I have heard that Einstein said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. I’m not sure if he actually said this but I don’t care because he’s famous and the statement is the most certainly true. It is so true that whenever I repeat it to someone they will invariably nod and chuckle in affirmation. Generally people only nod and chuckle in affirmation to things that are really, really true. In spite of the fact that it’s really, really true and that everyone knows that it’s true, when it comes to many people’s attempts at weight loss they seemed to forget that it’s true.
I regularly run into patients and friends who do the same thing over and over again and yet are surprised when they end up with the same results. It usually begins when they start the most recent fad diet. They then choose a specific weight loss goal and a time by which they expect achieve that goal. They are initially successful but are unable to maintain the lifestyle demanded by the latest greatest weight loss craze – mostly because its based on some fantastical pseudoscience. They will then revert to their prior habits and gain all the weight back plus a little more only to try again a year or two later with the next weight loss revolution repeating the endless cycle.
The problems with this scenario are as follows:
- Choosing a specific target weight as your goal is not a good idea. When people are successful they usually stop the diet when they reach the goal. Even worse, if they do not make progress towards your goal you are likely to give up and become cynical. More likely it remembers how much it likes fast food. Either way, as soon as they go back to their old ways they gain all the weight back and usually a bit more. It ends up that they would have been better off not dieting at all.
- Any diet that you cannot stay on for the rest of your life will stop working when you stop following it. This is perhaps one of the most obvious statements I have ever uttered. It is also the one piece of information that everyone seems to forget whenever they start a new diet. How many people are still on Atkins, South Beach, or the Zone? Remember how everyone and their uncle was on one of these? Where did they all go? They all went back to their old ways. That’s because that, as good as these diets may have been at helping people lose weight, they were so incompatible with normal life that people couldn’t stick to them.
- Choosing a specific time to achieve a specific goal is also not a good idea. See #1 above. This is also hazardous because people will invariably choose a time period that is too short. When too much weight is lost too quickly, the body shifts into starvation mode from the shock. Metabolism slows and appetite increases. As you can imagine, this is a recipe for disaster.
Here’s what I suggest instead:
- Choose a way of eating that you can imagine yourself sticking with for the rest of your life. It is better to make small changes for long periods of time (i.e. until you’re old and gray) than large changes that you can only maintain for short periods of time. This is why I think Weight Watchers is so successful. I know more people that have been following Weight Watchers for many decades than any other diet. I think this is because the diet model is different than any other. It is not only a means of calorie restriction but also an avenue for educating people on how to make good choices without radically changing their diets. The group support model is helpful as well.
- Choose an exercise plan that you can stick with for the rest of your life.
- Keep a log of your diet and exercise. For more on why this is important check out this article here.
- Use the scale as a guide not as a goal. If you are not losing weight it means that you need to decrease your calorie intake, increase your exercise time/frequency/intensity, or both. If you are losing weight at a healthy rate (about 1-2 pounds/week) keep on keepin’ on.
- Remember that it’s better to lose waist than weight. You can read about that by clicking here.
- Make your goal a full calendar. What I recommend people do is print out a blank monthly calendar. You can download one by clicking here. Every time you keep to your calorie goal make a diagonal line on that day in one direction. Every day you reach your exercise goal make a diagonal line in the opposite direction. Think of a bowling score card. If you keep to your diet but don’t exercise, you’ll get a spare. If you do both, you get a strike. Your goal should be to have that calendar full with as many strikes and spares as possible. The beauty of this is that you are guaranteed success. When you look back on all of those full calendars you can feel good about yourself. This is true even if you didn’t lose a ton of weight. If you didn’t lose, just tweak your goals a bit. I promise you if you fill up your calendar year after year you will be healthier, thinner, and happier.
Take a moment to see what I am providing you here. I am giving you a path for guaranteed life-long weight loss that costs nothing. This is really not such a great business model on my part because it doesn’t make me any money. But if I can help more people be healthier and happier