Why diets don’t work and what to do instead
Have you ever been on a diet?
Odds are that you are or were on a diet, since approx. 30-50% of people in most western countries are on a diet all the time.
Now let me ask you the more important question:
Were any of your diets effective in the long-term?
Let me guess: probably not.
So why is that?
I’ve been on several diets too, and most of them did work, but only as long as I used my whole willpower to implement them.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t what I wanted or as a matter of fact, what anybody should do.
So here is my challenge for you today: Stop dieting! Why?
Eating, cooking and all related parts should be simple. They should be fun. Something you can connect to. They should not be hard or annoying. Ever.
If it isn’t fun you are not going to stick with it.
The top reason why diets don’t work is that most of them are “arbitrary”, incredibly hard to achieve and faulty.
Think about it:
- Atkins: Why should you avoid some vegetables and fruit (& good carbohydrates), when some of the healthiest people on earth eat them on a regular basis?
- Vegan: Why would you avoid meat completely, when a vitamin B12 deficiency is programmed? There are also cases that people live healthily almost exclusively on meat.
- Paleo: My personal favorite, but why would you avoid cheese or legumes when, again, people in Blue Zones, some of the healthiest people on the planet, are nourished by them?
I could go on with this list, but I guess you get the point of it!
Furthermore, according to Tim Spector in “The Diet Myth“, limiting the variety of food is not good. Especially for the microbes in our gut.
Decreasing your choice and diversity of foods is often a big mistake, as it reduces the amount of quality food you can eat and the variety of nutrients you can get from those foods.
Most diets are often also focused on one or two of the chemicals in the food and their side effects while ignoring the helpful ones.
Some Paleo guidelines exclude tomatoes, because they originated from mainly toxic nightshade plants, arguing we didn’t have time to adapt to them.
On the other hand, tomatoes contain lycopene, which may help to reduce cancer.
Should you eat tomatoes or exclude them?
I don’t know, but since they have been part of the Mediterranean diet for decades, the only diet which is officially labeled to decrease heart disease, they probably can’t be that bad.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, so let me back up a bit.
Where does the word diet actually come from?
“Diet” originates form the Greek word “diaita”, meaning “a way of life” and this is the meaning you should use from now on.The modern meaning of diet as “short-term program for weight loss” is not the meaning you want to use.
The solution lies in improving your overall diet, way of life that is, instead of going on another new weight-loss program.
Going on a diet for a certain amount of time, say four weeks, is like exercising for four weeks.
You feel like you accomplished something, but if you go back to your bad habits of not exercising afterwards, nothing will change in the long-term.
You know the Pareto Principle, 80/20 that is?
If not, it basically says that 20% of the causes create 80% of the effects.
Don’t focus on the details, meaning the remaining 80% that gives you only 20% of the results!
Gluten*? Yes or no? I don’t know.
Atkins, Paleo, Vegan? I don’t know.
Eating Tomatoes? I don’t know.
Things like that belong to the 80% that create the last 20% of the outcome, so don’t “waste” your time on those details.
(*This doesn’t apply if you have an allergy to certain foods!)
So what do I know? The same things you know.
You know that soda is bad.
You know that junk food is bad.
You know that processed foods are bad.
You know that chemical additives are bad.
You know that eating fast food is bad.
You know that eating too much sugar is bad.
And you know what? I know you know all of this already.
I’m pretty sure you do.
Isn’t it funny that despite our superior intellect and us being kings of the world and on top of the food chain, we’re still the only species on the planet that can and will eat themselves sick?
Every other animal knows exactly what it can and should eat, not getting sick.
We think we are smarter than nature, but as Joel Salatin says: “Nature always laughs last”.
Nature fine-tuned this system for billions of years, so don’t think you are smarter than it.
Remember I mentioned “Blue Zones” before?
They are zones that have the highest concentration of centenarians worldwide. Despite all the differences in their food intake, do you know what they all have in common?
They do not have access to industrialized, processed food.
They eat as close to nature as possible.
They don’t think that they are smarter than nature.
They eat high-quality food.
And you know what they also do?
The take time to reduce stress, they stay physically & mentally active, and they stay part of a community.
All in all, they lead a high-quality lifestyle.
Although nutrition contributes a large part to your health, there are of course other factors influencing it.
That’s why the original meaning of diet (“a way of life”) fits perfectly.
So throw your definition of the word diet out the window and remember it’s real meaning.
Let me introduce you to another approach for your new way of life, the last and only diet you’ll ever be on:
The Quality Diet.
It has one rule and one rule only: Consume things of high quality.
The beauty of this is that it can be related to food, but also to all other things in your life, i.e.:
- people around you
Back to food.
For food, it means consuming things as close to nature’s produce as possible.
Again, I don’t know what’s good, but I do know what’s bad:
- Food was not made to be processed in huge factories.
