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September 27, 2011

Why the first couple weeks of dieting suck (getting over the hump!)

Don’t you love my very technically-and-scientifically-sound title? :) But fortunately for you competition gals, you know exactly what I am talking about. This weird thing happens where starting a new diet is a thousand times harder than simply staying on a diet. Once you are on, you are good to go, yes? (Well, with the exception of those few self-pity moments that pop up when everyone else is eating/drinking x, y or z and you are chomping on a cold chicken breast out of a tupperware).

There are few key reasons why this is the case, as well as a few good ways to “get over the hump” of starting the diet.  PS Whenever I say diet, I mean a change in your nutrition plan, either for a competition or an event or simply tightening the reigns on a food free-for-all.

One of the biggest pieces of this puzzle is the habits you have formed while not on a diet. You have plenty of “rituals” that you follow and it can be difficult to switch these off. For example, hard to admit………….but…………a few months back, for about a month or so, I got into this habit of 2-3 nights each week skipping dinner and getting a sugar-free fro-yo. Yes, consider me “shamed” as I air out my dirty laundry on my fat-loss blog lol, and also feel like a complete fraud while I am at it :) BUT I told myself the story of, “I am tired and just want a “reward”” or “I can have it if I skip dinner” or “Food is fun and besides, it’s sugar-FREE” etc etc blah blah blah. Anyway, besides the fact that is was NOT helping me reach my physique goals, it was also a new habit I had formed without ever really knowing it.  Thus, when the time came for me to give it up and back on track, I had a hard time. Many of you can probably relate to this with having a glass of wine upon getting home from a hard day at work or having a sweet treat every night after dinner. Things that we do because, well, we have just been doing them for a while.

So in order to begin a new program, we have to give up and pry ourselves away from the old rituals OR find a way to incorporate them into the new program in a way that still generates results. This is where it can get sticky. Why is the actual “doing” so tough? Because we haven’t set up new rituals to replace old ones. Anyone who has successfully cut out a bad habit can tell you that they don’t even miss it over time. For example, cutting out diet soda or a glass of wine at night–most people say once they make the shift, they don’t miss it. We tend to relate the feeling of relaxing with an associated habit (see post about being in “weekend mode”). Here are some examples of new rituals replacing old ones:

Diet soda in the afternoon——–> Green tea, unsweetened or sweetened with stevia, as much as you want
Dessert/sweet treat after dinner——–> ME Cocoa drink (1-2TB unsweetened cocoa powder with hot water, stevia to sweeten)
Vanilla Latte at Starbucks———> Americano at Starbucks, add 1 TB cream, stevia to sweeten if desired
Sandwich & chips at lunch———-> Huge salad with chicken, add nuts for texture, couple slices of avocado for flavor (and sanity!)
Glass of wine at night———> Sparkling water with lots of lime, little stevia for sweetness (if desired)
My personal favorite: Sugar-free fro-yo after dinner——–> piece of sugar free gum and get my ass in bed! :)

A second piece of the puzzle is that you are not necessarily in the prepping/planning mindset when you are not dieting. In other words, you pay less attention to food in that you are not worried about packing meals, eating every 3 hours and it’s no big deal to grab take-out for dinner. Now, try to make, prepare and pack 5-6 meals per day straight out of tupperware. Big change, yes? And the adoption of this new way of doing things takes time. We need to do it more and more for it to become second nature.

The activation energy is takes to actually DO the new action is hard to overcome at first. So finding ways to make it easier is key.  For example, don’t cook and prep meals every single day (are you insane?). Instead, take a couple hours on a Sunday to make all the food for the week, so it’s ready to go when you need it. Portion out snacks like nuts and hard-boiled eggs ahead of time so they are ready for grab-and-go. Use mobile foods like fruit and protein bars for when you are pressed for time. Finding ways to make the new adopted behaviors easier on yourself will make the easier to commit to for a period of time.  Dieting is hard IF you make it hard on yourself. Find ways to cut corners.

And finally, the third piece is that we simply don’t want to give up our stuff. You know what I’m talking about. We’re babies when we can’t have what we want—waaaaah! :) I am right there with you! BUT, obviously, a diet is just that and we can’t have our cake and lose fat too.

SO, what do we do to help with this? Quit our favorite foods cold turkey? That may work for some. But most people will need to implement a gradual reduction in those indulgences. I like to use cheat meals to keep me tight during the week. I think you all know about my ridiculous Sunday night cheat at this point (and Jade rolls his eyes every week as I carefully craft my indulgence and also knows he will lose a hand if he tries to mess with it! lol control freak much? But you know what I’m talking about!) BUT it keeps me tight during the week knowing I have it to look forward to.

Another tactic is to use “preemptive cheats” throughout the week so that you are able to maintain moderation and don’t binge the second a nasty sheet cake is presented at the office party (#NotWorthIt). Instead, by using foods that are not super-sabotaging in moderation throughout the week, like 2TB natural peanut butter or cream in your coffee, you are prepared with the “It’s not worth it” attitude when you are presented with someone else’s indulgence. You don’t need it or want it because your cravings are under control already.  As the diet progresses, say, as you are getting closer to a show, the results you are generating in your physique can serve as motivation to cut out all the small cheats and get your diet even tighter.

These are 3 ways to successfully overcome the challenges of beginning a diet to the point where you can stay on it. Other reasons may include changes in energy that make you less motivated to stay the course, or lack of results at first. There is nothing more motivating that seeing results, yes? And unfortunately it takes a few weeks to see any changes for many people. The answer is stay the course, stay consistent (because consistency does work every time) and in the meantime manage the challenges that come up at the start of the diet.  Good luck!! ox Jill

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