Paying attention is better than the vast majority of diets

A guest post by Royal at Avocadoo – a service that helps people discover indie bloggers and new recipes (with the exact nutritional information!).

Every year, like clockwork, hundreds of thousands of people wake up and decide that they are heavier, slower, older, and weaker than they were the year before – so they decide to change that. I don’t know if it is the concept of another metaphorical page being turned or if it is the idea of starting over, but everyone seems to think this is the time to do it.

And if it takes New Year’s to force someone to want to be healthy, I’m not going to complain. However, I do want to recommend something that might, at first, seem counter-intuitive.

That is, don’t go on a diet.
Diets are a sham or, at least, they are in the way that we generally think of them. There are who shelves of books written on dieting by people with many letters after their name and famous schools on the wall of their office. But every few years a new diet comes out that sweeps across the western world and convinces millions of people to massively change their diet – Atkins, no-fat, no-carb, paleo, etc – many of them coming from books or named after their creators.

However despite those diplomas on the wall, the letters after the name, and the noblest intentions of the dieter, the overwhelmingly vast majority fail or enter a diet yo-yo. A diet yo-yo is the state (one I am am sure you have seen in at past some of your friends) wherein the dieter makes progress with a diet the neither burns out or is content with the results and wants to return to her old eating habits. Naturally the weight returns, she gets unhappy, and then starts the diet again. This is not a good place to be as you are either unhappy with your body or unhappy with your food.

Diets work, on occasion, for people with a strong will or with a relatively slight problem.

Now I want to look at this problem from a wholly different perspective – the first postulating that the majority of people that try diets fail and remain unhealthy. Now I want to pose a question:
How many fat vegetarians or vegans have you met?

Now, dear reader, please don’t leave, this isn’t an article proselytizing veganism or the like – I am sure someone has already tried that on you. Perhaps they made you watch a gross video of a slaughterhouse or tell you about the living conditions of chickens. I shall do no such thing. Rather I want to look at why they are skinnier and, generally, healthier than normies like us.

I spent 6 years as a vegan. I t was a long six years, but it put me on a track to where I am today. Healthwise, anyway. And, even after quitting, I still remained a healthy weight and didn’t go back to the rather poor eating habits that I maintained earlier.

This is because I managed to hold onto the main skill that one learns when he is vegan. That is, I learned to think about what I was eating before I ate it. This seems like a trivial skill, but how often to you sit down and ask yourself what, exactly, is in that Hot Pocket or Mcdonald’s meal? Or even that health bar?
As a vegetarian, or even moreso as a vegan, one has no choice but to think about exactly what he is eating every single time. There is no way a around it. If you mess up then you are beaking this ethical code that you have instilled within yourself. You won’t be able to say ‘I haven’t eaten an animal product/meat in X months or years.’ So in this way you are forced to analyze every meal, to read the back of every bar, to wonder if that beer is vegan or not (yes, this is a thing).

After a few weeks you develop an unconscious habit of thinking critically about everything you eat or drink. And this works wonders. Pretty soon you start you’ll pick up a french fry and actually consider what a french fry is.

Once you start thinking critically of your food it is hard to stop. It becomes a kind of sixth sense that you don’t even really need to think about. You look at something and you decided I am not eating that, it is unhealthy. The difference is now you know why it is unhealthy and why you should not eat it. As a vegan or vegetarian you have the nice crutch of literally not being allowed to eat it. As an omnivore it is a little harder.

This is what the Atkin’s diet, Weight Watcher, and Veganism all do to you. You wonder ‘Can I eat that, does it fit in with what I am allowed to do.’ Veganism just more fully ingrains this idea in you. This is because there are animals products in so many things that you would think are devoid of them. So you simply must read the back of every bar or ask the waitress at every meal.

This is the kind of mentality you need to get in to succeed at changing eating habits. Just starting a diet and telling yourself that you change as little as possible to meet the constrictions of the diet is doomed from the start.

You don’t need to become vegan, but you do need to teach yourself to stop and think critically about everything that you eat. Everything. Eating is a necessity of life and can be very distracting, so our mind automates most of the process itself. You might sit down and make a pot of pasta after work without really considering if it is the best thing for you to eat considering you didn’t exercise today.

You need to break this automation if you want to succeed.