- Water was not made to be mixed with sugar and chemicals.
- Humans were not made to eat tons of sugar every single day.
- Cows were not made to eat grains, but grass.
- Animals were not made to stand in cages, but to move.
- Vegetables were not made to be shipped thousands of kilometers, but to eat directly when they were “found”.
Those are just a few ideas of what high-quality food should look like (or not).
I know this all seems to be unrealistic to achieve, but as Will Smith said: “Being realistic is the most common path to mediocrity”.
If being “unrealistic” is making you healthier, by all means, be unrealistic.
I didn’t think this was realistic either, but today I can say with absolute confidence that it is possible to eat quality food.
And do you know what is even easier? Reverse engineering it.
Notice how all the points I mentioned were related to what quality food is not?
By taking away the low-quality food, the bad food, instead of wrapping your head around what food is good for you, you immediately improve your health.
You probably won’t get much healthier by avoiding tomatoes, but you will definitely get healthier when avoiding soda.
After you’ve taken care of the big issues, there will still be time to focus on tomatoes.
If 20% of the products account for 80% of your sickness, why not just remove them?
Because it is hard to avoid these 20%?
Because you’re comfortable eating junk food and drinking soda?
Because you don’t like to cook or can’t cook?
These are excuses. You know that. Yes, it may be hard, but only if you let it be hard.
Change is always difficult if you are not used to it.
This is true for your job, your relationships and for your health.
If you develop the right mindset it is much easier.
Let me give you 10 ideas for the right mindset that will make this transition easier for you:
- Cooking is tremendous fun if you do it with others. You learn a new skill, you can transform amazing things out of “nothing”. You can listen to music and dance and let yourself go. There is some magic about cooking or have you ever wondered why people are so fascinated by chefs on TV? The author Michael Pollan exemplifies this in this book “Cooked“.
- When cooking you are usually standing, so the process of cooking will make you healthier as it reduces the amount of sitting during your day.
- Think of this change as an investment. When investing you give up something now to get more in the future. But with health it isn’t that way. You don’t have to give up anything, but rather you gaining more things: you can learn cooking, you learn about food and your body, you can help others do the same thing. And in the future you are not only healthier, but probably have more time and energy to spend with your loved ones, doing the things you like.
- “I want to” is much easier than “I have to“. Think that you want to eat healthy instead of having to. Many people only change the way they treat their health when they have to, often when they already are sick and have no other option. For them it is harder to implement this change, as they don’t have a choice. We like to have choices, but, as Barry Schwartz suggests, not too many.
- Think about all the new foods you are gaining instead of the ones you are “losing”. Avoiding the “bad 20%” that make you 80% sick, still leaves you with an amazing , good 80%!
Do you know how many vegetables and fruit exist in this world?
Neither do I, but I know that there are a lot.
Do you know how many dishes there are that don’t use industrialized products? Neither do I.
But it’s fun to discover and focus on those, instead of focusing on the things you want to give up.
- Think about what a positive example you will be to all your friends and family. Maybe you have somebody who wants to change or has to change due to his health, but doesn’t have the energy to do it. Be his mentor, lending him a helping hand, tell him that diets don’t work and show him a better approach. This change does not only affect your life, but all the lives around you.
- You’re helping to make the world a better place. Not only will you help the plants and animals to have happier and better lives (a happy animal also tastes better), but you will do good for the environment, i.e. reducing the pollution. Don’t think this impact isn’t important because it isn’t big, as George’s father stated in “It’s a wonderful Life“, “something important doesn’t always have to be big”.
- You’re getting more bang for your buck. Think about it: Soda appears to be really cheap, but it isn’t. Soda is basically water, sugar and some chemicals. Why would you pay so much for those three things? The same is true for all the other industrialized junk food. And this doesn’t include the hidden costs of healthcare, due to the negative issues junk foods triggers in the long run. High quality food will give you more for your money in the matter of health & taste.
- You can ease into it and don’t have to change from one day to another. That’s the beauty of it. Depending on your situation you can do this at your own pace. Nobody is forcing you to eat only vegetables from tomorrow on. Or only grass-fed meat.As Charlie Munger says: “Step-by-step you get ahead, but not necessarily in fast spurts. But you build discipline by preparing for fast spurts.”
- You already know your life will be better afterwards, so just start taking baby steps and it will be easier than you think.
So what is the takeaway?
- Keep Pareto in mind.
You should focus on the 20% of causes that give you 80% of the results; 20% of bad food account for 80% of the sickness.
- Implement a Quality Diet mindset
Try to consume and produce high quality. As often as possible.
What’s the one action you will take today to remove the bad 20%?
Throwing out a can of soda? Skipping McDonalds? Buying 1 bag less of Cheetos?
Avoid the bad 20%. Avoid soda, avoid junk food, avoid as much processed food as possible.
Build this Quality Diet step-by-step!