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How to Start a Diet

Jeremy Hendon | September 25

Ahhhh…the beauty of starting a diet.  The anticipation, the excitement, the joy…

man can't resist a cookieOK, fair enough – it’s a rare person who’s excited about starting a diet, although there is a certain amount of excitement and anticipation about achieving your goals, whether they be fat loss, muscle gain, or other.  Really, why else would you even start a diet if you weren’t sort of excited about achieving some goal, even if it’s just getting healthier?

I have pretty strong views (not necessarily mainstream yet) about what kinds of diets are healthy and what kinds are complete BS.  However:

THE PARTICULAR DIET YOU CHOOSE IS NOT IMPORTANT IF

You’re going to constantly cheat and go off of the diet in 5 days.  It absolutely stuns me how many people tell me that they’re going on a diet tomorrow (code for "next month" or "whenever I happen to eat a couple healthy meals"), but when I ask them how they plan to stick to the diet, their response is something along the lines of "Well, I’m just going to try to be reasonable and moderate" or "I’m really motivated this time." 

PLANNING TO GO ON A DIET IS NOT A PLAN AT ALL

If your only plan is to diet, then you might as well be duck hunting blind-folded.  You’ll be able to hear the ducks all around you, but you’ll be firing wildly into the air. 

Willpower is fleeting and your body is hardwired NOT to lose weight or allow you to eat "healthy". Millions of years of evolution have designed your body to hoard whatever energy you find, since your ancestors didn’t have a McDonalds or Starbucks on every corner.  What’s worse – that "willpower" that you have now…guess what…dieting physically SAPS your willpower in various ways. 

That’s right – your ‘willpower’ can be chemically altered by your body.

REMOVE OPTIONS – NOT BAD CHOICES

Here’s the typical thought-process of a dieter: "I really need to make sure that I don’t make bad choices this time and eat that cookie or donut that ruined my last diet".

Anybody see the problem with that thought-process?  You WILL NOT be able to control your food choices at some point.  If you’re eating 1,200 calories a day, exercising, and someone puts a donut in front of you, you’re only going to be able to resist so many times.  You’re not weak – that donut would’ve helped your ancestors live a couple extra days to find some more food.

Here’s the thought-process of a SUCCESSFUL dieter: "I really need to make sure that I don’t HAVE THE OPTION TO MAKE BAD CHOICES and eat a cookie or donut."

See the difference? 

THE PLAN

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you want to go on a simple low-fat diet (fwiw, most people find this type of diet not as effective and harder to stick to, but bear with me).  If you’re about to start, you need to do 3 things, one of which will help you maintain motivation, and the other 2 which will help you reduce the need for motivation:

1. WRITE IT DOWN.  Spend half an hour writing down EXACTLY what you want (e.g., lose 10 lbs – make it a small goal), EXACTLY when you will achieve it (e.g., October 15th – be realistic), and EXACTLY how you will achieve it (e.g., eating 1,400 calories per day or removing all carbs, etc.).  Once you’ve written it down, post it somewhere you can read it OUT LOUD 2-3 times per day, and actually do so (read it out loud several times per day).  This will work wonders for your motivation and focus.  Trust me.

2. LET YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY KNOW.  Some people do this to help them sustain motivation, but here’s what’s more important.  You need to let your friends and family know how serious you are, and you need to convince them not to put you in situations that will encourage you to make bad choices.  For instance, if they go out to for pizza or donuts, they need to not invite you or even let you know.  If you end up going somewhere where the only healthy option is an unappetizing salad, then you’re GOING TO make bad choices.  I can’t overemphasize how important this is.

3. MAP OUT ATTACK PLAN ON CHEATING.  You know yourself, and you know when and where you’re most tempted to cheat.  Maybe you have a bunch of junk food in your cupboard at home, maybe you pig out at the snack machine at home, or maybe you stop by a fast food joint every morning.  Whatever it is, you need to plan out a way to avoid even having that option.  For instance, you may need to throw away and not buy any more junk food for your home, you may need to make sure that you have no cash on you at work, or you may need to drive a back way to work every morning to avoid seeing a particular fast food joint.  You will be amazed at how little tricks (even avoiding seeing the tempting choice) will allow you to not make a bad decision.

Now here’s a caveat that I know all too well –

You will never avoid all temptation.  That’s partially the reason that you need to write down your goals in order to maintain motivation, but it’s also the reason that you need to minimize the opportunities, because once you cheat, you don’t need anything that will tempt you to keep cheating. 

I’ll be sharing a few more tips and tricks that I use to avoid temptation in the coming weeks, but I’d love hear your feedback and stories.  What techniques do you use to avoid cheating?  How do you minimize choices and temptation?