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Before you diet again, read this

Big plate with a little piece of food and woman hands
Sometimes I lie awake tossing and turning, trying to figure out how to articulate a weight loss concept. I beat myself up, thinking I’m just not explaining it right. Occasionally I get frustrated because I see people relying on the same “expert advice” that I did for so many years. We figure, they should know, right? They’re doctors or nutritionists, registered dieticians or behavioral therapists, athletes or personal trainers.

“Why do we assume that because someone has an intellectual knowledge of how something ought to work, they automatically understand how it does work?” I would lie there thinking.

But for years I too believed that these “diet experts” ought to be right. If I just did X, Y and Z I would lose weight. Simple, right? If I followed all of the diet’s “rules” (they all have rules: eat like a caveman, count points, don’t eat processed foods, etc.) I would lose weight. And they ought to know.

“They’re smarter than me. They’ve got more letters after their names than I do. They’re on TV or on the bestseller list,” I argued with myself.

Diet plan
Then why doesn’t their advice actually work?!?

Most diets don’t work for three reasons:

They’re too restrictive, too soon. The restrictive part comes, but not right at the outset. Doing so too soon sets us up for failure because it’s too severe. As I will explain, severely restricting exactly what you eat isn’t even necessary at first. More on this point later.

The diet’s “rules” are external and arbitrary. They may suit the genius who came up with them, but more than likely the diet’s rules don’t suit you. All their crazy rules (“you should eat this, you mustn’t eat that”) always confounded me because they didn’t fit with my lifestyle nor did they reflect my values. Think square peg, round hole. Much more on that later, too.

Overweight and obesity aren’t intellectual problems. Most of us (the only reason I don’t say “all” is because there’s probably one guy out there who’s not) that are overweight or obese are emotional eaters. Diets are very left brain, very linear. They appeal to our sense of organization and structure. We want weight loss to be logical, analytical, and objective. But it isn’t.

Our response to all of our failed attempts is to proclaim, “Diets don’t work!”

But is that true? Well, no actually.

Many diets can work, but they don’t because we don’t work very well with diets. See the three reasons above and feel free to add your own. There are probably a dozen more!

And yet somehow I did it. Somehow I lost 120 lbs. and have kept it off for over seven years. But sometimes even I begin to wonder, how did I do that???

Now you see why I can’t sleep at night.

I had an epiphany about this a couple of weeks ago when I was on the treadmill. (Treadmills are great for epiphanies. Sometimes I even run on them.) I started thinking about the way I actually lost weight. Not the way I live now, but how it evolved. What were the steps that I took at the outset and how did they unfold along the way?

That’s when it hit me: I didn’t lose weight the way that traditional diets tell us to do it at all.

What I realized is that I lost weight in three distinct phases. I call them the Transformation Phase (30+ pounds to lose), the Gear Up Phase (roughly 11-29 pounds to lose), and the Lean Phase (those last stubborn 10 pounds away from goal weight).

In each of those phases I ate and exercised differently. In each phase I learned new habits and dropped old habits, all the while building on earlier accomplishments. The phases were different in duration and emphasis. Each ended in what I suppose we typically think of as a plateau, or new body weight set point. I advanced to the next phase only after I’d mastered everything in the previous phase and then made the significant leap to begin tackling the requirements of the next phase. As I progressed I became more skilled and confident.

That’s skill-power, my friends, not willpower!

I’m going to be writing about the three phases a lot in the coming weeks and months. (I have a lot to say about this … shockingly.) I hope you’ll stay plugged in as I outline what the phases are and how to work through each of them. In the meantime, listen in to the podcast I did immediately after I had my treadmill epiphany. In that podcast (“True or False: Diets Don’t Work”) I discuss each phase and how I managed them. I hope you find it interesting.

Doctors and nutritionists may be experts on obesity, but I’m an expert on what it’s like to be obese. And now that I’ve lost 120 pounds and kept it off for more than seven years, I’ve come to realize that it doesn’t really matter what some expert says “should” work. It only matters what actually does work.

In the end you’ll know what I know … what “diet experts” apparently do not know: cookie cutter weight loss doesn’t work. Instead, when we work through the three distinct phases of weight loss, success is ours for the taking!

Are you ready?

Me too! Let’s go get it!

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