“My wife and I are trying this new diet,” said my colleague John.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“It’s an all-liquid, all-fruit diet,” he replied. “I just have to drink a fruit smoothie three times a day. Supposedly, you can lose 10 pounds in two weeks and you don’t even have to exercise.”
While tempted to launch into a lecture on why this approach would not be successful, I just nodded my head and kept my mouth shut.
Fast forward to the next day, and I see John drinking a soda and eating some pizza at his desk. I didn’t even have to say anything. He looked at me sheepishly and said, “I forgot to bring my smoothies to work today, so I’m gonna get back on the diet again tomorrow.”
The next day we ran into each other in the office cafeteria. This time he was eating a frozen TV dinner that he had just taken out of the microwave. “Yeah, that diet didn’t work for me,” he said. “I couldn’t take it… not eating solid food at all.”
As New York Times best-selling author, Dan Bluttner, writes in The Blue Zones Solution, “Of 100 people who start a diet today, fewer than five will still be on that diet’s maintenance plan two years later. As a strategy to lose weight- much less to avoid heart attacks or live longer- diets are largely useless.”
Sure, there are exceptions. You probably know someone who swears by a specific diet, whether they follow Paleo or the Weight Watchers Diet or any of the endless options available.
However, dieting success stories are not the rule. They are the exception. For every person who claims a diet worked for them, there are typically at least 9-10 people like them who failed with the same program, including several people who will actually gain weight by attempting the diet.
In addition, most diets aren’t built to optimize your long-term health, your longevity, or your performance at work. They are just designed (supposedly) to help you lose weight.
Most consumers of the $64 billion U.S. weight loss industry (2014) will simply bounce from one program to another, unsuccessfully seeking an elusive solution that will finally help them lose weight for good.
So why don’t diets work? There are 4 main reasons:
- Diets are too restrictive and abrupt. Instead of a gradual approach, most diets encourage you to change everything at once, as you are forced to eliminate major categories of food immediately. This usually leads to resentment, misery, cravings, and binging. At some point, almost every dieter just gives up and goes back to their old ways. This can easily erode your self-esteem. As you bounce from diet to diet, you can start to feel like you lack self-control and willpower. Sound familiar at all? If so, you are not alone.
- Diets are not practical. Diets are one-sized-fits-all and not customized for your schedule, your activity level, your budget, your tastes, your environment, your education around nutrition and health, your willingness and knowledge of cooking, and so on. As with the example of my colleague, when he forgot to bring smoothies to work, he was out of luck. He didn’t have a blender in his office or a bunch of fruit nearby, so he just opted for more convenient options, including fast food, soda, and other junk food.
- Diets encourage short-term thinking. When you go on a diet, you’re basically telling yourself, “This is just temporary. I just need to deprive myself for a period of time and then I can go back to eating what I really want to eat.” There’s no real, long-term commitment with a diet. Some people lose weight initially, only to gain the weight later when they revert to their usual ways.
- Diets are often inaccurate. Even if you are able to follow a diet over the long-term, many diets aren’t nutritionally valid anyway, such as the all-fruit, all-liquid diet that my colleague and his wife tried. In addition to questionable marketers looking to profit from people trying to lose weight, there are many well-intentioned, well-credentialed people who still don’t really know what it takes to look, feel, and perform your best. Ever had an appointment with an overweight doctor or seen a personal trainer at the gym who looks like they could lose some weight too?
Based on all of this evidence that diets don’t work, what’s the solution?
Don’t go on a diet. There is an easier and much more effective way to tighten up, have more energy, and perform better.
Change one habit a time.
Research estimates that over 90% of your daily behaviors are due to your automatic habits, not because of conscious decision-making. You may have never considered the long-term cumulative impact of the behaviors (good and bad) that you currently repeat over and over.
First, consider the impact of one bad habit. If you were to drink just one sweetened iced tea every day, you would consume over 54,000 calories and over 15 pounds of sugar over the next year. That’s the same amount of sugar found in over 16,000 Skittles. Say hello to some love handles.
Now, consider the power of one good habit. If you were to eat just one serving of greens each day, you would consume over 68 pounds of greens over the next year.
Many people blame low energy and a weak, unhealthy body on bad genetics or a busy schedule. It’s easy to look at someone fit and healthy and assume they have more free time or better DNA. Let’s be honest though. No one comes out of the womb with a six pack. Your current body (good or bad) is the cumulative result of the habits that you have repeated over and over. You don’t need a crazy diet or rigid meal plan to look, feel, and perform your best. You just need some stronger habits, incorporated into your lifestyle one at a time, so the changes actually last.
Much more to come soon. Until next time, remember that you’re stronger than you think…
-Pete Leibman, Creator of StrongerHabits.com
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