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How to Stick with a Diet

How to Stick with a Diet

“I don’t even care how many sticks I have to fetch to burn off this one.”
Photo by Camylla Battani on Unsplash

The first domino falls. Maybe you swore to quit sugar (nooooo), carbs (say it isn’t so) or coconut ice cream (I can’t even). And now the initial burning motivation and excitement have worn off. 

This attempt at a diet is becoming yet another prematurely ended diet in the mausoleum of failed diets. You might find yourself in despair. Questioning how you could better stick to a diet plan.

It requires a change of perspective

What if you would move away from trying to stick to a strict diet? By committing to a non-diet-diet. By resisting the urge to follow the template that everyone else does: setting on fire all that is delicious before the ultimate willpower stretching, and eventually breaking, attempt at an intense body transformation based on deprivation.

No. You can succeed by embracing the opposite. By being reasonable. Let the others focus on what they can achieve in a month or two. Only to fail yet again. You can play the long game. Focus on what results you can achieve in a year. And to keep them for another twenty years. 

Commit to showing up for foundational changes 

Give your willpower a break and ban nothing. You can eat whatever you want, within reasonable quantities of course. And sometimes less so. Because occasionally there are days when it’s impossible to choose between chocolate and vanilla ice cream. So you’ll end up having both. 

And reasonable isn’t just easier on willpower. It’s also better for your health. A recent study from The University of Helsinki1 suggests that people (even those with normal weight) with a history of failed diet attempts (“I gotta get heaps shredded for Barcelona”) have a higher chance of developing type II diabetes compared to the non-diet folks.

We also know that failed dieting may also lead to repeated weight loss attempts and therefore weight cycling. It’s a vicious cycle once it gets going.

Implementing small changes that eventually topple over

What if you’d commit to making changes that almost feel too easy? Like you’re cheating the gods of diet (Atkins?) by making up your own rules that require only a little willpower.

Changes that are small enough not to even valid a social media update. Because they don’t sound diehard. Because they’re not. In the world of diets, being reasonable and focusing on small changes is lame and boring. Unless of course you like sustainable, long-lasting results.

But a reasonable diet isn’t all pretty butterflies made of sparkling fairy floss

Following simple, reasonable eating habits requires resilience. If you choose to follow “I will duct tape my mouth shut for a month so please text if you want to communicate” – diet you can just muster through hell for a month. It won’t be easy. But most of us can deal with that sort of tribulation for 30 days. 

Reasonable approach in contrast requires persistence, even blind faith. It’s about repeating unsexy habits for a long time. It’s trusting the process that eventually there will be progress. Perhaps without seeing initial results for weeks.

Maybe you’ll end up stacking small habits on top of another for a while with no noticeable physical changes. Until one day that old friend compliments how you now somehow look better in the wind.

Being reasonable requires stubborn resistance to boredom

Trying to eat slowly until 80% full is not as arousing and concrete as damning sugar, eliminating biscuits that look like the 80s sitcom star Alf, or literally working out a donut on a rower. Eventually things get boring.

The challenge of boredom seven folds if you’re still starting out and haven’t seen substantial results from your efforts. Your mind naturally questions if the methods deserve your attention.

But instead of quitting when the boredom kicks in, you’ll double down on what you started. You re-focus on the small daily actions over the fluctuating excitement and motivation rollercoaster.

Because the internet is trying to convince you to stop being reasonable

Your news feed is filled with the excitement of new, more intense, fast diets. The ones that promise excellent results in only a few funny weeks. But you can counteract them by acknowledging what’s happening in your head: 

While being stuck at doing the challenging work of your current diet, you are seeing the possibility of a different diet. Something that perhaps sounds better than what you are currently doing. The comparison in your head is far from fair.

You are comparing the hard parts of the current diet to the upsides and promises of something new. The new thing will always look better. Because you are not in it right now doing the work.

Notice when this is happening, and it makes it easier to refocus on what you are currently doing. And to keep showing up.

Yeah, the grass is heaps greener on this side. What of it?
Photo by Adam King on Unsplash

The thing that makes a reasonable diet so powerful for a sustainable fat loss

It requires frequent self-reflection. You need to keep looking back at what you did, why you did it, and what were the results based on those decisions. 

