Motivation Articles

Stop Dieting and Start Living!

Have You Made the Change?

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You’ve heard it so many times that you probably say it in your sleep. "Diets don’t work; if you want to lose weight and keep it off, you have to make a lifestyle change."

But what does a lifestyle change look or feel like, and how do you know when you’ve made one? The way some people talk about it, you’d think there’s some sort of mystical wisdom you get when you “make the change” that tells you when and what to eat, and how to stop worrying about the number on the scale. Does this mean you’ll finally stop craving chocolate and start liking tofu?

The basic difference between a diet mentality and a lifestyle mentality is simply a matter of perspective. Having the right perspective may not make tofu taste better than chocolate, but it can make all the difference in the world when it comes to achieving your goals, avoiding unnecessary suffering along the way, and hanging onto your achievements over the long haul.

Trust me on this. I’ve lost well over 350 pounds in my life—I know how to do that. But I also put 200 of those back on again, getting bigger each time. The 150 pounds I lost a few years ago is staying off, because I’ve changed my perspective.

Here are the main ways a diet differs from a lifestyle:
  1. A diet is all about numbers—the number on the scale and the number of calories you eat and burn. Success is defined in terms of how well you stick to your numbers.

    A lifestyle change is all about you. It’s about lining up your eating and physical activity with your real goals and desires. Success is defined in terms of how these changes make you feel about yourself.
     
  2. The diet mentality assumes that reaching a certain weight is the key to finding happiness and solving other problems. That’s why messing up the numbers on any given day can be so upsetting—it means you’ve messed up on just about everything that really matters.

    The lifestyle approach assumes that being overweight is usually the result of other problems, not the cause. Addressing these problems directly is the best way to solve both the problems themselves and your weight issues. This means focusing on many things, not just the numbers on the scale or the Nutrition Tracker. Numbers only tell a small part of the story, and “bad” numbers often provide good clues into areas that need attention.
     
  3. Going on a diet involves an external and temporary change in eating technique. You start counting and measuring, and you stop eating some foods and substitute others, based on the rules of whatever diet plan you are using. Maybe you throw in some exercise to burn a few extra calories. You assume that it’s the technique that produces the results, not you. The results of a diet are external; if you’re lucky, you may change on the outside—but not on the inside. Once you reach your goal weight, you don’t need the technique anymore, and things gradually go back to “normal.” So does your weight—and then some. And, of course, all the problems you hoped the weight loss would solve are still there.

    Making a lifestyle change involves an internal and permanent change in your relationship with food, eating, and physical activity. You recognize that the primary problem isn’t what you eat, or even how much you eat, but how and why you eat. Eating mindlessly and impulsively (without intention or awareness) and/or using food to manage your emotions and distract yourself from unpleasant thoughts—this is what really needs to change. Learning to take good care of yourself emotionally, physically, and spiritually—so that you don’t want to use eating to solve problems it really can’t—is a lifelong learning process that is constantly changing as your needs and circumstances change. Continued ›
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About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

Member Comments

  • Thank you so much for this article! It is just what I needed to hear. This will be very helpful to me in my lifetime journey. I am planning to write out my mission statement and read it often. - 4/20/2016 6:46:02 PM
  • Essentially what he is saying is that you can't have your cake and eat it too. You have to decide what you want most...to have the cake, or to eat it. I look at it this way, I need to learn to fuel my body on an everyday basis. I can socialize and indulge, within reason, once a week or twice a month, but I cannot eat the cake every day if I want to have the cake in my hand every day (cake in hand = health and well being, and a healthy weight). - 2/5/2016 10:41:28 AM
  • I appreciate the wisdom in Dean Anderson's articles. Having admitted this, my behavior with regard to food and exercise was so out of whack that at 5'2" I weighed 285 lbs. I lost sight (if I ever even knew in the first place) of what are healthy portion sizes, how much exercise and what kind is needed, what would fit with my life circumstances.

    I've needed the comfort of a rigid menu (diet??) and evolve an exercise routine to learn the new behaviors, and get some immediate relief from the health meltdown I was experiencing. I think this article is a vision for me of the healthy mindset I am working toward. But right now, with 43 pounds lost and over 120 to go, it feels too frightening too me. I'm not stable enough in this new life to be easygoing with it yet. - 12/14/2015 10:21:32 AM
  • VICTORIASMITH69
    dieting is a way of lifestyle c hanging. - 9/30/2015 9:11:26 AM
  • MLIAN2
    Ironically, giving up dieting was key for me when I decided that I needed to lose weight.

    I realised that food was my problem -- it was how I was using it that was causing so much pain and damage to my body and self esteem.

    As a result, I lost 22 pounds and have kept it off simply by changing why, how and when I ate. Here's how I did it: http://www.michel
    elian.com/blo
    g/how-to-stop
    -dieting-and-
    start-living/ - 7/21/2015 5:36:55 AM
  • CEVIZAGACE
    Good article! For me, one of the solutions of not being a number anymore was to throw away the scales and trying to stifle the calorie calculator that, after a life long of yoyo dieting, has become firmly planted in my head. - 7/2/2015 2:52:48 AM
  • Loved the article,Thank you. - 6/22/2015 10:41:04 AM
  • THEGROOVE65
    Yes! More please. This I can use a second healthy serving of.😁 - 5/6/2015 11:55:12 PM
  • Just what I needed to hear too! Thank you! - 1/20/2015 2:04:50 PM
  • ANDSIMINA13
    this is by far the best article that i ever read about weight loss and healthy lifestyle...i never knew the differences between those things..now I know where I went wrong and what I have to correct in my conceptions. thank you for all your articles. they’re a necessary piece to this puzzle (weight loss journey). I really appreciate your dedication and service, and I know others do too! thk :x - 1/11/2015 10:50:52 AM
  • JST4MENOW
    One of the most impactful articles I have read in quite a while. Thank you!! - 3/17/2014 6:59:44 AM
  • This is the best article I've read in a long, long time. The title is a bit misleading, but it got my attention, so maybe it's the best title. I am going to save this link, and put a reminder to read it once a month.
    Thank you, Mr. Anderson! - 11/28/2013 5:49:49 PM
  • Great article! Exactly what I needed to hear. - 11/28/2013 7:51:56 AM
  • Loved the article :) is there anyway I can bookmark it so I can find it easily later on when I want to come back to it? - 9/26/2013 1:53:29 PM
  • Loved the article. - 9/7/2013 1:43:27 PM

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