Diet Detective: getting out of diet jail
I was lying on my back on the floor in my NYC home/office it has big windows, and I was looking up and out. As I was doing reverse ab curls with a Swiss ball, I saw a man leaning out the window on the top floor of the building across the street smoking a cigarette. Actually, I think the person was staring at me too not sure what he was thinking; maybe it was simply "please, spare me..." (sarcastically). In any event, seeing this guy really made me think. In fact, the first word that came to mind was "choice."
And I have to say, choice, freedom of choice that is, is probably the concept that helped me the most when I was losing weight, getting in shape and vowing to keep it that way. And, of course, choice is a cousin of responsibility. I've written about responsibility and blame (see: dietdetective.com/columns/the-blame-game.aspx ) and choice before. One column I'm particularly proud of is about micro choices (see: dietdetective.com/column/micro-choices.aspx), the idea that creating healthy behaviors almost always comes down to the hundreds of choices we make in the moment every day. For instance, whether we choose to eat an apple or a slice of apple pie, or whether we bike to work or drive. It's those micro choices that make up our lives.
The word responsibility sounds puzzling and familiar at the same time, yet it's a concept that's frequently forgotten or abused during the course of our lives. What the heck does it mean? It's simply this: Control over your life doesn't arise from dodging and avoiding difficulties but from coping with the issues (minor and major) that come your way or that you create. Personal honesty, conflict and struggle constantly force you to make decisions concerning who you are as a person, and those choices are powerful tools for personal growth. The best way to prepare for them is to stay aware of your actions. Only then can you become more responsible, and the payoff is a more effective life. Responsibility is choice, free choice. It means being able to determine your destiny.
This principle promises to change your notion of what it is to take responsibility for yourself. It will help you recognize and identify responsibility-avoiding behaviors and patterns in both your professional and personal life.
Responsibility has gotten a bad rap. Too many of us associate it with punishment and blame, both negatives. Or you may associate responsibility with dreary lectures detailing your duties and see it solely as a burden. There is a moral dimension to responsibility, but that is only part of it. Think about the word. It contains the word "response" and the word "ability." Responsibility is, therefore, the ability to respond. An event occurs, a relationship or business fails. You suffer a loss or a setback. How do you respond? Can you get over it? Can you get past it? Can you keep heart and soul together and remain compassionate? To respond ably, or to respond responsibly, you figure out what went wrong, determine how you can fix it, and even incorporate the setback into a well-thought-out plan of action.
How does understanding responsibility lead to free choice, and how does free choice help you lose weight?
Well, the mere recognition that I had control over my life, knowing that I controlled my own destiny and had the freedom to make choices, released me from "diet jail." Yes, I was in what I call diet jail. For 30 years, I would go in and out of diet jail. I would get out on parole (read: lose weight), then, just like any repeat offender, I would commit another crime (read: gain weight) and end up back in diet jail. What a nightmare. I'm sure many of you know exactly what I'm talking about. Knowing that I had choices set me free for life. Think about the following:
We are responsible for our lives. We may not be responsible for everything that happens to us, but we are responsible for the way we respond or react to every situation that comes our way. This is where the concept of choice comes into play. We choose our responses. For instance:
Find a reason WHY you want to lose weight. It helps to know why you actually want to get in shape. For health reasons? Vanity? Think you already know? Make sure. Write it down. And make sure that it's meaningful. (Read more about "Seeing the Why" dietdetective.com/column/seeing-the-why.aspx.)
Who's influencing your food life? Keep track of your food influences for one week. See who or what is influencing you to eat the foods that you do. Is it the TV commercials you're watching? The friends you're eating with? Family, co-workers? For every meal, pick someone or something that influenced your choice. Highlighting your influences will help you see that you can take back control of your food choices.
When experts say "don't diet; make it a lifestyle," what in the world do they mean? They mean that you need to change behaviors (diet and exercise) to lose weight, but to keep the weight off for good you must choose behaviors you can live with forever. You need to consistently question and ask yourself is this "change" I just made (read: exercising at 5 a.m. every morning) something I can do forever? Can I eat celery for breakfast every day? (That's a joke by the way, to highlight the silly things we often do to lose weight.) You need to form patterns: Make your new eating behaviors automatic by doing them over and over again. You shouldn't need to take breaks from your "diet." If you have to take a break, you made too many compromises in the first place and your diet will not last. New eating and activity behaviors need to be comfortable and not too restrictive.
Be Confident: Feeling confident that you can change a behavior is one of the single biggest predictors that you will be able to change. It's called "self-efficacy" the belief in your ability to "organize and execute" whatever behavior you would like to modify. It's the confidence that we can attain what we want and it's especially important if you want to control your weight.
Look Back: Taking a careful look at your past can help you determine where you want to go in the future, and it helps to make sure that you realize and recognize where you did and did not take responsibility. The past may be behind you, but thinking about and analyzing what happened is the key to your dieting future. Keep an open mind. Think of the strategies that didn't work in your previous attempts to lose weight. By looking at your failures you learn what NOT to repeat. You probably learned something from every diet you've been on. It's up to you to find out what you gained from all that hard work.
Set Goals: Setting goals is critical for achievement. You might be thinking, "Well, I've achieved plenty in the past without setting goals or planning, so why do I need to do it now?" That may be true. And you still might be able to achieve without planning; however, goal setting and planning increase the odds of your success.
Be Prepared: It is important to recognize that preparation will help you make better choices. Ever heard the expression, "chance favors the prepared mind?" Think about this scenario: You've been so "good" on your diet: You've lost weight, exercised every day for months it's all going so well. Then it happens. You're completely stressed out; you just had an argument with your 14-year-old daughter; your boss is breathing down your neck about that report that's late; your phone's been ringing off the hook, and you're at the end of your rope. Then, to top it all off, your co-worker is having a birthday celebration with the works, including lasagna, cake and ice cream. You have it all, and you don't just stop there you continue this slide, and you relapse. The reality is that weight loss and maintenance have lots of ups and downs, and plenty of curveballs. Think about the difficult choices you face most often, and make sure to figure out the best outcomes before you face them, not during.
CHARLES PLATKIN, Ph.D., M.P.H., is one of the country's leading nutrition and public health advocates, whose syndicated health, nutrition and fitness column, the Diet Detective appears in more than 100 daily newspapers nationally. Dr. Platkin is also the founder of DietDetective.com, which offers nutrition, food, and fitness information. Platkin is a health expert and blogger featured on Everydayhealth.com, Active.com and Fitnessmagazine.com. Additionally, Platkin is a Distinguished Lecturer at the CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College in New York City.