Then there are the continuous adjustments that go with it. You have guidelines, not strict templates to follow. It’s not plug and play. It’s reflect-plug-adjust-play-reflect-plug-adjust-play repeat, repeat, repeat. You learn as you go.

This need for self-reflection stops some from sticking with a reasonable diet for long enough to see results. Especially in the beginning, when it’s all new and you are still trying to figure things out. But sticking with it really pays off.

Bringing it all together

The beauty of learning reasonable eating habits is that nothing is completely off limits. Being reasonable has it’s challenges, but it doesn’t require an intense amount of willpower. Especially when compared to the more strict duck tape diets.

It’s about learning mindful eating, performing frequent self-reflection, and discovering what foods work the best, for you. Then building your eating habits around them. 

It’s not about being perfect. But about doing it well enough to get the results you want. And then keeping them for life.

Even if it takes longer than the typical 30 days that the internet wants you to believe.


1 Self-report dieting attempts and intentional weight loss in a general adult population : Associations with long-term weight gain and risk of type 2 diabetes

On Having No End Goal

On Having No End Goal

And the winner of the “first you have to drink four pints” pub darts competition is…
Photo by Miikka Luotio on Unsplash

We pin our hopes and wishes to the randomness of the world around us. Doing the best we can to reach our goal is a one thing. But a part of the success comes from crossing our fingers, hoping that a stray event doesn’t derail us from our grand plans.

And all along our happiness is on hold. Days, months and years go by as we wait for a better tomorrow. That day when we can finally move into our dream forever home, walk up to the shiny double door fridge and reach in to take a gulp from the carton of triumph that looks a lot like milk. And realise the damn thing is actually out of date.

We are guilty of the same with our health and fitness. Focusing on goals we have no full control of. Whether it’s to lose ten kilograms in two short months before summer. Or being able to outrun a reversing 2007 (red) Toyota Corolla by mid-February.

As much as we’d like to think we are the big wheel of our destiny, there’s only so much we can do. Sometimes success is just a matter of dumb luck. It’s the difference of being in the right, or wrong place, at the right, or wrong, time, with the right, or wrong people, while holding the right, or wrong, brand of deodorant. Reaching a specific end goal requires a lot of things to go our way.

Hoping that the earth will align to our benefit is delusional.

It’s a modus operandi for unhappiness. Focusing single-mindedly on the end goal could mean we end up going through our entire life without ever being content.

When focusing on the end goal, we have the tendency to follow actions and habits that have a short shelf life. Strict diets, excessive training, working all-nighters, taking truck driver showers.

These are actions that have a best before date with little to zero carry over to the not-so-perfect real world. Times when we are muddling through life and the earth seems to spin backwards just to mess with our being.

Even in sports focusing on the end goal is risky. The athlete is putting her focus on to something that she has no full control of. Again, a lot in the world has to go her way.

Yes, some people run through walls with the end goal in sight. Like, I don’t know, Michael Jordan. But the chances of you or me (definitely not me) being like Michael Jordan? Slim. And so, the alternative becomes much more appealing.

We can focus on what we can control.

We can align our actions, not with the end goal, but with who we want to be, today. By focusing on the moment we’re in right now. Whether it’s to lose fat, get stronger, or to win the local pub darts competition. To play the best game we can. Choosing the habits we can control and adjusting them as necessary.

Doing so allows us to build habits we can maintain forever. Something that the narrow focus on the end goal doesn’t. We are more likely to feel fulfilled and content when we have (almost) full control of our actions.

We can’t control what we can’t control. But we can do the best we can with the control we have. We can start by asking, what are the daily habits of the person I want to become?

Then, all we have to do is to keep our promise. To follow through with what we said we would do.

The Sunk Cost of Believing, Feeling and Behaving

The Sunk Cost of Believing, Feeling and Behaving

“What’s in the box?!”
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

– Hey, I know you were asking for a hammer for your birthday. Here. It’s the top of the line. And because you’re so special, I didn’t want to just wrap it in an ordinary gift paper. Instead, I buried it somewhere in this terrarium along with ten funnel web spiders in it. Because I thought you’d like to have them, too.

– Gee. Thanks.

As Seth Godin puts it so eloquently, sunk costs are gifts from our past selves. They are the results of decisions and actions that our previous selves made with the knowledge they had at the time.

And now the well-meaning, but misinformed past selves want to give our current wiser selves those sunk costs as gifts. But these are gifts that we need not to accept. Especially when they no longer serve who we’ve become, or a want to become.

