Have you ever thought to yourself “If I can’t do it right, then I won’t do it at all”? My brother and I were sitting in the kitchen one day and we got to talking. What do all of the top selling diets have in common? Why are they always unsuccessful[i]? It’s not the food, it’s the rules. Almost all of the most popular diets have an all or nothing mentality that makes it impossible to live an enjoyable life. What happens when you break away from your diet for a meal or two? You’re made to feel like a failure. This mentality can be toxic in all parts of your life, especially when it comes to your happiness. Our eating habits, and our mental health are intimately connected[ii]. So instead of focussing on failure, we need to celebrate flexibility. The healthiest weight is the weight you maintain while living an enjoyable life.
A few years after that conversation, when I first got my dog, I truly understood this lesson on flexibility. Before Chief came into our lives, I had my morning routine perfectly crafted. I would wake up around 7am, and immediately spread out my yoga mat for a 15-minute meditation. Following that, I would brew myself a cup of coffee, sit down at the kitchen table, and browse the morning paper. This time before work allowed me to prepare myself for the day; It was my ‘me’ time. Then he arrived, as a puppy, and everything changed. I would wake up to a little tongue licking my fingertips sometime between 4-5am, and out we went for our first walk.
My first steps of the day were no longer towards the rolled yoga mat in the closet, they were now towards the leash at the front door. Although I loved the time spent with Chief, I would often feel “off” for the rest of the day. I thought that because I didn’t have a full 15 minutes for my meditation, why bother doing it at all? Since I didn’t meditate, would I even feel relaxed enough to sit and enjoy the paper with my coffee? Because I didn’t have time for my entire routine, I didn’t bother with any of it. But then it clicked. Was it true that I didn’t have as much time as I did before Chief? Yes. But was it also true that I did have SOME time available? Also yes. Instead of 15 minutes immediately when I woke up, my meditation became 5 minutes after the walk. Sometimes I even supplemented the meditation with a few minutes of stretching. I allowed myself to relax enough to enjoy my coffee, because even a small win is still a win.
This “all or nothing” mentality made me feel like a failure when life got in the way of my routine. I believed that if I couldn’t continue the routine fully, that there was no point even trying at all. This is the same thought process that fuels the yo-yo dieting cycle and many weight loss regimes. The lack of flexibility in those diets makes one taste of a ‘forbidden’ food feel like the failure of an entire diet. Following the ‘failure’ of one diet or another, the feelings of anxiety, disappointment and distress come sweeping in[iii]. Psychologically, chronic dieters are more likely to overeat while in distress than non-dieters[iv]. When we feel like we are failing, we let ourselves give up, and we allow ourselves to truly fail. Instead, we need to allow flexibility, and ditch this “all or nothing” attitude:
- Think Long Term – Will you really be eating meal replacement bars for the next 15 years? Are you vowing off carbs for the rest of your life? Probably not. When we jump on a diet that restricts too many everyday foods, we can find ourselves becoming frustrated with our temptations. But when you put that tasty treat into a long term perspective, you allow flexibility, and reduce the pressure to be ‘perfect’.
- Celebrate the Small Wins – Just because you didn’t have time for your spin class, doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Why not go for a walk with the dog instead? Don’t hold yourself to such strict rules, and allow yourself to acknowledge the little accomplishments (because they are still accomplishments).
- Let Life Get in the Way – You need a plan, and you need to be willing to work outside the plan. Let yourself enjoy a sweet icy treat with your kids on a hot day, and don’t be afraid to try the dessert at a birthday party. Allow flexibility, because you are your healthiest self when you live a life you enjoy.
Most weight loss plans don’t give us the flexibility to indulge once in a while, and they often prevent us from finding a sustainable balance in our lives. This “all or nothing” attitude that we’ve learned from dieting is killing our mental, physical and emotional health. Instead of enforcing such harsh rules, let’s celebrate flexibility. Remember that if it doesn’t fit into a lifestyle that you enjoy, then it’s probably not sustainable. Find activities that fit into your schedule and do the things that make you happy. Know that sometimes life gets in the way, so don’t be afraid to throw your routine (and your rulebook) out the window.
Until next time,
Live Life. Love Food. Be Free.