We all know how difficult it can be to diet. First, it’s tough just to get yourself in the weight loss mindset. Then, you have to make a plan. Then, you have to stick to it. One of the traps many would-be dieters find themselves in early on involves a little bit of all three – the mindset, the plan and the execution. The mindset, for starters, is perilous. If you don’t have the proper outlook, it can affect your plan and how you implement it. For example, if your line of thinking is too rigid or too strict when it comes to dieting, you may find you’ve set yourself up for failure before you’ve even taken the first step toward your weight loss goals.
Blount Memorial registered dietitian Angie Tillman says one common problem for people is the all-or-nothing mentality. “I talk with so many patients who spend their lives obsessing about whether they are being ‘good’ enough with their diet,” Tillman said. “They often spend days or even weeks obsessed with ‘clean eating’ or the newest 21-day challenge. The problem is, inevitably, these ‘perfect’ eating patterns end, often resulting in a binge of the foods they strictly avoided on their ‘perfect’ plan. This often begins a vicious cycle of all-or-nothing dieting. For example, have you ever met someone who eats perfectly during the week, turning down cream in their coffee, butter on their veggies, or even declining a dinner out with friends because it isn’t on their ‘healthy eating plan’ only to spend the weekend overeating through their ‘cheat days,’ and then restarting the cycle of guilt and deprivation the next Monday morning?” she said. “All-or-nothing diet thinking usually results in an unhealthy relationship with food. In this mentality, food is meant to be feared and controlled. Food is thought of as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ and eating something ‘bad’ means there must be retribution or punishment of some kind, usually meaning either ‘tightening up on the diet’ or burning more calories to compensate. In addition to not usually producing good, health-improving results or sustainable weight loss, it also just isn’t a very happy way to live,” she explained.
So, how can you change that all-or-nothing mindset? “In order to find a healthy and balanced way of eating, we must focus on finding an eating pattern that is both sustainable and enjoyable. The true keys are consistency and progress, not perfection,” Tillman said. “With that in mind, there are some strategies you can use to alter your approach, the first of which is to find your ‘happy medium.’ This means finding a satisfying way of eating that you can happily maintain seven days a week, 365 days a year. This eliminates the on-and-off, with no strict days and no cheat days. The happy medium allows for overall consistency, which is the key to real results in health improvements,” she said. “The same thing applies to your weight. Ask yourself if losing that last 10 pounds is really going to improve your life. Often some compromise and a new way of thinking around your goal weight are needed,” she added.
“Next, avoid making a ‘forbidden foods’ list,” Tillman continued. “The minute you start thinking of the food you should avoid, something interesting happens – you start to want that exact food. Then, you resist and resist as long as your willpower can hold out, but eventually, you wind up giving in. And many times, you tend to eat way too much of that forbidden food, even as you are vowing to not make that mistake again. Unfortunately, that usually starts a vicious cycle of restricting and bingeing,” she said.
Finally, Tillman says, look to adding instead of subtracting. "Focus on adding lean proteins, high-fiber foods, such as fruits and veggies, and healthy fats to your meals. For example, add eggs, chicken, salmon, turkey, tuna, Greek yogurt or lean beef to increase protein. Add berries, which are good sources of fiber, to your oatmeal. Add dressing and avocado – both good sources of healthy fat – to your salads. Allow yourself to enjoy small amounts of your favorite foods, such as chocolate or potatoes, on a regular basis. This will help remove some of the power those foods hold over you when you try to avoid them,” she added.