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The Only "Diet" That Works

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"I keep trying to lose weight, but it keeps finding me."

If you relate to that statement by American humorist Erma Bombeck, you may find a solution in the simple definition of the word "diet." You see, there are two definitions for the word. The first is the kind of food a person or animal habitually eats. The second is a special regimen of food intake to which one commits oneself in order to lose weight or for medical reasons. Our main problem in our efforts to lose weight is that we tend to gravitate towards the latter definition when the former one is the one that leads to losing weight and keeping it off permanently. Let me explain.

When you think of going on a diet you think of words like restricted, time-limited, controlled, deprived. There is a belief that you will follow this magical, often trendy, regime for a little while and then you'll be able to go back to the way you like to eat. This is what leads to yo-yo dieting, needing a wardrobe in various sizes, and feeling like a human accordion (sometimes thin, sometimes stretched out wide). The characteristics of diet are different. They are the following:

Instinctual Choices

We are animals. With the exception of domesticated animals (who, remember, are fed by humans) you'll rarely see overweight animals. Animals instinctively know what to eat and in what quantity. Inside each of us is a part that knows this information, too. The more we defer to a prescribed diet that's proposing that it's good for every-body, the less in touch we become with our inner wisdom and instincts.

Tip: Start to listen to your body. Which foods make you feel energetic and which foods make you feel sluggish? Which foods feel easy to digest and which just sit there in your stomach for hours? Maybe you do best with whole grains and vegetables. Or maybe you do better with more meat in your diet. Designing a diet that works specifically for your body is key.

Myth: If a diet is on the bestseller list it'll work for everyone.
Fact: A successful diet is about inner wisdom.

Habitual Patterns

Habits can get created for good or bad. After years of brushing our teeth every night, it feels weird when we don't. The same thing will be true of eating well. If you teach yourself to eat well, it won't feel as good when you don't. One woman I worked with who successfully lost a huge amount of weight and kept it off, long-term, said, "I had to accept that I wasn't giving up bagels for breakfast for a little while, I was giving them up for life." That doesn't mean that you can never have a bagel again, it just means you need to re-think the foods that are part of your habitual eating routine and the ones that are special treats.

Tip: Cultivate good habitual patterns by keeping it simple. For example, have a few breakfast choices that have a reasonable amount of calories, that you like and that make you feel good. Rely on those choices as your staple foods. Many animals eat the same thing everyday. You need less variety than you think. Having fewer choices and creating routine can make eating less confusing and healthier, too.

Myth: You can go on a diet for a limited period of time.
Fact: A successful diet is about creating consistent patterns of eating forever.

The next time you're tempted to go on a diet, think again. No one wants to be on a diet for the rest of their life. Going on a diet to lose weight is a sure way to find that weight again eventually. Instead, spend your energy cultivating a diet—a habitual, healthy way of eating—one you can stick to for a lifetime.

Michelle Fiordaliso, MSW, is a writer, single-mom, and psychotherapist who co-authored Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Ex, and has been featured as a relationship expert on Today, Tyra, and Oprah and Friends radio. "I help my clients see that every great relationship starts with a solid sense of yourself."
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