It seems to me that we never are able to shake the whole notion of diets and dieting. It’s crystal clear that there is a problem in the Western World in terms of our struggle with obesity in the population. Looking around at the combination of obesogenic environment (ie access to healthy options, the promise of convenience, food poverty etc), combined with an ocean of misinformation, fads, and nonsense, it is hardly surprising really.
Whilst tackling the myriad of issues surrounding the obesogenic environment will take vast work to solve, the one thing that I certainly want to add my two pennies worth is the diet mindset, and maybe propose a new way of thinking about this.
To start with, when we talk about diets we are really in most cases talking about something that has a start and an end. A modification of our eating pattern for a limited amount of time to achieve a specific objective. Let's start here. This mind set already starts to reinforce within us that diet is a temporary fix. A painful process of self denial that we must endure in order to achieve a temporary objective. This transience in itself takes us away from the key point that I am going to make here - that permanent lifestyle changes are the only thing to think about. Its like a reinforcement of the behaviour that we can essentially do what we want and then remedy the consequences with a quick fix.
Now let’s look at one of the key practices of almost every diet on the planet. They all focus around the removal of something. They all have this focus upon what you should be taking away from your diet. It is about denial. Now, I am certainly in agreement that most of the stuff listed in these diets we absolutely SHOULD be avoiding like the plague. Processed foods. Refined carbohydrates. Junk food in general. I share the sentiment. It is the psychology that is the issue.
So many of these programmes set us up to have the mindset of removal. Avoidance. Subtraction. Taking away. This type of language and approach triggers something in many of us. After a while the recalcitrant teenager inside us comes bubbling to the surface and we rebel against this. The feeling of being deprived soon weighs heavy on our mind. We are building our eating patterns around all of the things that we CANNOT do.
In my approach I like to take a completely different view, and this is the view that I take with members of my ‘Diet Another Day’ programme. This approach is two fold. Firstly, we HAVE to let go of this short term transient diet mentality. Don’t we owe it to ourselves to look after ourselves consistently? Making consistent efforts to do our best, without punishing rules looming over us? So that’s my first shift. You MUST look at life long good habits (note I don’t say ultra strict rules that you cannot deviate from), with the focus being on lifelong health. The second thing is to completely flip the script when it comes to the focus on everything you need to avoid. I focus on all of the incredible things that you can ADD! At every meal think about what healthy ingredients you can add to it to give it a boost. What vegetables, healthy proteins, whole grains etc can you add to make this meal better. Two things happen here. Firstly, we have a mindset that is about abundance. Our focus is adding and improving and living abundantly. The second thing that happens here is that we will naturally gravitate towards full diet/lifestyle shift as we are progressively adding more and more to it.
It's a simple shift in mindset, but a powerful antidote to the diet culture that pervades.