Sunk cost… of belief.

Forcing ourselves to finish all the food on our plate*. Even if we were full five spoonfuls ago. Only because we don’t want to waste the time and ingredients that went into cooking this dish.

Maybe it’s because of how we grew up. The important values our parents were trying to instil. To never waste. Maybe money was tight. Maybe we feel guilty that we have so much when some people have none.

And so we keep shovelling food in with the goal of cleaning up the last piece of elbow pasta. Reliving our daily moment of gluttony. Hoping that avoiding the garbage bin will somehow make it worth it.

Maybe the more helpful narrative is to acknowledge that whether the rest goes in the bin or into our stretched stomach, it is already wasted. We can’t get it back.

To admit our mistake of making too much. To learn from it. To buy less. To cook less. And as a result, to serve less next time.

…of feeling.

Being angry because we feel mistreated. Maybe it happened five years ago with someone close to us. Or maybe it happened five minutes ago when a driver in a blue Jeep cut us off on the Harbour Bridge. Making us miss the York Street exit.

And so we carry a gift of resentment and anger. Only because we can’t let go. It ruins our day. Maybe the week. And unfortunately for some people, their life.

If the feeling doesn’t serve us, maybe it’s worth asking if we should keep accepting this gift. If we can’t change the past, could we change our thoughts about it?

…of behaviour.

We reach for our phone for comfort. To get distracted. To seek answers. To ask others. Hoping that Google and social media will save us.

Because that’s what we’ve always done. It gives us a relief from the present. Maybe it’s a phone. But it might be a cookie jar. Or that vending machine in the hallway. A glass of wine when we get home. It doesn’t matter. The reason for it stays the same. An ingrained habit to move away from what’s bothering us.

Maybe it would be helpful to learn to change a specific behaviour. To learn what’s triggering us into an unproductive action.

Maybe it all starts by accepting that these gifts of past beliefs, feelings or behaviours are weighing us down.


*Or our kid’s plate. Or our partners. Or those vegan nuggets that a guy three tables over is about to throw in the bin.

Break Bad Habits In The New Year

Break Bad Habits In The New Year

FYI, playing guitar is not a bad habit according to Joonas. But this guy seems to think otherwise. Or maybe he’s just navigating his inner Jimi Hendrix. Yeah, that sounds good. Let’s leave it at that.
Photo by Ali Yahya on Unsplash

You know who’s a prolific writer? To date, he’s written 83 novels, 5 non-fiction books and over 200 short stories [1]. He has sold over 350 million copies of his books, and at least 24 of his books or stories are made into movies. How is this sort of productivity even possible?

In the morning he aimlessly wanders around his house, knocks back a few cups of coffee while trying to figure out what to do with his time. If he’s lucky, he’ll get a whoof of inspiration and starts writing. Or, if the inspiration doesn’t whisper stories to him that morning he might just take it easy and play non-alcoholic beer bong (he’s been sober since the late 80s) with his buddies. 

Of course not. When he’s working on a story, he sets himself a daily target of 2000 words and writes until he’s completed it. The writer has a set space, free of distractions where he does only one thing, his writing. It’s all about the habit of writing while eliminating distracting bad habits.

So, instead of making a vague and super lame New Year’s resolution this year, like “I will drink less alcohol”, use the science of habits to sort it out.

The simple science of habits

In Atomic Habits James Clear goes balls deep into how to become a master of good habits (or slave of bad ones). By recognising the power of the habit loop and learning to use it to your advantage you’ll figure out how not to suck with your New Year’s resolutions this year. Here’s what the habit loop looks like when typed instead of drawn. Because, no time to draw on New Year’s Eve.

  • Cue 
  • Craving
  • Response
  • Reward

(Not much of a loop, but bear with me.) Let’s go through them one by one.

Cue

Cue is something that alerts your brain of the start of the habit loop. A bit of information predicting a reward at the end of the loop. Things like:

  • Seeing your phone on the table
  • Meeting a specific person
  • Seeing a bottle of water

A rule to remember is to make cues for bad habits invisible. If you have a habit of checking your phone as soon as you notice it on the table, put it in the draw. To not let things escalate with a specific person, don’t meet up with them (makes sense in a second). Or, buy a bottle of water so you don’t have to steal it from an old lady (will also make sense in a second).