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56 thoughts on “Paying attention is better than the vast majority of diets

  1. That is exactly my experience. When I was young (a long time ago … 😉 ), I tried all kinds of diets, and they all worked … :-D, but then I went back to my “normal” ways.

    When I started to eat vegetarian, some of my health problems disappeared, but that is not necessarily so for everybody (problems with the metabolism and very low blood pressure).

    This year I did a drastic step and stopped eating refined sugar and flour, cut down on cream and creamy cheese (very difficult in Denmark, the land of fat dairy products, but good for my cholesterol). I don’t go hungry, eat the normal warm food, cook mostly with olive oil instead of butter, and I lost 6 kilos so far, slowly, slowly. I got sugar withdrawals after the first week, but I got through those. I actually was horrified when I calculated how much sugar I actually consumed. Sugar in tea and coffee alone made up 24 kilos per year, plus icecream, chocolate and desserts!!! I am not 100% sugarfree today, but I really keep it within limits.

    So I made some small and one big change with good success. I can stick with it, because I can otherwise eat what I like. I am not a fast food fan though and really don’t like salty snacks like potato chips, and I dislike soda pops. I am very lucky that way.

    My conclusion is that everybody will have to look at their eating habits and revise them in a realistic way. Realistic meaning: can I stick with it in future? And, of course, moving more also helps … 😉 But, losing weight slowly is better than not losing weight at all.

  2. Great article!! Excellent points!! Diet is probably a poor word choice. After all who wants to follow something with the word Die as the first 3 letters!! LOL!!

    I think Lifestyle is probably a better choice. Lifestyle changes in the way you eat, what you eat and portion control. To be honest I’ve never had a weight problem. In fact I’ve always been considered to be too thin. However both my parents were slim people and you can’t get around your DNA. Which brings me to my next point.

    When I was 49 I had a minor stroke. Fortunately I was at work so they rushed me to the E.R. Come to find out my blood pressure was sky high. Now why did this happen since I have never been fat? Never smoked. Exercised. Limited my alcohol intake. My doctor told me it was hereditary. The causes were genetic however I did have to change my eating habits as I was addicted to salt.

    I’ve greatly reduced both my salt and sugar intake because both high blood pressure and diabetes run in my family. I’m not saying I don’t cheat every so often but the results of my stroke were a significant lose of vision in my left eye. My vision is 20/100. I can still see out of my right eye but I can no longer drive. The benefit of this is that I walk more.

    Next year I will be 58 years old. For all the young people in their 20s, 30s and early 40s please know your family history and change your lifestyle accordingly. Your choice in your youth will determine your middle age and senior years.

  3. I couldn’t agree more! So, everyone, put on your reading glasses and take a hard look at those labels!
    My daughter has become quite an expert at this game: it’s almost like she has developed X-ray vision as she can spot any undesirable ingredient (sulfites and other preservatives) within 3 seconds!
    And after you start thinking about what you eat, the next natural step is: you start cooking REAL food, and you naturally lose unnecessary pounds / kilos while getting healthier 😊

  4. I want to be rich in ideas and thanks for following My Theory. I will get back to your blog soon. It looks like your quite a professional blogger and I am just a beginner.

  5. A very interested article in order to diets, new year ammonitions and diets are a riddle where solutions are complex and you need brain, sane brain.
    A hail from Spain

  6. Beautifully written and very much packing a potent punch of reality. It’s on us as individuals to make sure we make choices that are good for us. Finding the balance within leads to finding the balance on the outside. Although sometimes these two can also be switched around.

  7. A really practical approach and I think that only will work in long run! Great blog, would love to visit again for sure! Thanks for visiting and following my blog! :-):-)

  8. I enjoyed this, it’s so true how we are wired to make a fresh start every new year and most fail because it just sounds good… not really wanting it. Love how you think.

