The way I measure success with my clients is not by how many pounds they lost in the shortest amount of time, but by how long they can keep the weight off.
As hard as weight loss is, keeping the weight off is the golden nugget.
It is estimated that 45 million Americans a year go on a diet. How many of them, do you think, will be successful at maintaining their new weight?
Think about the "Biggest Loser" contestants. A 2016 study published in the Journal Obesity found that 13 out of 14 studied contestants have regained weight. When you go back and look at where they are now, they not only regained their weight, they put some more on. Are you surprised?
Extreme fat loss has its consequences. Human body can only handle so much stress. They lost tremendous amount of weight fast and their bodies eventually showed them the middle finger.
Cutting corners always backfires.
Anyway, back to my point.
How exactly setting food rules can help us get healthier, feel better about ourselves and allow us to lose or maintain out weight in a sustainable way?
ENTER: FOOD & DRINK RULES
Let me be blunt here. When I'm talking about food and drink rules I'm not talking about setting rules in terms of consumption of broccoli or carrots.
I'm talking about setting rules that will help you control your (possibly) excessive intake of non-nutritious, empty calorie foods and beverages.
After all all most people don't say:
"Oh, I've had such a long and stressful day at work today. Let me make a kale salad. I always feel better after having a salad."
Why do we need rules?
Simply knowing the right behavior is not enough.
If it was, I wouldn't have a job right now.
Reversing long-standing habits is not easy. The older the habit, the stronger the connection in the brain, and the more automatic the behavior.
Think about how mindless brushing your teeth is. Or reaching for that nightly glass of wine to finish your day. Or not stopping when you've had enough food.
Rules provide guidance, telling us exactly what to do when a tempting stimuli arrives.
Rules gives us an alternative to an otherwise conditioned response.
Rules close the door to no longer acceptable behaviors.
When the brain knows that a reward will not be forthcoming, it shifts its attention elsewhere, i.e. that craving feeling in your body will disappear the more you enforce your rule.
When you develop a sense of your own capacity for control and recognize that you need not engage in habitual (and assumingely negative) behavior, that sense of arousal will begin to diminish.
When should you start thinking about setting rules?
When you feel like you have no choice but to engage in a particular food/drink related behavior.
When you feel like a particular food/drink has more control over your life that you would like it to.
When you feel like a particular food/drink is compromising your health and/or the quality of your life.
When thinking about not having a particular food/drink for one day puts you in a full panic mode (like me not having chocolate for a week)
When you cannot control yourself around a particular food/drink, i.e. you repeatedly overdo it and never learn the lesson.
What are the rules for setting rules?
Make your rules as specific and categorical as possible such as "I only drink on the weekends and it's only 1 glass per day".
Don't leave any wiggle room: "No junk food in the house".
No blind spots, no discussions: "Leftover birthday cake gets thrown out in the end of the night".
I didn't realize how many rules of my own I've had, until I started to write about this subject. One reason behind it is that I've enforced them for so long, they are such no-brainers to me that I no longer perceive them as rules.
So what are some of my own food rules?
No fried food. Like never. Not even on vacation.
Sweet potato fries, chicken wings and fried calamari used to be my favorite things when eating out.
I don't consume anything with artificial flavors, sweeteners, preservatives or dyes.
That cuts out a nice chunk of processed foods.
I drive by Dunkin Donuts every day. I used to want to stop in to get a donut on daily basis. It drove me bonkers. So I went on their website to look up the ingredients of their donuts. Once I read what they put inside, I was done. Never craved it since.
I don't drink soda, fruit juices or any other sweetened beverages or liquors.
Few weeks ago I tried the "no added sugar for a week" rule - you can read about it here. Although it was hard the first day, after that my brain never craved it again. Even weeks afterwards I feel like I have much better control over my chocolate consumption than before the experiment.
From time to time I will also enforce some rules on my wine consumption or added sugar (I'm the kind of person who would trade dinner for dessert any day). When I feel like I'm losing grip of what's considered moderation and I'm starting to overdo it, I will throw a rule on myself and work at it until I feel in control again.
Do you have any rules of your own? Please share them with me and my readers.