Get Off the Diet Roller Coaster
When I turned 30 a few years ago, I was hit with the sobering fact that I’d spent almost half of my life dieting. Fifteen years spent honing a craft, practicing a skill, or working on your career typically guarantees you will have obtained a level of excellence in your focus. Somehow, fifteen years spent dieting only resulted in my weight being the highest it had ever been and my hope of ever achieving my goal weight being the lowest.
Dieting, food restriction, and intense workout routines had become my way of life. I was always on the hunt for the next new fad diet or the magic secret to weight loss that would finally be my ticket out of my overweight reality. Dieting became my normal and was an integral part of my identity. I was the girl who was always on a diet: the girl who was restricting some new food group this week or spending the weekend on a juice fast. It was hard for me to even remember what it felt like to eat like a “normal” person.
Although I portrayed myself to the world as the steadfast dieter and dedicated gym rat, I was fighting a losing battle with myself behind closed doors. As an all-or-nothing person when it came to dieting, I could hold strong on a diet for weeks — even months — at a time. But the restriction and deprivation always caught up with me, and sooner or later, I’d find myself on my couch bingeing all the foods I’d been restricting. For most of my adult life, I was either on a diet or OFF a diet. If I was off a diet, it was a free-for-all, “kid in a candy store” kind of mentality because I knew it was only a matter of time until I was onto the next period of restriction. I was a classic yo-yo dieter with all of the extra weight to prove it.
But when I turned 30, something happened: my body started rebelling. You always hear that yo-yo diets will mess up your metabolism, and it felt like I had finally reached that point.
I was in a weight loss competition at my gym (add that to the list of things I’ll never do again!) and it felt like calorie restriction and workouts were no longer enough to make my body release those extra pounds. Only extremes — egg fasts, juice fasts, and extreme over exercising — led to results. I went on to win that weight loss competition but gain every single pound (and then some) back. I realized my body wasn’t going to put up with being treated like this anymore, and it’s probably the best thing that ever happened to me. I knew I could no longer live in this world of crash dieting, bingeing, and restriction. It wasn’t working, and I had wasted too much of my life on it already. The time had come to either accept that I would be overweight or to find a way to make healthy eating and exercise a sustainable part of my lifestyle.
During every diet I attempted, I would tell everyone around me that it was my new lifestyle. I think I even believed my own lie a couple of times, but in the back of my head, I was already making a list of “bad” foods I was going to eat once I hit my goal weight. This time was different. I was officially getting off of the diet roller coaster and turning in my amusement park pass. The diet ride was over. Since that formative day, I began a keto lifestyle, lost almost 60 pounds, and have maintained most of that loss for over two years. I found a way to legitimately make my diet my lifestyle and it’s now my new normal. Food issues didn’t disappear overnight, and I still struggle from time to time, but my routine is set up to keep me from ever crashing to the lows I visited so often in the past. It’s cliché but true — if I can do this, YOU can do this. If these diet woes sound familiar, keep reading for my top tips on how to stop yo-yo dieting and create a lifestyle that gets you to your goals.
Find What Works For You
When I started keto back in 2017, something clicked. It was the first time in my life that a diet felt easy. I loved the food I got to eat, I felt full and satisfied, and I wasn’t constantly thinking about when I could eat again. While I could go on and on about all of the reasons I love the keto diet, that doesn’t mean it’s the right solution for you. There are tons of ways to lose weight and be healthy, and in order to turn your diet into a sustainable lifestyle, you have to find the option that works best for you and your life.
The first step to transform your diet into your new normal way of eating is to find a diet you can reasonably do every day for the rest of your life. If it takes major willpower and white knuckling to get through each day, you’re eventually bound to fall off the wagon. Keep trying different diets and approaches (for example: Dirty Keto, Clean Keto, carnivore) until something makes sense for you. Remember that many diets may seem like a challenge at first, so give each attempt a fair try. But if it still feels like a constant battle after a couple weeks, that’s a clear sign it’s not the right choice. Do some more research, and on to the next!
Don’t Feel Deprived
I credit my ability to stick with Keto largely to the fact that I don’t let myself feel deprived. You may think a restrictive diet (while keto doesn’t feel particularly restrictive to me, by definition, it is) and deprivation go hand in hand, but that hasn’t been my experience. Any time I feel the temptation to go off plan, I combat the urge with my ability to replace the food I’m craving with a keto version. Luckily, this is getting easier every day! When I started keto, there were only a handful of keto products available, and there definitely weren’t any keto’fied snack foods on the grocery store shelves. Trying to replace my cravings with keto versions usually meant finding a recipe and making my own. But putting in that extra time to keep me on track while satisfying my cravings was an important step in making this way of eating sustainable.
