We’ve all heard the expression “dieting doesn’t work.” We know it’s a temporary solution to a permanent situation but that still doesn’t help much. We know we shouldn’t eat the entire giant burrito at lunch, but we do anyway. We know that eggnog latte we sucked down this morning was at least 500 calories so we really don’t need another this afternoon, but here we are ordering one! The solution to weight loss is simple: permanently change what we eat and how much. But just because it’s simple doesn’t mean that it’s easy!
Professionals debate whether Food Addiction is a real addiction or not, and there are the inevitable comparisons to drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. Overeaters Anonymous takes the ‘Twelve Step’ approach to weight loss and while I am not a member of such a program, I do have family members who are. One of the first things they did when they started their recovery is to change their environment. Specifically, if all your friends drink or do drugs, you need some new friends! When it comes to drugs and alcohol, we expect that. We recognize that we can’t expect recovering alcoholics to hang out at the bar not drinking with their friends who are any more than we can expect drug addicts to hang out with their friends who are always getting high. There’s simply too much temptation to fall back into the addiction they’re trying to break!
So what do we do about weight loss? As Food Addiction believers like to point out: you can live without alcohol, drugs and cigarettes, but sooner or later, we all need to eat! It’s not like we can hang out without people who don’t eat! It gets even harder when there is a holiday or celebration, since nearly all cultures celebrate with special foods! How are we supposed to deal with our addiction when we have to go back to it to survive?
Whatever you believe about Food Addiction, anyone who wants to lose weight without gaining it back has to accept making some permanent lifestyle changes, not unlike the recovering alcoholic or addict. You may not need to ditch those ‘food-eating friends,’ but you will probably need to change how you interact with them! It doesn’t even have to be major changes but we all know that if you are going to San Francisco, you don’t enter a San Diego address into your GPS! If you want to change your destination, you have to change your route. Doing things the way you did before is only going to get you somewhere you don’t want to be!
Easier said than done! If only it were as easy as plugging in a new address into Google Maps! Unfortunately, a lot of weight loss gurus like to tell us that it really isn’t too difficult. I always wonder how many of them had weight problems, because they usually look really fit and thin! I know that does many a great disservice, but all of us who struggle with our weight know how hard and painful it can be. Watching a spokesperson with a chiseled six-pack tell us that we can lose 15 lbs in 6 weeks by making ‘5 easy changes!’ makes me want to kick in my tv! Or scarf a whole pint of New York Super Fudge Chunk…. Either way, it’s not a good feeling.
Psychologists like to call this behavior modification and we have all used it and had it used on us before. Remember when your parents grounded you for getting home late? Remember when you scolded your puppy for wetting on the floor? Those are some simple examples: you do X and Y happens to you, so if you don’t want X to happen to you again, then don’t do Y! With weight loss, the X we are trying to avoid is gaining weight but it’s more complicated than that. We are not only trying to avoid weight gain, we want to go in the opposite direction!
We not only need to figure out what Y we need to avoid, we need to map an entirely new route for somewhere else. For a lot of us, this feels like trying to climb Everest with only a windbreaker and some walking shoes– totally impossible! The truth is that it’s not impossible if we know what we’re looking for and that skinny six-pack guy on the infomercial with his 5 easy changes is more interested in your money than helping you find the answers.
One of the easiest ways to find out what changes you need to make in order to make your weight loss permanent is to track what you eat. I know everyone hates doing it, but we all need a starting point, especially if we want to measure how much progress we’ve made. It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated. You can use any notebook or pocket diary and there are a lot of free popular apps on available. It’s up to you how detailed you want to be with your food descriptions but you do need to be consistent. After a couple of weeks of writing down everything you eat and drink, you’ll have a realistic idea of how much and what foods are typical for you. Then, you can start making changes!
Most of us eat more than we think we do and we have unrealistic ideas of portion size and calorie count. You don’t need to weigh everything but if the hamburger for lunch was two patties bigger than the palm of your hand, you need to write that down. Also, if there were three parts to the bun and two slices of cheese, those need to be written down! So when we start to make changes, we shouldn’t plan sweeping global changes to our food. Telling yourself “I’m starting keto on Monday” or “I’m going Paleo tomorrow” is going to make you feel like you’re back on Everest in that windbreaker!
The best approach is a little like Google Maps: you know how the app shows you both the whole route with the next turn highlighted at the top? That’s the way you need to do this! You know what your ultimate goal is but your focus needs to be on your next turn, not that freeway offramp by your destination! You’re not even on the freeway yet! Focus on getting to the onramp first!
Start with a small step. Elizabeth Benton suggests starting with breakfast (a good idea!) but it can be something as simple as cutting out the sweets or giving up soda. It can also be something like cutting your portion sizes in half. Once you’ve gotten the first step under control, whatever you’ve chosen, then you can move on to the next step. This can be working on a better lunch, cutting out more carbs, or replacing more processed foods with whole foods. However you choose to eat (keto, Paleo, Whole 30, etc), most of us are in a hurry to get there but rushing is another bad step. To use the Google Maps analogy, when you’re in a hurry to get somewhere, it’s easier to get lost because you aren’t focused on following the directions. You want to take shortcuts that don’t always work. Our bodies don’t change overnight so any changes we make won’t show results overnight either!
Remember back to that Twelve Step program I mentioned earlier? Another important point is “one day at a time.” You can’t go from getting drunk on Friday to being sober four years on Monday! You have to earn those four years one day at a time! By being patient, dealing with situations as they come up and learning from mistakes, we eventually figure out what triggers our cravings, what our weaknesses are and how we need to avoid them. It’s the same, whether we’re trying to stay sober or lose 50 lbs.
By being patient and learning what we are doing now that’s not healthy for us, we learn how to make positive changes to our eating and our behavior. Our focus needs to be on making positive changes and taking positive steps. We can look at the distance we have to travel and wish it didn’t take so long, but wishing isn’t going to get us to our goal weight. The only thing that will is making those changes and making them day after day after day. It’s not a quick trip but the best part about it is that once you get there, it’s for good! Welcome to the neighborhood!