Dieting Versus Lifestyle: Change Ain't Easy

Emily Beers


Vancouver, Canada



"I want to lose weight."


That’s probably the most common reason people hire me as a fitness coach.



Many of them—arguably most of them—have tried every short-term diet in the book: The Whole30, a 6-week challenge, a 30-day juice cleanse or two-week detox, and on and on.


As a result of these 30 day promise diets, many of these same people have completely unrealistic goals about their weight loss timeframe.


I had a client once walk through the door one her second day with me and boldly announce she wanted to lose 30 pounds before her daughter’s wedding.


When’s the wedding? I asked.


In 4 weeks, she replied.


I seriously burst her bubble—like I actually saw the life drain from her eyes—when I told her this wasn’t going to happen in any sort of healthy way.


Though it’s natural for us to be short-sighted in our goals (because who doesn’t want massive change right now?) it’s clearly not the way to long-term, lifelong change. All this mentality has done has create the yo-yo dieter syndrome. It’s not a very happy place to be, nor does it set you up for long-term success.


In my 10 years of coaching—and a concept that is currently being reiterated to me as I make my way through the Precision Nutrition Level 1 coaching program—I have learned those who are most successful in the long-term aren’t those apply for a 30-day diet challenge every January.


The successful ones are the ones who accept and embrace their weight loss journey won’t be quick. They’re the ones who embrace small changes, little-by-little, over the course of one to two years.


I know, it sounds daunting to think about mustering up the willpower to commit to something for two long years. But, it’s actually incredibly less daunting because this habit-based way to change doesn’t actually require willpower!


The definition of willpower is: Control exerted to do something or restrain impulses.


I should workout. I am so not in the mood to workout. I need to find the courage to restrain my impulse to drive home instead of to the gym.


That’s how we normally think of willpower.



Now think about something you do that doesn’t require willpower, like brushing your teeth.


While brushing your teeth isn’t an exhilarating two minutes of your day, it’s something that was ingrained in you since childhood, and probably doesn’t require much willpower to follow through and do it every day.


Now imagine if avoiding the donut felt like that? Or if you actually just went to the gym without thinking about it? Without mustering the willpower to get yourself to go?


That’s where you can be after 12 to 25 months of small, yet consistent, habit based changes.


The Habit Based Plan

Choose one (or two) new action-based habits to pursue every month for 12 months.


By action-based, I mean an actual action you have control over, such as meal prepping your lunches for the week every Sunday.


Before you choose your habits, make a list of the things you currently think need improvement—things that you would like to change, such as:


  1. I want to each more vegetables.
  2. I want to eliminate sugar.
  3. I want to eliminate processed foods.
  4. I want to get outside more.
  5. I want to workout more.
  6. I want to drink less alcohol.
  7. I want to eat out less.
  8. I want to meal prep and cook more.
  9. I want to pack lunches more frequently for work.
  10. I want to overeat less.
  11. I want to spend less time sitting during the day.
  12. I want to spend less time watching Netflix.



Imagine if you tried to change all 12 of those things overnight? Now that is overwhelming, would require serious willpower, and would be difficult to sustain, right?


But, what if you tackled just one of those things this upcoming month?


Month 1: Pick a Habit

I commit to removing sugar from my morning coffee.



That’s it. That’s all you need to do. You’re now going to drink your coffee black from now on, or with a bit of cream or milk.


On a personal note, as a former coffee with sugar drinker—double-double, please!—I can tell you I did this back when I was 24. It took me about two weeks and suddenly I actually didn’t like my coffee sweet. Eleven years later, I can tell you I find sweet coffee undrinkable. It certainly doesn’t require willpower to avoid putting sugar in my coffee.


Month 2: Add a Second Habit

I commit to eating vegetables at every dinner.


Again, that’s it. Ensure you eat vegetables every evening. At this point, you’re used to not having sugar in your coffee, so that no longer requires much brain power, and now you can devote your energy to making sure you have vegetables to cook each night.


Tip: Don’t beat yourself up if you have a dinner where you go out and each fish and chips and don’t get any veggies in you. You don’t beat yourself up if you accidentally go to bed without brushing your teeth once in a blue moon. You just get back on it the next day. Employ the same mindset for your vegetable commitment—don’t expect perfection, just better than before.


Month 3: Add a Third Habit

I commit to taking the stairs to the sixth floor at work and to parking the furthest away I possibly can in any parking lot to get myself walking more.


Month 4: Add a Fourth Habit

I commit to drinking a glass of water every morning when I wake up so I’m less famished for food in the morning, which often causes me to overeat.


Month 5: Add a Fifth Habit

I commit to slowing down my eating and being more present and mindful as I’m eating, so I can pay attention to my huger cues and stop eating when I’m 80 percent full.


(This one might be more challenging and will take some more time and effort, so maybe you start with doing this at just one meal a day.)


Tip: If you’re not sure what this even means, consider asking yourself questions as you’re eating, such as: How am I feeling right now? Anxious? Bored? Stressed out? Why do I want this food? Am I really hungry?


The more in tune with your emotions and why they might lead you to overeat you become, the easier it will be for you to start recognizing your true physical hunger signals and stopping when you’re 80 percent full, which goes a long way in tackling your overeating habit.



Keep going like this for 12 months. Or even 24 months if there are still things you want to change.


One more tip—write all your habits down and keep a log of how you’re doing each day or week. This helps you truly appreciate the changes you’re making, so even if your weight loss isn’t happening as fast as you’d like, you will still recognize that you’re making a ton of positive changes and are, in fact, a success story. This will help you stay on the path you’re on.


While all of the above small habits might sound insignificant in and of themselves, as the cliché goes, lots of baby steps will all amount to significant change over time.


And by the end of the 12 months, there you are:


  • Rarely overeating
  • Eating vegetables with every meal
  • Working out three days a week
  • Spending more time walking and less time sitting during the day
  • Only drinking alcohol on weekends
  • Rarely consuming sugar of processed foods


And down 35 pounds.


A fairly massive shift, right?


And the best part is, you will have made these changes without feeling like you’re fighting yourself to find more willpower!


Give it a try. Start small—choose a habit.

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