It’s no secret that only a very small percentage of people who start a new diet will follow through with it long enough to get results.
Even for those that “complete” their diet and achieve a particular goal, very few manage to keep the weight off long-term.
But why is this? Is dieting really that hard?
The simple answer, is no.
What is difficult, however, is the way most people choose to tackle the situation.
A recipe for disaster
All too often, we see the same 3 phases play out during most peoples’ diets – phases of failed diets that only take a matter of weeks to complete.
Phase 1: Over-reaching
Things usually feel great in this phase.
Motivation is at an all-time high, and you have great intentions to better yourself – be it for health reasons, or a simple boost in self-confidence.
The first week or so of dieting can feel great. Your energy levels are still great, and you’ll likely lose plenty of weight.
The only problem is, you aren’t yet aware of the forces that are about to rapidly stack up against you, and eventually disrupt your progress.
The combination of the dramatic change from your usual habits, and an over-the-top calorie deficit is best described with one word – unsustainable.
Phase 2: Reality
This is where things get tricky.
After just a short week or few, the consequences of an all-out diet finally reveal themselves.
The extreme lack of calories takes its toll on your body – you begin to feel sluggish. You’re losing energy, motivation, and your general mood takes a turn for the worse.
This is simply what happens when your body is running on little to no fuel.
You feel your body screaming for “unhealthy” food, and eventually start giving in to the extra cheat meal or two.
Phase 3: Rebound
At this point, your diet and routine are out the window again.
You’re back to your old habits.
One cheat meal a week became one cheat meal a day, and before long, the healthy options have disappeared from your daily life.
The weight starts piling back on, maybe even worse than before.
Just like that, we’re back to square one!
So, how do diet smarter, to make results last?
The good news is, ALL of the phases above can be avoided by focusing on one important thing – sustainability.
Ever heard of the mantra “work smarter, not harder”?
Well, this saying has never applied to an area better than it does to health and fitness.
The key lies in concentrating on two things:
1. Taking baby steps
2. Forming habits.
Health and fitness issues require a long-term change, not just short bursts of effort.
It’s also all much easier than you may think.
One of the main barriers to success comes from the excess stress hormones that are produced from eating far too little (1).
To reduce or even almost eliminate this factor, we can taper our calorie intake down over time, in a less extreme way.
Although eating as little as possible may provide the fastest short-term results, it is unsustainable and detrimental to our long-term progress.
The best way to take these small steps is to focus on cutting out one “bad” food group or unhealthy meal at a time, and replacing it with an alternative.
According to studies, the time it takes to truly form a habit is about 66 days – a little over two months (2).
Although that may seem like a long time, forming good habits is one of the most powerful things you can do, and will virtually guarantee progress – progress that you can maintain!
By combining the power of habit formation with the incremental changes from the previous point, we can create a near-bulletproof method for success.
For example, you could replace sugary drinks with water or a low-calorie alternative for 66 days, before making the next change.
This change is a small one, that won’t cause much stress; at the same time, it would be a significant step in the progress of soda-lovers, who often consume an excess of up to 500-1000 calories from sweetened drinks each day.
As you introduce these small changes into your daily life and stick with them for the proven 66-day period, it doesn’t just add up quickly in terms of progress. These habits will stay with you effortlessly, and you’ll continue to reap their benefits in the long-term.
Make sure you only add one or two small changes at a time – this will make them easy to remember and focus on completely, before adding the next change.
It may appear to be a slow process, but over time you’ll be hitting all your goals, without even trying!
Months 1 & 2:
Limit sugary drinks and snacks to one serving per day (one cup of soda, OR one candy bar/biscuit, etc).
Although this may appear to be a very small change, these food groups are often the biggest culprits.
Months 3 & 4:
Replace one meal with a healthy, low-calorie alternative. Do this while maintaining your habits formed in months 1 & 2, above.
Make sure this is the SAME meal every day.
For example, you may choose to have healthy lunches. Don’t switch this to breakfast or dinner somewhere along the way – this is crucial for habit-building.
However, if you are having the occasional shared lunch at work or eat out with friends, feel free to make up for this with a different meal on that day ONLY.
Months 5 & 6:
Replace another meal with a healthy, low-calorie alternative, while maintaining your habits from the previous 4 months.
Months 7 & 8:
If you’re already making great progress, at this stage you can just continue what you’re doing!
If you want to kick it up one extra notch, replace that final meal with a healthy alternative, to complete your healthy transformation.
And there you have it – over just a few months, you would have lost a ton of weight, made long-term sustainable changes, and probably hardly broke a sweat doing it!
Not only will you be well on your way to achieving all your goals, but you would have created great habits for your eating and drinking patterns, which will stay with you for years to come.