If you've ever attempted a diet (or 12), you might have wondered why it's so hard to stick to a diet plan. We have a general idea of what's healthy and not, we have a general idea of what makes us gain or lose weight. It's not that we lack motivation in wanting to be healthy. If I offered you a million dollars or a new body and lifestyle where you enjoyed healthy eating, looked great, and felt full of life, I'd bet a lot of you would take the healthy life; at the very least, you’d have a hard time deciding. We are all capable of having the lifestyle tomorrow; why don't we do it?
When we diet, what are our motivations? We may say health, and mean it, but most of us, we want to look good. Let's just be honest here. Yeah, it would be great to feel better, our doctors might be nagging us about medical problems, but, we are a vain species and we mostly want to walk around looking slim and unjudged, and we think of being skinny as the answer to so many of life’s problems. Fixing health problems or thwarting future catastrophes are an added benefit, but that’s not the reason most people try to overhaul what they eat. So, we start the diet off fast and furious. Make huge changes all at once and really give it our all. We lose some weight, get encouraged, and then might kick it up a notch. We start buying all the fancy food items that our latest diet requires, push through all the temptations, and eagerly step on the scale to watch the number go down and down and down. Then, we hit the dreaded plateau. The weight stops coming off. We get frustrated. We remind ourselves of what losers we are, and this state of mind pushes back towards our old ways, and we give up. Your brain starts trekking down the familiar path of old feelings and we feel defeated. The feelings are so shameful that we turn to the one thing that always brings us comfort, food. Of course, it’s the food we’ve been torturing ourselves with for months, so we indulge. The guilt suddenly floods over us, and it’s just so miserable and uncomfortable, that we give up all together. Another diet failure, like every other time. Sound familiar?
We need to shift our entire mindset away from weight loss. Why? Well, weight loss takes a while, and if we are focusing on our weight, then when we get off track, the scale doesn’t move (or worse, moves back up), our brains just find it very difficult to process as anything but a failure. This is so demotivating and uncomfortable, that our brains go into self-preservation mode. They’d rather us avoid the bad feelings altogether, so you and your brain decide to quit, rather than have to face those terrible thoughts again.
When we eat and only think of numbers, whether its calorie counting, or numbers on a scale, it’s too difficult to maintain the motivation it requires to make the changes we need to make. Not only that, but when we link our diet to weight loss, the end goal is always far off in the future. It’s too far away to overcome the daily hurdles of making these life changes. People are much more motivated by instant gratification, not some far off goal. Let's imagine a retirement plan. We keep putting money away, not knowing if we will ever see the pay off. If your company didn't take it out before your check made its way into your hands, would you even have a retirement account? Maybe. But it's hard to be motivated by something so far in the future, even if we know it's good for us, and something we need to do. A diet that is about weight loss is of the same mindset. You're giving up something you love (money or food), for some goal in the future(lots of money or a sexy bod), and we don't even know exactly what that goal looks like ( how much will you have saved?/How will you actually look?). This is not a great structure for motivation.
Now, if I said, screw waiting, if you eat this salad for lunch, you will be slim this afternoon. Well, now we have some motivation to eat healthy right? I mean, you'd be a fool to say no to that deal. You'd never be so motivated to eat a salad in your entire life. You'd be cramming it down your gullet as quick as possible. When you receive a tangible reward in a short time frame, it’s much easier to repeat the behaviour. We like to think of ourselves as entities completely separated from animals, but fortunately for us, our brains still behave in the same way, whether training a dog, or a human. Instead of feeling high and mighty, you can use this knowledge to retrain your brain. Let's take this structure of motivation and use it to achieve our goals. We aren't going to worry about losing weight. We are going to focus on whatever payoff we can get, immediately, from eating healthy. That's where we find our motivation to make this change. We have an immediate payoff. There is no greater way to make a new habit, then by immediately reinforcing the good you are doing.
So, how do we do this with our diet? Instead of focusing on weight loss, we focus on what we can immediately feel.
How We Define Energy
Let’s really fine tune what we are talking about when we are discussing energy throughout the rest of this book. Energy as defined by Google:
the strength and vitality required for sustained physical or mental activity.
Let’s break this down a bit. Energy is the strength that is absolutely necessary for ongoing physical AND mental activity. So, not just your bodies vitality, but just as importantly, we need energy for our mental activity. Our body is a system, and one doesn’t work without the other.
When we talk about energy in this book, we are discussing ways for not only our body to feel good and carry us through the day, but we are also talking about our mental state. We don’t want to be going through the day in a fog, we want to be alert and on point. This is just as important to us, if not more, as how our body looks. The good news is that once we start making healthy changes, our bodies will naturally lose the weight it needs to lose, but for this book, we aren’t going to focus on weight loss, because we know it doesn’t work. In this book, we are going to focus on energy and know that a healthy body will naturally take the weight off if it is needed.
Unfortunately, we all know many people that have suffered from a variety of mental health issues. Let’s look at a common affliction, depression. We probably know at least one person who has suffered from this brutal condition, if not personally having been affected. When a person is depressed, a well-meaning doctor will usually tell them to go out, get some fresh air, take walks, hang out with friends. You see, these small activities have helped a lot of people counteract their depression, and they seem to work really well. There’s just one problem. The last thing a depressed person wants to do, is get out of bed and take a walk, or socialize. They are depleted of energy, mentally, and their body then also becomes depleted of energy physically. It’s hard for people who have never suffered from depression to understand just how difficult it is to do these normal, everyday tasks. What is a walk to most, is climbing Mount Everest for the depressed individual. They do not have the energy to do what they need to do to get better.
Now, when we are thinking about our own daily energy levels, they hopefully aren’t as extreme, but they work the same way. When we have a good energy level, everything becomes much easier to do. If you have a happy buzz going on in your day, taking a walk sounds like a pleasant activity. If you are struggling to grasp enough energy to shower, a walk is the last thing you’d want to do. How are you meant to cook beautiful, healthy meals, when you are having a tough time just getting the essentials done? You won’t. You will go get fast food at a drive through because that requires very little energy. It’s extremely difficult to accomplish any goals if your energy levels aren’t right. On the other hand, when you are having a great energy day, you can clean the entire house, get errands ran, cook your meals, and still have time to go out and enjoy yourself. I think your mental energy state is the most important factor to well-being and health. If you don’t have the mental energy, you are constantly fighting an uphill battle. If you can optimize your mental energy then everything else becomes so much easier and manageable. In this book, we are going to find ways to hack our brain, initiate new habits and get, what I like to call, a Happy Buzz.
The Happy Buzz is the state of mind where we flow from one thing to the next with little aggravation, little motivation, and little effort. We want our diet to be a simple habit that we do effortlessly and enjoy; not a huge and daunting task we have to undertake. We will do this by introducing a new way of eating, little by little, until we have quit fake foods, then examining how to get our mental energy levels right, and end with more ways to optimize your energy levels. The end result being a happy, healthy, new you.