Why is it so hard to stay on a diet when success is just around the corner?
You decide to lose ten pounds, pick a diet, and weigh yourself. Then, it’s off to the races!
For the first day, week, or month, you are so good! You do everything right. You cut down on fat, sugar and salt. You eat green leafy vegetables, fruit, chicken, and fish. You even hide your stash of candy.
Then that time comes, maybe it’s the next morning, the next week or next month, when you weigh yourself. You have done SO WELL! The scale has gone down one ounce, two ounces, or maybe even a whole pound.
“Great! Congratulations! Wonderful!” you tell yourself.
Immediately, your brain, that most devious part of your body, speaks. “You have to celebrate! After all, this is America! If you don’t celebrate something, then it wasn’t that important. You have to mark this event so you know you’ve accomplished something.”
You start thinking about all the ways you can acknowledge this great weight loss. Which would be the best, most meaningful one? Why, with food, of course! You could have a chocolate bar or an oatmeal raisin cookie, the really good kind that are at least three inches in diameter, or maybe a Frappuccino with whipped cream on top?
Instantly the sane part of your brain speaks up. It’s trying to look out for you. “A pound is 3,500 calories and that’s for sixteen ounces. You’ve only lost half a pound.”
Let’s do a little math. 3,500 calories divided in half equals 1,750. The chocolate bar is around 300 calories and the super duper oatmeal raisin cookie is around 500. The Frappuccino with all that nice, real, not fat free, whipped cream on top is around 600.”
Now the devious part of your brain reasserts itself. It’s very warm and friendly so you just can’t resist paying attention. “Why not have all three, just this once? That would add up to only 1,400 calories. You’ve just lost half a pound. That’s 1,700 calories. You’d still be ahead. You would have lost one and one-half ounces!”
Where did this devious part come from? It seems to know you so well, almost like your best friend. It acts like it’s only looking out for you and shows up every time you start to make some progress on that ten pounds. “What’s going on here?” you ask yourself. “No one needs a friend like this.”
You want your brain to tell you: “Great! Congratulations! Wonderful! You’ve finally lost some weight. You need to commemorate this remarkable achievement. Go to your favorite café, sit outside in the sun and order a hot cup of herbal tea. How about orange mango, cranberry apple or lemon zest? You will feel so wonderful afterwards and the number of calories is zero.”
“Zero calories,” your devious part starts in, “how can I mark this important event by putting something with no calories into my body? I need something that tastes good. That means salt, fat, sugar.”
“No, no, no,” your sane part says. “You don’t want calories. That’s the whole point. You want something with zero calories so you can continue to lose weight.”
“What kind of friend are you?” your devious part demands. “She lost weight, after all. She needs to go out and celebrate and eat something very special with lots of whipped cream, chocolate and sugar. There’s nothing like the taste of real sugar. After all, she just lost half a pound.”
“Whoa”, your sane part weighs in. “You’re not at the end of the line. You’re only on the first step. You didn’t go on this diet to lose half a pound. You went on it to lose ten pounds. Remember? To lose ten pounds, at a half pound a week, will take twenty weeks. That’s close to five months. You haven’t even gotten through the first month yet. Actually, this is only the end of Week #1.”
So the real reason it’s so hard to stay on a diet is our brains have two parts—the sane and the devious. It is hard for some of us to realize the devious part is not really our best friend. What we really need is therapy for our split personality!