  9. Elementary but true. You are right, you have to think about your food and why you eat it. Diets don’t work. So often people want to lose weight and if they do they go back to what they were eating before and gain it back plus ten. I’m in my 60’s but in my 20’s I realized that what we eat determines the health we have when we are older. Looking around at people in the states – at entire families of fat people – looking in their grocery carts I want to ask then if they are REALLY going to eat that? How do people allow themselves to get 50 plus pounds overweight? When I was a kid, fat kids were rare. To compensate, fat people convince themselves that fat is beautiful. Two days ago I meet with a friend who is doing weight watchers. She has lost 15 lbs by eating little frozen meals and has no control over the quality of that mass produced, pesticide filled, non organic food. She is down to 200 lbs. She’s quitting weight watchers now because she believes she’s too big boned to be thin, and 200 lbs at 5’4″ is a good weight. Really? Changing your diet when you are older is almost impossible. High blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes etc doesn’t scare them and their health is already quite damaged. “You have to go somehow”. It is the children that need to learn. I have two grown kids, 36 and 40. I fed then healthy. No sugar cereals, soda or crap. My son now feds his children right. He cares about his own diet. My daughter doesn’t. She weighs 220, has an a1c of 11 and takes all kinds of meds to counteract all kinds of problems. She eats a lot of beef and feeds her family lots of starch and she can’t figure out why she can’t take off weight. Her 16 yr old daughter weighs 175. I don’t know the point I’m trying to make except that so many of us have been mind bent by the food industry and commercials about food. The concept of eating good food for good health is lost on so many. They want taste. After it goes down their throat it has no meaning. If people aren’t responsible for their actions then they can sit around and talk to each other about their medical problems like a badge of honor. I apologize for going on so long. This is a sore subject with me for many reasons.

      1. It’s hard to see.Sugar cereals, hot dog buns, half a dozen soda packs or litres of soda, hamberger helper, mac and cheese. Pure junk and fat kids. What a disservice they do them saddling them with poor health as they grow up. But fat is the new beautiful they have convinced themselves as they stuff their bodies into spandex. Why spandex? At least wear drapey clothing that doesn’t show every bulge. My daughter weighs about 220. Underneath it all she is beautiful, but all she has is excuses. There are no facial bones anymore. Its just round. But I am most worried about her health. Her cholesterol is sky high and her diabetes is to the point that it kills the kidneys, you get your feet cut off and you lose your eyesight and she is only 36. What does it take?

  10. I’ve become more mindful of what I’m eating as I get older. When I was a teenager, I never thought about it at all! Thanks for the reminder that eating should be a thoughtful (and tasty) exercise.

  11. Thanks for the motivational post! Everybody is different so much like with learning to live with anxiety, I always say the best way to lose weight is the way that works best for you!. 🙂

  12. I am glad you found my blog and I could follow back to here. My husband has many food allergies and I have learned to cook and grocery shop for him by reading and understanding every label. I understand dog food nutrition and “lingo” and read every label for my schnauzer, too. Me, not so much, and have developed a pot belly from unhealthy eating habits. My husband is encouraging me to kick the sweets habit, eating only stevia, which does not produce the glycemic effect.Your blog is encouraging me that direction, also. Happy New year to us all!

  13. Hadn’t heard this one – it makes sense. I’ll see if paying more attention helps.

    Thanks for the tip – though it’s a lot harder to do this when you’re always exhausted, and the body is demanding FOOD, you can do it ahead of time.

  14. Great points. Losing weight isn’t about depriving yourself, it’s about gaining yourself – gaining back your energy, your health, your looks and so on

  15. I believe in paying attention.
    I usually read the labels …. at least the first time I buy something …. often, when I buy something new it is because of an idea for some new iksperiment …. I also want to know how they made all of the stuff and what chemicals they use …. If the iksperiments are “diet” related I watch for clues to how my body responds to the new item … It is kind of like paying attention to how my brain responded when I read this blog …. it was good.

  16. I so agree with this: “Once you start thinking critically of your food it is hard to stop. It becomes a kind of sixth sense that you don’t even really need to think about. You look at something and you decided I am not eating that, it is unhealthy.”
    Fad diets come and go. You have to change the way you think about food.


  18. I completely agree with this. I started cutting things out of my diet a while ago (for health reasons) and it became a bit of a self destructive spiral. I think having a healthy understanding of what food does for you is important, and being mindful of what you eat. Its all in a mindset – instead of saying ‘I cant eat that’, ‘I don’t eat that’ shows you taking ownership of your diet, and growing your understanding. NOw, thankfully I am in a much healthier place.
    Just found your blog – its fab.

  19. So true! Great post! Would love feedback on my new piece ‘look at me now’ 😊

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