Woman #1: Hey, I’m trying a new diet!
Woman #2: Oh yeah? What’s it called?
Woman #1: The Hollywood Sit & Scream 48-Hour Diet. The ads guarantee losing 30 or more pounds in 2 days.
Woman #2: Wow! What do you have to do?
Woman #1: Well, for 48 hours I have nothing but coffee, Polish sausage and saurkraut 6 times a day, and then I have three beers for breakfast. I also take something called X-Treme Herbalax 5 times a day between meals. Then I wake up the morning of the third day and all of my insides end up in the toilet. Did you know that your colon can weigh up to 4 pounds?
If the above conversation sounds at all familiar to you, you’re familiar with the modern state of the fad diet industry (also, you should see a doctor, as you need your insides to be inside of you). There are dozens upon dozens of short (usually 7 days or less) diets that promise incredible results by using some insanely limited combination of foods and supplements in high amounts. However, if you’re reading this site, I probably don’t have to tell you that those diets do more harm than good, and often lead to increased weight gain after the fact. How did we get to the point where diets are defined by how unhealthy they are?
It doesn’t have to be that way. A diet, in its simplest definition, is simply a specific plan to achieve a particular result by a certain deadline. That’s it. Want to lose 20lbs in 12 weeks for a wedding? You’ll be dieting. There’s nothing wrong with that. Will you keep up the same level of adherence and commitment after the wedding? Probably not, because the deadline has been removed. Did you cut out soda and start drinking tea? Did you continue that habit after your goal was achieved? Then you’ve made a lifestyle change. It’s an open-ended adjustment with a broader focus – your long-term health.
The difference between a diet and a lifestyle change might seem inconsequential, but it’s actually pretty dramatic. If I measure somebody’s body composition and they’re 30% bodyfat, and they set upon a target of 10% bodyfat, the steps they will take to get there are going to be dramatically different depending on the sense of urgency. If I have 6 months, the room for error is reduced if not eliminated altogether, whereas if I have 2 years, there is room for mistakes and the inevitable lapse in dedication.
I think that as a society, we have come to expect that we can get what we want with very little sacrifice, in a short window of time. How many ads have you heard on the radio promising some little pill that will let you drop 30lbs in a month with no needed exercise or dietary change? And people are surprised when it doesn’t work? Come on.
Again, I am not against somebody choosing to use a series of small changes to reach their goal over a long period of time. If that’s what fits your level of priority, that’s totally fine – not everybody is physically or mentally able to go “all in” right away, if ever. But it’s important to get the advice of a qualified professional to help you reconcile your goal with your ability to make the big changes. You may want to lose 10 pounds a week, but if you refuse to cut out starch and think supplements are a scam, you’re in for a rude awakening when the scale won’t budge and your clothing won’t fit any looser.
Remember, you don’t have to diet – many people do wonderfully off of small, progressive adjustments with the intent of changing their lifestyle, but when your old college roommate invites you to go to Maui in two months and you’d prefer to not be able to use your stomach as a shelf, you, my friend, are going to need to diet. Just please, stay away from the saurkraut.