A New Decade’s Resolution: Quit Dieting

by | Dec 30, 2009
Photo by melloveschallah

Photo by melloveschallah

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.”

Rita Mae Brown


2010 marks the beginning of not just a new year, but a new decade. Rather than using this as an excuse to set and/or stick to diet resolutions of years past, consider setting an anti-resolution to stop the cycle:

Decide today to quit diets and never pick up another one.

For some people (my former self included) chronic dieting is a way of life. Structured diets help us feel secure and in control of our fate, while giving us something to strive for and accomplish.

In a twisted way, diets can be comforting and giving them up can be as difficult for some as quitting smoking.

But most people are not trying to stop dieting, they are trying to do it better. Dieting is usually seen as a positive ambition, a form of self-improvement.

But what if diets do more harm than good? What if they lower instead of raise your quality of life?

Weight loss and better health through food and exercise are wonderful aspirations, but contrary to popular wisdom they are not synonymous with dieting. If your goals are long-term and not for specific or imminent events, then dieting will never help you achieve them.

Healthy eating and regular exercise need to be your default, automatic behaviors and not a special case scenario; weight loss diets by definition are temporary–an exception, not the rule. This is another way of saying our daily, habitual behaviors are unhealthy and promote weight gain.

Typical diets address the symptom, but ignore the problem.

Most of us will sidestep this logic by convincing ourselves that once our desired weight loss is achieved through dieting (and that’s a big IF it is achieved) we will enter into a “maintenance stage.” But maintenance is only a theoretical purgatory that looks just like the original diet dressed up to be a little sexier.

The real test of a diet’s success is not weeks or months, but years and decades later. And since we never think of diets on these long time scales, most will fail eventually. This is an uphill battle of regular slip-ups and constant restriction.

How about a different strategy?

This decade instead of picking a diet with the goal of losing X number of pounds, decide on a list of healthy habits you want to adopt over the next several months and years that will help you reach your long-term health goals. Building habits may not result in the same quick results you’d experience on a traditional diet (though they can), but you will continue to see results for many months and the changes will be permanent.

Habits take approximately 4-6 weeks to form, and most people can only adopt 2-3 new habits simultaneously. Use your list to set up short-term behavioral goals throughout the year to gauge your progress.

To start, choose the habits that are easiest and most fun for you personally. Set an end date to examine your progress in 1-2 months. Write it in your calendar and set aside 15-30 minutes that day for the analysis. (e.g. By February 15, I will bring my own lunch to work at least 4 days a week).

Remember that habits can be either positive or negative, such as the proactive taking the stairs at least twice per day versus the reductive limiting dessert to once per week. A good strategy is to pair a negative habit with a positive one that can replace it. For instance, limit red meat to once per week pairs nicely with eat fish 3 times per week, particularly if you are accustomed to eating lots of protein.

Once you have successfully integrated a few new habits into your healthstyle, pick 1 or 2 more for the following months. Continue to add new habits, minimize bad ones and assess your progress at regular intervals. Start now, and don’t wait until next January to evaluate your results.

By the end of 2010 you should be able to adopt 5-10 new habits that will significantly improve your health both immediately and in decades to come. As your health improves, your goals may evolve to reflect new and possibly more advanced ambitions. This is good, it means you’re making progress.

Not everyone will have the same aspirations or be able to tolerate the same daily routines, so you should think carefully and set goals you think you can achieve. Whenever possible, try to write your goals in specific rather than general terms. For example, instead of writing eat more vegetables, write eat something green at both lunch and dinner.

Don’t get hung up on setting guidelines you can follow 100% of the time, the goal is to set routines you can achieve most of the time. Remember, exceptions are okay and an inevitable part of life. For this exercise we are focusing on what you do as habit. That is, your average meals where you have control over what you eat.

Here are just a few examples of healthy habits to get you started, but these are only meant as inspiration. Spend some time making your own list and assigning priority to each habit. If you have any questions or suggestions, please write them below in the comments.

Healthy habits for a new decade

  1. Make vegetables the centerpiece of dinner at least 5 days per week.
  2. Limit dessert to once per week or less.
  3. Replace soda with sparkling water during lunch.
  4. Do not eat from the bread basket at restaurants.
  5. Include legumes in at least 4 meals per week.
  6. Take the stairs to the office at least 4 times per week.
  7. Eat breakfast everyday.
  8. Do not eat foods with added sugar.
  9. Shop at the farmers market every weekend.
  10. Put down your fork between each bite of food.

What’s on your list?

