In my last couple of posts we looked at how to estimate your calorie expenditure and your calorie consumption. If like most people on a standard american diet you are getting a little heavier every year, then there will be a gap between those two numbers – your calorie overload. Now you need a strategy to reduce that number.
The first approach I used to try and to lose weight was simple calorie restriction. I cut out some of the high calorie junk food I was eating such as frequent treats from the Starbucks pastry case. I also tried eating half as much food at lunch time, or choosing more healthy looking options in restaurants. This worked and it did help me lose half of the weight I had gained over the years, but it was a constant struggle.
A simple calorie restriction approach or a diet program is a constant strain on your willpower. Scientific studies have shown that willpower is actually a limited resource that you use up throughout the day. So if you observed restraint at the office by maintaining your composure in the midst of annoying colleges and stressful situations, you may not have enough willpower left to resist that ice cream in the freezer when you get home.
Change your lifestyle
The main problem with diets for most people is that they are temporary – you lose the weight, feel good and then put it all back on again. In fact studies have shown that two thirds of people put all of the weight they lost back on and then some. So what you need is not a new diet but a permanent lifestyle change. The lifestyle change that worked for me was becoming vegan.
Making a big change
An effective way to avoid the willpower problem is to make a big decision up front. Once you have committed to a big change your subconscious brain will actually be working in the background to make that change happen.
When you make the big decision to become vegan, you have implicitly made lots of small choices about what to eat at the same time. When you see an ice cream desert your subconscious brain is already saying to you – I am a vegan and vegan’s don’t eat dairy products. Choosing to eat the ice cream would create cognitive dissonance which offsets our desire to consume sugar and fat. The end result being that you don’t require as much willpower and over time, as being vegan becomes a part of your identity, it wont require any willpower at all.
A plant based diet
It is still possible to put on weight and eat badly whilst being vegan. Your goal should be to eat a plant based diet getting most of your calories from whole foods such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains whilst avoiding processed foods, meat and diary. A new term coined by Joel Fuhrman for this kind of dietary vegan is nutritarian, but your fiends and the waitress at the restaurant are going to be more familiar with the term vegan.
In future posts I will explain why such a vegan diet is so much better for your health and your waistline than the standard American diet.