By Lisa Vonnegut, CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist)
Serial dieting is in my genes. I’ve inherited the tendency to carry extra weight, in addition to my curly hair and blue eyes. From an evolutionary perspective, this is an advantage. Excess fat was beneficial during times of famine. Those who were efficient in storing fat were rewarded with descendants who continued the family line. The diet industry feeds off families like mine and bankrolls from the circuit of diet-weight/loss-weight/ gain-diet. This cycle will continue as long as food restriction is seen as the key to a healthy weight. Want to know the real solution? It’s habits. Habits create a healthy relationship with one’s body image and food — it is the path away from serial dieting.
When I look at my father’s family (who owned bakeries) and my mother’s family (who owned candy shops), it’s clear that my sweet tooth was cultivated as a legacy. Some of my earliest memories involve the various diets my parents and grandparents used to yo-yo their way through the decades. Later, I would test my own versions of these, some with short-term success, some of them with utter failure—I may have been tempted to rip Cheerios out of my toddler’s grubby fists while on a juice cleanse in a past life. While I always hovered around that coveted “normal” range, I’ve always yearned for that elusive physique I’d achieve if only I had more: motivation/willpower/discipline. Typically, what felt SO important that morning dissipates by the end of the day when pita chips become my best company.
In learning about the brain, I’ve developed compassion and insight into why this happens. You see, our brain is wired to keep us exactly as we are. Predictability is the brain’s best friend. As long as our environment is a known entity, the brain has an easier job of warding off perceived threats to our survival. Change of any kind requires an incredible amount of energy expenditure. If we are well-rested in the morning, then we have the energy to stick with our plan. But after a long day of stressors, our energy levels are depleted, and there’s no gas left for our health journey. The brain will always search for the easiest source of fuel (insert favorite snack food here).
The solution: to create change gradually. Start with a habit so easy that you can stick with it even on your worst day. Once that habit no longer requires a high energy demand, add another small habit. While these tiny changes may not initially feel significant enough to satisfy our desire for dramatic change, they will accumulate until momentum picks up. It’s important also to understand that scarcity = scary. So, try adding things in instead of taking things away. For example, instead of taking out pita chips, I drink bone broth first. Sometimes, the blast of protein and collagen alleviated my craving for a snack, and sometimes I still reached for the chips, but in a more appropriate portion size.
Recognizing that neurology plays a role in our eating habits can help remove the sense of failure endemic to our diet culture. Habit change, not dieting, is the path to a sustainable lifestyle and a healthy weight.
Lisa Vonnegut is a professional trainer and coach specializing in neural performance and wellness. Follow Lisa@ bodysynergyfitlocation and PM your health and fitness related questions.