The first time I went on a gluten free diet, I lasted three days.
I didn’t fare much better on my second and third attempts.
Six months and four tries later, I finally figured out how to stick with the program. Over time, it became my new normal.
Unfortunately, it all fell apart when I entered my final months of pregnancy. That, followed by childbirth, the holidays, and adjusting to life with three kids resulted in an overabundance of unhealthy indulgences.
So after months of feeling sniffly, sluggish, and slow, I was eager to hop back on the gluten-dairy-sugar-free bandwagon. I thought it would be easy.
Ha. Silly me.
It wasn’t even close.
In my defense, my slip-ups have been minor. Breadcrumbs in my chicken, an extra glass of wine, a post workout energy bar, a splash of goat milk in my coffee.
And I might have had a slice of pizza.
Ok fine, two.
I’m disappointed in myself because I committed to something this month and I failed. Repeatedly.
God this food thing is hard.
In fact, that’s exactly what I say to people who tell me they’re going on a diet.
“It’s REALLY HARD! You’re determined now, but in two days time, you’ll be craving everything from potato chips to fried chicken to fettuccine alfredo.”
Food is that addicting. Yuva Noah Harari, author of Sapiens explains why:
…Consider the eating habits of our forager forebears. In the savannah and forests they inhabited, high-calorie sweets were extremely rare and food in general was in short supply. A typical forager 30,000 years ago had access to only one type of sweet food – ripe fruit. If a Stone Age woman came across a tree growing with figs, the most sensible thing to do was to eat as many of them as she could on the spot, before the local baboon band picked the tree bare. The instinct to gorge on high-calorie food was hard-wired into our genes. Today we may be living in high-rise apartments with over-stuffed refrigerators, but our DNA still thinks we are in the savannah. That’s what makes some of us spoon down an entire tub of Ben & Jerry’s when we find one in the freezer and wash it down with a jumbo coke. – Yuva Noah Harari
When you go on a diet, you’re going against your hard wiring. And you will continue to fight the good fight until your eating habits change. Until the way you eat becomes second nature.
The point is, there is no such thing as an easy diet. It doesn’t matter if you’re a first time “dieter”, or a veteran like me, you have to expect to be hungry, irritable, and have cravings. .
The good news is there is a way to make it work. It all comes down to outsmarting your future self. Here are some tips:
Plan Your Meals
You don’t have to use a fancy app (I use a notebook), you just have to pre-plan every single morsel of food that enters your mouth, whether you eat at home, at a restaurant or at an airport bar.
Food shopping becomes easier and less stressful, and you avoid situations where you have to scramble for a last minute meal.
Keep a food journal
The more detailed, the better. If you keep track of everything you eat (especially pre-diet), you’ll start to uncover patterns of when you’re most likely to snack mindlessly or indulge in unhealthy foods. It also makes you accountable for everything you eat and drink.
Throw out the bad stuff
If there’s a candy bar sitting in your pantry, I guarantee that you will eat it or drive yourself insane trying to resist it. If you want to preserve your willpower and sanity, don’t give yourself an easy opportunity to cheat. Go through your pantry, freezer, and refrigerator and get rid of any off-limits foods.
Keep a stash of the good stuff
Buy a variety of healthy snacks to keep at home, in your car, purse, or office so that when you do get hungry (and you will), there’s something to munch on.
Make it public
Tell a supportive friend, your coworkers, post on Facebook, or blog about it. Publicizing your goal makes you more accountable. You become more motivated to stick with the program – and hopefully your friends will help you get there.
Make contingency plans
What happens if you’re invited out to dinner? If you’re traveling for work? Going on a road trip? What if you have to take your kids to a birthday party where there will be cake and pizza? What happens if you’re ravenous? Or having an awful day?
These things will come up and you have to know, in advance, how you will handle them.
Maybe you’ll have to decline some social invitations, eat in advance, or choose a different restaurant. Maybe you’ll need to keep a stash of food in your car or at your desk.
You must anticipate as many possible situations where you might be tempted into making a bad decision.
Let the small wins motivate you
Winning is contagious. It gives you a boost of confidence, motivation and willpower. Enjoy the win. Give yourself a pat on the back (or a little reward) and keep at it.
If you screw up, start over
It happens to all of us. Look at each failure as a flaw in the process, not a flaw in you. Assess what went wrong, fix it, and then get back up and try again!
…And that’s exactly what I’m doing.