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16 Responses to “A New Decade’s Resolution: Quit Dieting”

  1. julie says:

    Excellent advice! I’m not much of one for writing things down (perhaps I should try), but I consider where/what I want to be, and I make small changes that gradually get me there. Big scary self-imposed changes seem to freak me out, but with little changes, I can build on little successes, learn to trust the process, and actually make progress.

  2. tarabu says:

    I need to resolve to write our favourite seasonal recipes on the calendar, so I remember to make them before the end of the season. My mother loves ginger/gourd (pumpkin, butternut, whatever) soup with nutmeg, but do I remember to make it more than once a year? No.

  3. Briana says:

    Cheers to the end of diets! And yay for a new strategy. And I totally agree with you that the end of dieting can be scary because the diet mentality teaches us that the answers are all outside of ourselves. It was incredibly empowering for me, but also a bit unnerving, to realize that my own body is the ultimate answer, tool, solution to reaching a happy weight.

  4. thomas says:

    is #4 because they reuse the bread or what?

    • Darya Pino says:

      LOL! No, it is because refined and processed grains are some of the least healthy foods on the planet.

      • thomas says:

        hm, should read ‘Do not eat bread’ then, not eating it at the restaurant won’t change much :/

      • I agree with Darya. When I sit down at a restaurant, I’m usually so ravenous that I eat two or three pieces of bread before my meal even gets to the table. Cutting out that habit would save me about 200 empty calories each time. If the bread were freshly baked with whole grains, well, then I may not be able to resist.

      • thomas says:

        allison, darya, appologies, my fault, didn’t know you get bread before the meal 😉
        we (at least in austria) only get the bread in the basket when the meal ‘needs’ bread. waitress brings and takes the basket with the meal.
        happened to me once this year…..

  5. Legumes at least four timesa week, huh?

    I’ve always thought legumes had important healthy properties. I’m reviewing the literature on it these days. Much of the recent science has focused on soybeans. I had to go back to 1994 for the best review of “legumes AND health.” Here’s the abstract:

    J Am Coll Nutr. 1994 Dec;13(6):549-58.

    Nutrition and health implications of dry beans: a review.
    Geil PB, Anderson JW.

    Endocrine-Metabolic Section, VA Medical Center, Lexington, KY 40511.

    The nutrient composition of dry beans makes them ideally suited to meet two major dietary recommendations for good health–increased intake of starches and complex carbohydrates and decreased consumption of fat. Dry beans supply protein, complex carbohydrate, fiber and essential vitamins and minerals to the diet, yet are low in fat and sodium and contain no cholesterol. Both protective and therapeutic effects of bean intake have been documented. The antinutritional effects of dry beans, while minor, are of interest to nutrition professionals. Dry beans are an excellent way to increase dietary fiber consumption and most individuals can incorporate beans into their diet without difficulty if they do so gradually. Including dry beans in a health-promoting diet is especially important in meeting the major dietary recommendations to reduce risk for chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, diabetes mellitus, obesity and cancer.

    [Wish I had a more recent review. We don’t even talk about “complex carbohydrates any more.]


    • Darya Pino says:

      Thanks for the info! I threw that legume thing in there because I think everyone would benefit from eating more of them. Personally I think they are a great substitute for grains in the diet and are incredibly filling. I probably eat them (beans and lentils) 8 times a week. Mmmm….chickpeas.

  6. I don’t really make resolutions. I make a to-do list because a resolution can be broken, but when something’s on my to-do list, I have to do it.

    So, on my to-do list, I have “eat breakfast everyday”, as well. I never seem to make time to eat breakfast, I’ll eat lunch, a snack, and dinner, but rarely breakfast.

    Great post! And Happy New Year! 🙂

  7. Matt Shook says:

    I simply can’t function without breakfast, so I would definitely recommend eating a healthy breakfast everyday!

    I am focusing on variety this year…learning how to make new meals with vegetables (beets, parsnips, various peppers), legumes (green lentils, kidney beans, cannellini beans), and other ingredients (seitan) that I don’t normally use. I’m also changing up my exercise routine by training for a half marathon (middle of the year) and full marathon (end of the year), and playing indoor soccer…along with the daily bike commutes. I’m considering changing up the reading routine a bit too…as last year was quite fiction-heavy.

  8. Paramjit says:

    The resolution for a New Decade. Great idea. I wonder when people will realize that dieting is not the solution to sustainable weight loss. As you have rightfully mentioned, mindful eating and exercise is the answer. A lot of people are so caught up with the short term goal of losing weight that they lose sight of the long term goal of sustaining it. Most people succeed in the long term goal but fail miserably in the long term one. You have rightfully pointed out the importance of creating higher awareness about what we eat by ingraining the correct habits. Great article!

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