or down as required, and keep practicing. We can all agree that practicing once per day is more effective than quitting, right?
Try doing this for a week:
With putting your fork down between bites, notice that some days you have more bandwidth to practice than others. Look at your week, look at the days where it makes sense to try and practice a few times a day. Conversely, scope out what will be busier days, where it makes sense to only practice one time that day.
For both Jennifer and Melissa, neither is really living the life that they want. If they stopped, and took a step back, they’d see that they’d never really wanted food to so totally dominate their lives. From the outside, it may look like Jennifer is “winning” the diet game and Melissa is “losing,” but in fact neither of them are really happy about how they are eating.
They aren’t in the driver’s seat with their eating, they’re just along for the diet plan ride and can’t steer away from bumps on the road.
You Need Strategies for Navigating Diet Perfectionism
No one is perfect at something when they first start. Imagine someone told you that you needed to learn how to:
Play guitar without ever missing a note.Do a handstand without ever bailing.Drive without hitting any parked cars (kidding, sort of)
We learn primarily by making mistakes and reflecting on them. If you can’t learn to play guitar without ever missing a note, why would you think you could learn something like noticing when you are full without ever making a mistake? It’s a spectrum really.
Learning very easy things: We can often practice perfectly or close to perfectly.
Learning very hard things: The process is to practice, make mistakes, learn, practice, make new mistakes, and on and on until we get it.
Noticing when you are truly full is a very hard thing. It takes practice, and learning. Again, diet perfectionism is a commitment to quitting when you make a mistake.
If you want to quit a lot, be a diet perfectionist. Obviously, quitting a lot is not a path to excellence, and yet that’s what most people sign up for: Quitting whenever they make a mistake.
The pursuit of excellence is about practicing, making mistakes, getting better, practicing, making better mistakes. The choice is between perfectionism (quitting) and the pursuit of excellence (practicing).
Choose the pursuit of excellence. Whoever practices the most wins.
Try doing this for a week:
Notice, as you’re practicing putting the fork down between bites, about how you may want to quit if you neglect to do it for a meal. Or how you may want to quit if you didn’t remember to put your fork down between bites until later in the meal. Remind yourself that it’s more effective to start practicing now than it is to quit. That, no matter what happened before, the path to excellence is practicing now.
Three Obstacles and Three Solutions
Diets don’t teach you how to navigate social situations:
You need to have skills you can practice no matter what food is in front of you.
Diets don’t teach you how to roll with the ups and downs of life stress:
You need to be able to ramp up and down your practice, depending on what your week looks like.
Diets teach you to quit when you make a mistake:
You need to have a practice based approach, where mistakes are part of learning.
A skill-based and practice-based approach is a drastic departure from how diets have taught you to approach eating. And that’s exactly why it’s so much more effective.
Build Skills that Last
Eating Skills is a coaching experience that will help you build sustainable skills around how you eat, giving you a healthy, non-dogmatic approach to food.