I was talking with a co-worker a few days ago.

He told me he was starting a 20 day salad diet.  He is allowed to have things like chicken in the salad, but all he is supposed to eat is salad.

Day 1: He ate salad.  Good job, man.

Day 2: He ate salad, but there was a farewell meeting for our old CEO.  He also ate cake.  “I’ll have to work out extra to burn it off,” he said.  He did an hour on the elliptical.  Not bad, man.

Day 3: He ate salad, but then went out for dinner and got steak.  I asked him the next day if there was an exception to his diet.  “So, you can eat only salad, unless it rhymes with ‘ake’?”  He said he would work out extra again.  I don’t know if he did or not.

Day 4, onward: No mention of salad.


Most people are terrible at dieting

If you’ve ever tried to go on a diet, you might have discovered that it’s hard.  Especially if you try to do an extreme diet that only lets you eat fresh wood pulp.

If you actually follow the diet, then yes, you would probably lose weight.  But people don’t follow the diet.  They modify it.  They make exceptions, and then rationalize the exceptions.

Sometimes you do work out extra to make up for it, like my co-worker.  If so, good for you.  But the problem is, you’re still not following the diet.  At best, you’ll end up maintaining your current weight because you cancelled out your gains.  But you probably won’t lose weight.  And here’s a secret: it’s not the diet’s fault.

If you haven’t lost weight, is it because it was a bad diet plan?  Or because you were bad at following the diet plan?


Balance is key

Maybe I’m being a bit harsh.  But if you’re doing extremely restrictive diets and only eating wood pulp, then of course you will have trouble resisting temptation when there is something actually delicious in front of you (in this case, that would be pretty much anything).

I would argue that it’s much better to take a balanced approach.  Don’t jump between the latest diet fads.  If you want to lose weight and/or feel healthier — you need to take a long-term view and forget the extreme hoops you’re jumping through.

Make simple rules, like “no starch at dinner.”  Or, “red meat only twice a week,” or “no coffee after noon.” Or something else that aligns with your goals.  Give yourself a better chance to succeed by making reasonable adjustments and being patient.

Patient, because the results might not happen as quickly.  But if you want to make lasting changes, you’ve got to do things right.  It’s hard on your body when you give it a jolt by going from 3000 calories a day down to 1200.  Especially when you also increase your exercise regimen, and then you wonder why you feel weak all the time.


There’s nothing magical about diets

All a “diet” is, is a set of rules to help you make changes to your habits.  There will always be testimonies of people who thrive on a certain diet, because they actually had enough discipline to follow through with it.  What they don’t show you on the commercials is that those people didn’t make exceptions, and they stuck with it for a long time.

Moving toward a healthier lifestyle can be done in stages, and then you’re less likely to regress.

It’s just like smoking: it’s much harder to quit cold turkey than it is to go on the patch and slowly decrease your nicotine levels.  Try to do the same thing with soda, and by the time you’re done tapering, you won’t need it any more.


Exercise is a modern invention

We didn’t always have to make time to exercise.   Running for leisure?  Ha!  Our forefathers would laugh at such a notion.

With more jobs centered around manual labor, where everything was analog and done by hand, people didn’t used to need to “exercise”.  Physical activity was built into the day.

Now, we have more sedentary desk jobs where we don’t have to carry or lift things, and we’re on our rumps more than our feet.  So unless you want to take a job as a farm hand, you have to figure a way to get some exercise.

The combination of progressively healthier eating choices, with increased levels of physical activity, will be the only diet you’ll ever need.


Call it a mindset

Yes, you might have to start thinking differently about how you treat your body.

If you want it to last a long time, you have to take care of it.  Starting now.  Not tomorrow or at New Year’s.

I personally think eating should be fun — it’s a community activity and most cultures have wonderful traditions centered around food.  I think that eating nothing but wood pulp would be a terrible shame.

After following a more balanced approach, I find myself pushing myself to exercise, so that I can eat more.  What diet out there will tell you to do that?  I’m not exercising more to eat cake; I’m doing it to keep my metabolism up.  I’m doing it to feel healthier.  I’m doing it to balance my caloric intake.  I’m doing it because I want to be able to carry my wife, or chase down a would-be purse-snatcher.

You have to have the mindset of wanting to take care of your body so that it lasts a long time.

If you want your car to last a long time, you make sure to give it the right amount of fuel and fluids, and service it regularly.  If you neglect it, you might not notice a difference right away, but eventually, it will start breaking down.  But unlike a car, you can’t exactly replace your body if it gives out.


Start making changes

It’s time to kiss so-called “dieting” goodbye.

If you have no idea how many calories you eat, try a health app like MyFitnessPal.  If you’re already on a diet, quit making exceptions.  Finish the 20 day salad plan, and then continue to make healthier choices every day.  Remember to be active and get moving, whatever it takes.

There’s a reason they’re called diet “fads”.  There will be a new one next year, and the year after that.

What doesn’t change is that you need to take good care of your body.  On a regular basis.  And that’s not a fad — it’s the only way you can ever look, feel, or be healthy.