Thought Catalog
May 15, 2017

5 Real Reasons Your ‘Diet’ Isn’t Working

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Igor Miske

As a high-performance diet coach and lifestyle designer, I work with dozens of entrepreneurs, executives, and badass human beings who battle their health on a daily basis to achieve a nearly impossible standard of success.

I coach my clients to create lifestyles for themselves in which they’ve taken willpower and decision-making out of the equation. By being strategic and planning proactively for your food options throughout the day, you won’t ever have to rely on willpower to get you by. Which cuts down on the stress eating, late night binging, and feeling out of control.

If you feel like you’ve tried everything and still can’t lose weight, here are 5 bits to chew on that I hope will influence the way you think about your relationship to “health” and “dieting” and, ultimately, yourself.

1. The biggest mistake people make when trying to get healthy or lose weight

People love to get excited about the latest science on macro and micronutrients or the latest exercise craze, but completely ignore the importance of psychology in health. This is a mistake because 9.5/10 times (literally) this results in a rebound and actually makes you more likely to gain weight in the future. Psychology is the difference between short-term success with ultimate failure and real long-term health. The key is focusing on a growth mindset and habit building rather than on self-control and willpower.

2. The key difference between success and failure is enjoyment

The fundamental flaw with the approach of both the dieting and medical industries is the focus on willpower/restriction, the mantra “no pain, no gain.” We tend to internalize this message and it makes sense for a few reasons. First, a lot of goals (specifically short-term goals) can actually be achieved through willpower alone. And second, with health/dieting short-term success can be quick and often impressive using this method. But it is a false siren, because willpower is unreliable long-term.

Instead we need to focus on habits, which do not require willpower once formed (some willpower may be necessary to form the habit at the beginning). Habits are automatic actions that can be engineered into our lives, and building a set of critical health habits is the secret to long-term success. The beautiful irony is that habits only form in the presence of an intrinsic reward. Think runner’s high, not fitting into your favorite outfit. This means you need to like the foods you eat and enjoy your physical activities rather than choke down steamed broccoli and torturing yourself with interval training. This is GREAT news, because dieting sucks.

3. How to build a habit

Habit building is easy to explain but harder to do. There is a lot of subtle psychological factors at play. First, don’t start with things you think you *should* do. Stop moralizing your choices now, it makes this whole thing harder. Instead try to find one or two health habits you actually enjoy. It doesn’t matter what they are, you’ll add more later.

Every habit has a trigger, routine and reward.

  • The trigger is what subconsciously reminds your brain to do the action.
  • The routine is the health behavior.
  • The reward is what reinforces/strengthens the trigger so your brain wants to take the same action again.

It’s perfectly OK to start with a small action – e.g. walking around the block. The goal at the beginning is to form the habit. You can grow it once the triggers and rewards are in place.

A common error is to not start or do something because you think it isn’t significant enough or “won’t count.” This is a mistake. In fact, easier habits are easier to form so can be preferable in many situations. The idea is to train your confidence that you CAN do these things. The doing is the key. What may seem trivial at first actually feels pretty damn good, you find. Which increases the likelihood of adding more to your routine. Now you’re making that decision from an informed and empowered place. That’s what success looks like.

4. Mindset

Your mindset in approaching habit building is critical. Because everyone’s health is individual and preferences are personal, habit building requires much trial and error. If you’re a perfectionist, constantly have arguments with yourself about what to do/not do, or beat yourself up when things don’t go as you hoped then you’ll need to work on developing a growth mindset.

A practical way to do this is to understand that only long-term habits have a long-term impact on your health. Focus your attention on actions you take regularly, don’t fret about occasional deviations. This is how you 80/20 your health.

For regular actions view each attempt as a chance to test a new hypothesis about what will make it stick. After each test ask yourself:

  • what worked?
  • what didn’t work?
  • what would I do differently next time?

Failing is never fun, but it can be useful if you proactively look to learn something from your failure. I talk extensively about why dieting is at odds with learning.

5. Key Home Court Habits

What works for everyone else might not work for you, but in general most of us will have 8-10 habits that are required to achieve and maintain your ideal health and weight.

A few common ones: cooking, grocery shopping (farmers market), eating vegetables, walking 10K steps per day, strength training, regular sleep, chewing/mindful eating, eating breakfast, minimizing processed foods (sugar/flour/oils/proteins), good relationships/. As for what’s healthy?

Rather than approaching your diet and health with a “dieting mentality” – forcing something that doesn’t feel right – I encourage you to treat your relationship with food as you would a relationship with a person. Ultimately, you are. You’re cultivating a deeper relationship with yourself. TC mark

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