Nowadays, the internet and store shelves are full of keto products to help you stay on track, and this is the case with most diet options out there. Of course, that doesn’t mean you won’t feel tempted to go off plan. Chances are, you’ll find yourself in situations that make you want to cave in. For example, while there are many keto desserts available, they most likely aren’t on the menu when all of your friends are ordering an after-dinner indulgence at your dinner night out. But knowing you simply have to wait until you get home to have your own sweet treat — rather than facing the idea that you’ll never eat dessert again — keeps you on track and in line with your goals.
Preparation also helps. Throw a sugar-free chocolate bar in your bag so you can enjoy dessert with your friends. Or bring a keto side dish or two to your office potluck or friend’s barbecue so you know you won’t be stuck without anything to eat. It may take some extra effort to make your own versions or get organized ahead of time, but if it makes your diet something you can do for the rest of your life, it’s well worth it.
Take “Can’t” Out of Your Vocabulary
Saying you can’t have a certain food instead of saying you choose not to may sound like semantics, but words have meaning and they alter your whole perspective. There’s no diet coach following you around to stop you from eating a certain food. You can eat whatever food you choose. By using language that reminds you that your diet restrictions are a choice you’re making for your benefit, you can shift your feelings about sticking to your plan. Rather than an oppressive restriction, your diet choices symbolize the fact that you’ve empowered yourself to make decisions that make you feel your best.
Once you’ve changed your language, you can stop focusing on the foods you no longer eat and start celebrating the foods you are including your diet. Cutting out certain foods or food groups may highlight the restrictive aspect of your diet, but this also opens up a whole new world of possibilities. There are likely many foods included in your new diet guidelines that you’ve never had a reason to experiment with before. Choose to take this chance to have fun experimenting with new ingredients and flavors that you might come to love even more than those foods you’re cutting out!
Change Your Mindset
One hard lesson I learned when I hit my goal weight and got to maintenance was that there isn’t a finish line in this race. I hate to burst your goal weight bubble, but I discovered that maintenance mode feels pretty similar to the weight loss mode I’d spent the previous ten months on. While some people may be able to hit their goal weight, stop tracking, and stop being diligent in their food choices, that’s not the reality for most. Those of us who have had a long struggle with food and dieting will probably have to continue to be more cognizant of our food choices for the foreseeable future. If your plan is to go back to your old way of eating as soon as you hit your goal weight, you should also plan to gain a lot of your weight back. After all, our old way of eating got us here in the first place.
However, by realizing there is no finish line, you can determine which choices you need to make in order to turn your diet into a lifestyle. Most of us can stick to any diet for a limited amount of time — whether it’s a weekend cleanse or a 30-day challenge — but thinking of eating a certain way for the rest of your life forces you to set sustainable rules and guidelines. Those sustainable choices may not be the fastest way to get to your goal weight, but they’re the choices that will keep you from ever having to crash diet again. And isn’t that the real goal?
Solidify Your Routine
Routine is the secret to keeping up good habits without even having to think about them. If you set up your routine to support your new lifestyle, you allow your body and mind to go on autopilot, which allows you to effortlessly make choices aligned with your goals. Looking for examples? Try eating at roughly the same time each day, meal prepping on weekends, and getting your workout in first thing each morning. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all routine, so you have the opportunity to choose what works best for you and your lifestyle!
Your routine can become a comfort and a safe place to land when life isn’t smooth sailing. Once your new routine is firmly in place, it actually takes more effort for you to venture outside your healthy patterns. This means that making decisions that don’t fit your end goal becomes more difficult and uncomfortable than it would be to just keep following your plan. Also know that routines don’t have to be rigid or unforgiving. We all live busy lives and sometimes curveballs will force you to shake up your plans. Your routine doesn’t have to be a strict rule but a guiding light to help you follow the path you’ve chosen for yourself.
Curate Your Community
Communities and group support can play an integral role in helping you keep the promises you’ve made to yourself. Similar to the way being a yo-yo dieter became my identity in my early adult life, you can also carve out a new identity that helps define the person you want to be — such as someone who cares about living a healthy lifestyle. I found amazing support for my Keto lifestyle from women on the Keto subreddit, but you can build a community to hold you accountable in lots of different ways — such as meetup groups, Facebook, or Instagram.
Creating a community around this identity helps keep you on track because you now have a group of people who see you in that way and will help hold you accountable if and when you’re starting to sway. Also, curating your life to be supportive of your new choices only makes it easier to stick with that path and not stray. A community and lifestyle that supports your new way of life will help you move forward with your new choices for the long term because that old person doesn’t fit in your new life. The more you can curate your surroundings to support these new decisions, the harder it is to ever go back to the choices you used to make.
One Step at a Time
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and bad habits don’t change overnight. You can’t expect to wake up one morning and change your whole way of life, but you can make incremental changes that will lead you in that direction. Big changes come from long periods of consistency, and before you know it, you’ll be able to look back and see how far you’ve come. So start small and take steps forward each day. This is a marathon — not a sprint — and there is no finish line. Small steps day after day are the secret to getting off that roller coaster and taking an easy ride on the road to diet freedom.