Clearly, we have a fundamental problem.
We have been taught, and it is part of our well-ingrained belief system, that if we go on a diet, and we follow the diet plan to the letter, we will lose weight. Yet, there has been a 70 percent increase incidence of obesity, and about 63 percent of American women are considered overweight or obese. Many of these women go on diets—the ones in the best-selling books, the ones everybody raves about, the ones that are supposed to work. So where is the disconnect? Why aren’t the diets working? Why are we so desperate for a cure, and so unable to find it, when the market is glutted with so-called ‘cures’? In other words: Why are we still a fat, sick nation?
The answer is simple and so is the cure, but it might not be what you think it is. The cure is not a diet. Think about this rationally: If you go on a diet, then at some point you are going to go off the diet. How will that result in any lasting weight loss or health improvement? I’ll answer that right now: It won’t. Diets are recipes for failure. They are not keys to health, fitness, or your ideal weight.
This is hard for many women to swallow. We are addicted to diets. They fill us with such hope for the future. I’m sorry to break the news to you, but each new diet is actually full of hopelessness. I’ve seen it time and time again—the frustration, the angst, the feeling of sacrifice, and the overall neglect of health and nutrition that occurs with dieting. I’ve also witnessed the frustration, angst and shame that occur with every diet failure.
The truth is that your failure to lose weight is not your fault. Truly! It is not your fault, so please stop blaming yourself. It is absolutely impossible to stick to a diet that isn’t consistent with your lifestyle, tastes, culture, belief system and deeply ingrained habits. You might stick with it for a week or two, or even a month or two, but at some point, when life happens to you, it’s all going to fall apart. If you are a typical American woman, you will probably blame yourself.
But I have a solution for you. I have an alternate approach. As a cardiologist, I know your heart depends on your success, so believe me when I say that I can help you. Let’s try something different. This will be easy. You can do this. Now stay with me. Here are the things I want you to do:
- First of all, I want you to make me a promise: You will eat no bacon and no soda. Ever. These are not viable foods. Unless it’s your birthday and it matters more to you than cake, banish these two things from your life forever.
- Next, I want you to discover what I call your ‘diet style.” How do you eat? Face up to it. Admit it. What do you love? Ice cream? Popcorn? What do you hate? Vegetables? Exercise? Admit it. If you don’t admit it, you can’t do anything about it, and you can’t work within your own very real limitations.
- Be accountable. No more excuses, no more avoidance! Get on the scale and really look at that number. This is your starting point. If you don’t know where you are, you can’t know where you’re going.
- Write down everything you eat. Everything! That includes every bit and bite that you eat in between meals, and even those morsels you grab on the run or sneak while making dinner. They all count. Also make a note of the context of what was happening when you were eating your food and how you felt (“Early morning, exhausted!” “After work, totally stressed!” “At a party, throwing caution to the wind after three glasses of champagne!”) Now, you have your own personal understanding of who you are. Now you can figure out what needs to be done.
Many times people choose diets that go against their fundamental personalities or the food cravings they have. For example, if you are craving crunchy food while sitting in front of the television every night, eating nothing but water and grapefruit is not going to work for you. Soon enough, you will have reached your limit, and turn right back to the usual nightly routine of potato chips or cookies. Instead of denying your tendencies, find a healthy alternative for your food cravings. Crunchy could equal mini rice cakes, a half cup of nuts, or celery with almond butter. Sweet could be Greek yogurt with blueberries or a teaspoon of cocoa powder, apple slices with peanut butter, or chocolate-tipped (tipped, not dunked!) strawberries.
This is all about figuring out what kind of person you are. Not what kind of person you wish you were or aspire to be but the kind of person you actually, genuinely, true are today, in this moment. Are you someone who needs an all or nothing diet, or does it make more sense to you to make small changes? Are you the kind of person who wants to count calories and take total control over what and when you eat, or do you want more freedom and zero math? Are you the type who needs someone to tell them exactly what to do, or do you know for a fact you’ll rebel against diet rules? Once you figure this out, your chances of understanding your best diet becomes much more possible—and by ‘best diet,’ I don’t mean a diet plan from some company or book. I mean what you really eat in your real life to better your health, mood, and heart. Doesn’t that sound so much nicer than obsessing over impossible food choices or enduring constant deprivation?
Find a diet type that works for you—mostly vegetarian? no refined sugar?—and then make the changes, step by step, in concert with your personality, knowing full well and with complete consciousness exactly who you are and what you need.
Sooner than you think, you’ll be stepping on the scale and seeing a number you like. You’ll be looking in the mirror and loving that reflection. Best of all, you’ll know, accept and adore yourself. And you’ll never need to go on a diet again.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.