I'm referring to dieting. Any diet. Despite the fact that the vast majority of dieters are doomed to regain not only the pounds they've shed, but to pack on a few more for good measure, we continue to try and try again. At any given time, 108 million Americans are depriving themselves. The typical calorie counter goes on a diet four to five times every year, supporting a $61 billion a year weight loss industry.
We go gluten-free. We imitate cavemen. We subsist on a few cookies per day. We buy The Magic Bullet so we can eat baby food. And the weight loss schemes just keep on coming, much like the wind-whipped California wildfires in the third year of a drought.
You don't have to be Albert Einstein to realize that "Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results" exemplifies insanity. I coach many long-time yo-yo dieters in my work as a Wellness Coach and have been trying to figure out why so many of us are serial dieters. How do we convince ourselves that the 17th diet will succeed even though the first 16 did not? Here's my take on why diets are so seductive:
1. We Experience Instant Gratification: Dieters lose weight fast and make us feel successful. Calorie deprivation will do that for you. The pounds melt off and suddenly stepping on your bathroom scale becomes less traumatic.
2. We Gain the Illusion of Control: Diets take real life temptations out of the equation and make us believe that we are now in control of our eating habits, even if that means eating tasteless packaged food with unpronounceable ingredients or hold-your-nose blended kale drinks.
3. We Get to Punish Ourselves: We know we've been bad and depriving ourselves feels good because we deserve it. Dieters are punished for their transgressions, much like Catholics going to confession and saying penance. That's why the colon cleanse is so popular.
4. There's Always a New Flavor of the Month: Strange new diets emerge every year. That's why diet books are perennial best sellers. Just when we think we've tried everything, some enterprising diet guru comes up with another brilliant idea. We convince ourselves that this one is The Holy Grail and we go for it.
5. We Believe It's Our Fault that We Failed: We blame our past weight loss failures not on the diets, but on ourselves. If only we had stuck to the program we wouldn't have weakened and succumbed to pints of Haagen-Dazs and large bags of Doritos. If we had just had more willpower, we wouldn't be back in your "fat clothes" now.
It's time to realize that no diet is ever going to work in the long run. At some point you'll tire of being crabby and perpetually hungry and return to the very habits that got you in trouble in the first place. The only answer is to learn how to slowly change those habits so that you can live in the real world with its overabundance of tempting, inexpensive, highly caloric food. Habit change is a slow process, but the only way to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight for the rest of your life.
So get real. Get healthy.