I recently turned 30, and it got me thinking about how my relationship with my weight has changed throughout my life.
I’ve gone through something of a revolution in the past 2 years regarding my body and the way I treat it.
I was never overweight as a child. You’d usually find me hanging from a tree or cartwheeling across the lawn. There’s a period at around age 10 when you’d be hard pressed to find a picture of me on my feet. I loved to play, to be active either with friends and by myself. I’d spend endless hours trying to perfect my handstand, or my underwater tumbles. Never a day went by without some kind of physical activity.
When I look back now it’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment when it all changed. I know it was during my teens - the usual story, hormones and heartache. My friends and I discovered alcohol at around 14, and that became the new way to play. In those days you could buy a bottle of vodka at the local shop regardless of age, and most pubs would serve us by the time we hit 16. We whiled away our time at the local park getting drunk and being silly.
I look back on these days with nostalgic joy - this was the start of life post childhood. But it was also the start of my body’s downfall.
Next, university came. Fresh from highschool, my freshers year was whirlwind of fun. I was young and free, and every night was a party. I drank to excess almost every day. I ate whatever I wanted, whatever was easy (read: junk food). I even lived with bronchitis for 3 months without realising it. I thought that was funny at the time - how stupid was I?
At the start of my second year I realised just how bad things had got. I stepped on the scales and the number I saw was just shy of 200 pounds. I was obese, I was ill, I was miserable.
It was at this point that I embarked on the first of many diets. I went for Atkins first time round - I loved anything high in fat and found foregoing bread and pasta easy at first. I even joined a gym and - shock horror - went to it. I lost quite a bit of weight over 3 months, and thought I’d cracked it.
How wrong I was.
Thinking I’d nailed my weight loss, I quickly slipped back into old habits.
Before I knew it, I’d put most of the weight back on.
This cycle occurred over and over again, for another 8 years.
At 28, with my wedding looming, I came to the realisation that whatever I was doing wasn’t working. I saw a picture of myself and was disgusted at the idea of walking down the aisle looking like I did.
But I didn’t want to go through the pain of losing a load of weight just to put it all straight back on again.
I’d had enough of being a serial dieter.
So I had to figure out what I was doing wrong. And the answer was mindblowingly simple.
It came to me at work of all places. I was reflecting on my experience within the corporate world - how everything I did as a business professional was designed to create loyalty.
Loyal, repeat customers are far more valuable than new ones. Did you know that it costs 5 times more to recruit a new customer than it does to retain an existing one?
Then it hit me.
The diet and fitness industry is designed to make sure I kept failing.
The system is constructed to keep people in the cycle of weight loss and gain so that people remain loyal, repeat customers.
This revelation shocked me, but I also felt relieved and empowered. Now that I understood how the odds were stacked, I could reverse engineer the process and design a way to beat the system.
I realised that the trick the diet and fitness industry use to retain customers is actually blindingly simple.
Just think about the term ‘diet’. How would you explain a diet to an alien?
I’d bet my bottom dollar on the fact you’d say something along the lines of, ‘a diet is when someone restricts themselves to eating less food in order to lose weight’.
There is one big, glaring problem with this definition: it is timebound. There is an end point inferred.
We have been conditioned to think about a diet as a solution - a process that gets us from A to B over a certain period of time. If we follow the ‘diet’, we will lose weight. We see it as a verb - something that we ‘do’. We ‘go on a diet’.
When we think of a diet as a verb we fail to consider what happens next. When we have ‘gone on a diet’ and succeeded - what do we do?
I’ll tell you what we do. 95% of the time we go back to our old habits and put all the weight back on.
So what happens if we stop considering the word ‘diet’ as a verb, and start thinking of it as a noun?
I went to the Oxford English Dictionary for inspiration and this is what I found:
“Diet - The kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats.”
In this context, a diet is something that a person HAS, not something a person DOES.
The key word here is ‘habitually’. A habit is a regular practice, a routine that is difficult to break. Habits are the cornerstone of behaviour, good and bad.
Creating better habits is the solution to 99% of our weight problems.
And guess what? ‘Habit’ is a noun. Something a person owns, not a linear, timebound process.
As soon as I started to think about my health, my weight and my lifestyle as a series of habits, I broke free of the chains of serial dieting. I forged a blueprint of what I knew good would look like, and I changed my behaviour patterns to mirror that blueprint. This involved an overhaul of my life and the way I thought about and interacted with food and exercise.
This small revelation changed everything.
So, to the frustrated serial dieters out there, I urge you to reframe your relationship with the word ‘diet’. Treat it as a noun from this day forward. Stop believing that a diet is something you DO, and realise it is instead something you HAVE.
Choose to have a better diet. Choose to have a better fitness regime. Choose to build better habits that you’ll stick with for life.
If you do this, I promise you will break free of the dieting cycle.