Craving

This is a sense that something is missing after the cue kicks in. It’s the interpreter of the earlier cue. You don’t crave alcohol itself but what it gives you, “a desire to change your internal state” and an attempt to address your underlying motives. Usually a feeling that brings immediate pleasure, or makes your feel you better about yourself or the situation you’re in.

  • Seeing your phone on the table (Cue) 
  • You’re bored and want to check Facebook. I mean, maybe someone’s liked you earlier post about what you ate for breakfast because your life is so fucking interesting (Craving)
  • Meeting a specific person (Cue) 
  • You get the urge to have an alcoholic beverage, because this specific person is too heaaaaaavyyyyy to deal with your sober self [2] (Craving)
  • Seeing a bottle of water (Cue) 
  • You want a gulp of water (Craving)

Response

To no one’s surprise this is the action you take to relieve the tension of craving.

  • Seeing your phone on the table (Cue)
  • You’re bored and want to check Facebook (Craving)
  • You check your phone embracing it like your long-lost lover who went missing when his boat capsized in a heavy storm so long ago that you’d almost forgotten about him but now he’s back and you can’t believe it because apparently he was shipwrecked on an island and lived there with his only companion, a baseball named Sergey (Response)
  • Meeting a specific person (Cue) 
  • You get the urge to have an alcoholic beverage (Craving)
  • You slam down three Black Tooth Grins while everyone in the bar stares at you in despise (Response)
  • Seeing a bottle of water (Cue) 
  • You want a gulp of water (Craving)
  • You steal the bottle off a nice old lady who was carrying it and her small dog and now you take a big gulp of water (Response) Also, you make me sick. How could you do that to such a lovely lady?

For a bad habit you want to make the response as difficult as possible. Meet in a coffee shop instead of in a bar. Make a deal that you pay your friend $100 each time you have a drink. Or book an important meeting right after the meeting where you can’t turn up sober. 

Reward

Satisfying the craving floods your brain chemistry with immense pleasure and joy.

  • Seeing your phone on the table (Cue)
  • You’re bored and want to check Facebook (Craving)
  • You check your phone (Response)
  • You’ll get an instant gratification and a jolt that briefly dissipates your boredom. Checking your phone becomes associated with killing boredom (Reward) 
  • Meeting a specific person (Cue) 
  • You get the urge to have an alcoholic beverage (Craving)
  • You slam down three Black Tooth Grins (Response)
  • You can tolerate your companion’s bullshit stories about how great they are. Black Tooth Grin becomes associated with meeting your companion (Reward)
  • Seeing a bottle of water (Cue) 
  • Your mouth suddenly feels dry and you want a gulp of water (Craving)
  • You drink a gulp of water (while the old lady is disgusted with your behaviour and about to call police) (Response)
  • The water hugs your mouth like a bowl of milk hugs yellow fruit loops. Drinking water becomes associated with a dry mouth. (Reward) But you’ll also go to jail. And rightfully so. What’s wrong with you??!.

What is immediately rewarded is repeated, we humans love love loooove instant gratification. Try to make the reward of a bad habit as unsatisfying and ungratifying as possible. 

In the Black Tooth Grin example you could bust out reverse psychology and act boring and dull so your annoying “friend” would not want to hang out with you anymore. Or, alternatively, you could also ask a random person to punch you in the knee cap each time you have a drink. 

Start by creating awareness

It’s hard to change the things you do when you’re not aware of them. Start taking notes of your bad habits. When you notice something that doesn’t align with whom you want to be, write it down and try to answer these questions:

  • What’s the habit?
  • What was the cue?
  • What did I crave?
  • What was my response?
  • What was the reward?

If you’re like most of us, you’ll soon come up with a solid list of habits you’d rather change. What you’ll probably notice is that any habit that brings immediate pleasure, and you hadn’t implemented purposefully, is usually not good for your long-term goals. Watching porn, drinking alcohol, smoking, sleeping in… 

Except coffee. Drinking coffee feels amazing and is definitely good for your long-term goals. And yes, I am biased because I love coffee and refuse to change my coffee drinking habits.

Set your environment

Instead of using your limited resource of willpower to stop doing bad habits, use your environment to your advantage. 

As mentioned earlier, putting your phone out of sight makes it easier to stop checking it. Meeting your annoying friend in a cafe (or not at all) makes it easier to avoid drinking. Buying a bottle of water makes you less tempted to steal it from an old lady.

