We dieters keep charging off in the wrong direction. We use much time, energy, thought, and money trying to diet. But mostly we accomplish little or nothing. Even worse, when we try hard and don't lose weight, or if the weight loss doesn't stick, we feel frustrated and stupid. We end up blaming ourselves for not doing things better.
To get ourselves going again, this time in the right direction, we need to unclutter our minds of many bogus ideas — ideas that are often confusing, at times contradictory, and that have proven ineffective and repeatedly sabotaged our weight control efforts.
Some of our mind clutter consists of influential dieting fairy tales we learned from diet books, magazine and newspaper articles, friends, misguided diet professionals, and some even from our own childhoods.
Uncluttering our minds has a big payoff. Clear thinking helps us to take actions through which we will lose pounds. We need to identify and dump some of the dieting myths that lead us astray.
1. Eating for healthy nutrition and effective dieting are not the same. They may overlap, but they are different. Healthy nutrition diets can even lead to weight gain. These diets tend to be complicated, confusing, and often contradictory. Some are painful to follow. When we don't lose weight, and as awareness of our cheating behavior becomes unavoidable, we tend to abandon almost all of them.
Eating for healthy nutrition sometimes brings us the right stuff for better health; but it doesn't necessarily bring us what it takes to lose weight. Most of the time the good nutrition diet is too different from what we are accustomed to eating. Because it is so different from what we are used to, we won't stick with it beyond a fairly short time. Eating to lose weight and keep it off requires a diet that is comfortable for us, one not too radically different from what we think of as normal eating.
2. We tend to deny that we eat too much. We rationalize that for mysterious reasons we gain weight more easily than most people. In the face of some obscure metabolic defect, we feel helpless to diet effectively. The truth is that ninety-nine percent of the time our metabolic rates are normal. We have the same metabolic rate as just about everyone else.
3. We point to other overweight family members and become convinced that it is in our genes to weigh a lot. But our genes don't put on the calories. For us to gain weight to resemble our extra heavy family members, we still have to eat more than we burn off.
4. Things we hear as children about eating often become implanted in our minds and push us as adults to eat too much. If we can remember and move beyond some of our parents' or our own childhood attitudes about eating, we can free ourselves of those day to day influences in determining our eating behavior.
5. Drinking eight glasses of water a day to flush out "toxins" from one's system is a dangerous practice. The fluid flushing leads to the loss of vital electrolytes, which in turn can lead to cardiac arrhythmia or even cardiac arrest and death.
6. An "all protein" diet is not the answer. We very much need both carbohydrates and proteins. Our brains function better on a mixed diet of carbs and proteins. We feel better, and we think more crisply. Carbs provide us with the energy we need to build muscles and other tissues from protein. We need the energy to operate, as much as a car needs gasoline.
7. Another fairy tale may be that our hormones are abnormal and keep us from losing weight. Repeated hormone tests tend to come out normal. Yet we often persist with the notion that some hormone, other than those tested, is out of whack, and that excess levels have led to our weight gain. We need to face reality and stop our search for the mystery hormone. The truth is, we're eating too much.
Some of these myths probably apply to all of us dieters. Once we identify them, we can check out how they impact, if not determine, our eating behavior. With reasonable effort we can put the fairytales to one side so that they no longer confuse us or lead us repeatedly on the road to diet failure.
Another dimension of our dieting mind clutter stems from our wish for a magical solution — a magic pill that will melt away our fat without killing us in the process We imagine that if we take the magic pill, we'll be able to eat whatever we want, and as much as we want, and still drop extra weight. We are drawn to try the available diet pills, and they seem to work for a moment, if that. Then they seem to lose all effectiveness. Some, we discover later, are truly hazardous. In reality, the magic diet pills or food supplements don't exist. Nor, despite the promise on this month's magazine covers, are they just around the corner. To lose weight, we have to look elsewhere.
Sometimes we look for others to provide support for our dieting efforts. Weight control clubs promise us a system of peer supporters who will help us with weight control. As we succeed, the cheering of our fellow club members or counselors pumps us up to keep at it. But once we plateau or even falter, our sense of shame and the perceived jeering and laughter of others, even if unreal, leads us to quit the club, always with a set of acceptable excuses. Even if we do succeed in reaching our weight club goal for pounds lost, we still tend to quit the club and regain all of the pounds that we have lost, if not even more.
Almost all of us cheaters recognize that exercise can produce weight loss. If only we can bring ourselves to do it at all, to do it long enough, often enough, and to stay with it. But our efforts are usually sporadic and faltering.
Exercise is wonderful for all of us for all kinds of reasons. Everyone should exercise. But exercise is not the answer to weight loss. We have to do too much too often to burn off enough calories to lose very much weight. Even a brisk walk of a mile only burns off the calorie equivalent of one piece of buttered toast. We have to walk 17.5 miles just to lose a single pound!
We find millions of excuses, all the demands of real life, for us not to get to the gym. We become phantom gym users, dutifully paying our monthly dues as we resolve to get back there more often but, usually not making it.
While an ambitious but erratic or failed exercise program doesn't produce the weight loss we so desperately desire, a mini-exercise program can be extremely helpful. An exercise program of some sort, any kind, even for ten minutes a day in our living rooms or bedrooms, helps our brains produce endorphins, tiny molecules that help us feel better. The best exercise program is any program we are willing to do on a regular basis. Ten minutes of exercise six or seven days a week is far more helpful than an hour at the gym once a week. The good feeling from regular exercise helps us build a mindset that says we can work with a diet program that will ultimately lead to weight control. The ideal exercise program, which may only indirectly contribute to weight loss, is the program, no matter what, that we are able to continue to live with.
We have seen that we can free our minds of the confusing influence of diet myths. We can learn to suppress our wishes for magical diet pills. We can recognize the promise and disappointment of weight loss clubs. And we can give up the attractive but erroneous idea that exercise alone is the key to successful dieting.
If we give up all of these roads to dieting nowhere, what are we to do next? For the vast majority of us dieters, we can find a better way to use our minds. First we will examine how our minds work to sabotage our dieting efforts. Then we will learn to develop new mental tools to bring about meaningful weight loss and lasting diet control.