As someone currently in the plunging middle point of a 30-day challenge in which I get some form of exercise and eat well (well being no junk food, balanced nutrition, fewer than 1800 calories) six days per week, I can say that being on a diet is not fun. At the beginning of my journey, I discussed how difficult it was to make good decisions when at the grocery store or in a restaurant, how even the most innocuous-seeming foods can be hidden treasure troves of high fructose corn syrup and saturated fat. But now that I am in the process of sticking to my plan (and have gotten used to what to look for when choosing my daily meals), I have realized that day-to-day life is nothing short of a round of dietary Russian Roulette.
The first thing to do, of course, is to not look at what you’re doing as a “diet.” We all know that most diets, from laxative teas to not consuming anything you have to chew, are short lived at best and incredibly harmful at worst. No one is going to do a crash diet that magically lasts for years and keeps their body both slim and possessing enough energy to live something resembling a normal life. It is better, then, to look at the journey of eating better as something you engage in for your entire life — something that colors the way you look at consumption and energy and the act of eating itself. More attention is paid to using fresh ingredients, making things yourself, eating slowly, paying attention to taste and smell instead of just cramming something down your throat.
Once the right mindset is attained about what you’re doing, though, you start to realize how impossible it is to stop with just yourself. No one — especially when it comes to eating — lives in a bubble. Food is something we share, whether it be with a couple of friends at a restaurant or an entire culture of human being when you go to the grocery store. Suddenly, there is nothing we can’t ignore. Have you ever noticed how many fast food restaurants there are in your city? You will if you’re on a diet. Have you ever thought about how poor a choice soda is when you could drink sparkling water? Enjoy not being able to ignore that again. Do you realize the nutritional implications of a bucket of fried chicken when you could be eating a salad? When you are thinking about what you eat, suddenly your whole body becomes a kind of calculator, measuring the damage you to do it against the help you’re providing it. You don’t think abou how much you mistreat it until you decide to stop.
No one wants to become the person that feels compelled to make the “health food” comments when friends are eating at a restaurant. I, for one, feel that people who ask if you’re aware of how fattening your order of onion rings probably is deserve to be shot out of a cannon into the mouth of a volcano. And you also want to avoid becoming too obsessed with what is going into your own body. Yes, you shouldn’t be eating Chicken McNuggets at every meal, but you also don’t want to be in a perpetual state of denial of things you enjoy from time to time. Learning how to balance eating well and feeling good with still living a normal life, joining friends at restaurants, having happy hours, and enjoying dessert can be more of a challenge than simply denying yourself those things all together.
But there are serious upsides — you do feel, almost immediately and very palpably, better. You feel more energetic, more alert, more awake. You start to lose some of that bloating and lethargy that usually plague unhealthy eating habits. You start to wonder why you never did this before — or how you managed to convince yourself that a half a box of Cheez-Its and a couple of Oreos could ever pass for an actual lunch. It’s hard not to want to preach the gospel, even if sticking to a nutritional regimen isn’t always the easiest thing.
Above all, though, you get the sense that it’s a change that has to occur across all planes of your life. Losing weight or being healthy or getting more physical strength is not something that can be compartmentalized into a small section of your life devoted to crash dieting and denial. It has to be something sustainable, something that you can integrate fully into your daily routine. Yes, you’re going to realize how bad so many of the things you took for granted actually are, but you will also discover how satisfying eating fresh and clean can actually be. There will always come times when everyone is like “let’s go get a pizza” and you know you’ve already had your share of bad foods the past few days and should really get some leafy greens in. There will always be alternatives to junk foods you are used to consuming with impunity. But it all starts with a decision not to be on a diet, but to be on a better path of living. Because diets come and go, but not stuffing your face with Bagel Bites four nights out of the week is forever.