Summary

The habit loop: 

  • Cue – Alerts your brain of the start of the habit loop. Make cues leading to bad habits invisible.
  • Craving – The interpreter of the earlier cue and an attempt to address your underlying motives. A feeling that brings immediate pleasure.
  • Response – The action you take to relieve the tension of craving. Make the response difficult.
  • Reward – Satisfying the craving floods your brain chemistry with immense pleasure and joy. Make the reward of a bad habit unsatisfying and ungratifying.

Start breaking bad habits by bringing awareness to them. Make a note each time you do a habit that doesn’t align with whom you want to be. Then deconstruct the habit by finding cue, craving, response and reward.

Instead of abusing your limited willpower set your environment to support good habits and avoid the bad ones. Hide the phone, meet in a cafe, buy a bottle of water.

About that prolific writer…

It’s Stephen King. Highfive if you knew.

Next step

Why Your Habits Don’t Work
Habit Change Made Ridiculously Simple
Reflecting on 365 Days Without Alcohol


Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones by James Clear

[1] Wikipedia
[2] Come on, we all have one. Or seven. But really, I have none.

Reflecting On 365 Days Without Alcohol: Why? And Was It Worth It?

Reflecting On 365 Days Without Alcohol: Why? And Was It Worth It?

It’s hot. And it’s humid. Typical January day in Sydney. The consequences of my earlier decision to stand in front of the blazing hot barbeque, to grill an assortment of vegetables, is dawning on me. All the while my mind keeps playing the yes/no/yes/no tug of war with the thought of popping open an ice cold bottle of pale ale.

Breaking well-ingrained habits is hard. But changing bad habits you struggle with right now is not about the hacks, or the newest trick someone else is selling. When you convince yourself of something, you can then use the newly found reasoning as a fuel to make things happen.

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Why Your Habits Don’t Work

Why Your Habits Don’t Work

In our private coaching group Rage Against The Calorie Counting (it’s funny, you can laugh) we work together to implement healthier habits over a long period of time. Our simple goal is to make healthy eating and movement part of life that eventually become your second nature. And in order to do so we focus on a making healthy diet and movement reasonable instead of creating overbearing “do this or you will fail at life” – rules. And we most certainly don’t implement strict diets.

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If You Struggle with Fat Loss

If You Struggle with Fat Loss

If You Struggle with Fat Loss

“There is another word for self-discipline. It is patience”. – Henepola Gunaratana

There is no “secret sauces” in achieving the body that you want. There is no magic tricks or lifestyle hacks to speed up your process of improving how your body feels, looks and functions. There’s only so many books you can read because eventually you’ll have to bite the bullet and do the hard stuff. And fat loss can be as hard at it gets. There is no special pill for you to swallow that’ll take all your problems and issues away. Not even Dr. Oz can help you here, no matter what he might want you to believe. 

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Thoughts on… VI: Stress, Habits, Mindfulness

Thoughts on… VI: Stress, Habits, Mindfulness

Once every 3-4 months, I go through all my notes that I’ve written down and do a roundup post of what has been going through my head. Thoughts and quotes from books and actions that I’ve found helpful for me or for my clients. Your mind can work for you or against you when trying to reach you fitness goals.  For the Parts I – V, check the links below this post. Without further due, here’s the Part VI  where I ponder mindfulness, habits and stress.

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Adjusting Training and Eating Habits for Lifelong Success

Adjusting Training and Eating Habits for Lifelong Success

Adjusting Training and Eating Habits for Lifelong Success

Not every life situation is ideally suited for an all-out attack on your health and fitness goals. There are times when improving your training and eating habits has to take a back seat. Then there are times when you can focus almost exclusively on training, habit changes and generally winning with health goals. Adjusting habits to whatever else is happening is an important skill to have. Here’s how to do it all.

 

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Why Most People Struggle with Diet and Training Consistency

Why Most People Struggle with Diet and Training Consistency

Why Most People Struggle with Diet and Training Consistency

Long-term consistency and therefore success with training and diet doesn’t come from willpower. No, consistency happens while marching on a road paved with positive habits that align with your goals, lifestyle and values. But there’s a major factor that doesn’t get talked about enough. It negatively affects all of us, but especially those with type-a personality.

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