Dear Dr. Mo: When is the best moment to start my weight loss diet? What should I pay attention to and strategize around?
Dear reader: Stress is one of the biggest diet killers.
Stress exhausts our mental capacities and diminishes our will power to stay the course and not give in to temptations.
Temptations are another big enemy of weight loss diets.
That said, the best you can do is start the diet while you are on vacation – although it may sound counter-intuitive, this way, less over all stress will give you a mental edge to keep up.
We are more likely to stick to promises we make (to ourselves) and not cheat, when we feel good, relaxed and refreshed – in other words, when our minds are not tired and taxed.
While vacations reduce stressors, they usually offer more temptations. To tackle them head on you can make an effort to avoid them in the first place (this is the safest and easiest way).
Start with emptying your home (or a hotel room) of any food and drink items that might tempt you to give in. Do not really count on your will power to constantly refrain from the ‘forbidden’ food: every time you say ‘no’, a bit of your energy is spent and at the end of the day, when you come home tired and full of impressions and thoughts, this physical exhaustion alone is more than enough to deplete your ability to resist and sooner or later you will fail; so, best is not to have any louring food around.
Economist Dan Silverman says that a good way to save the will power for big temptations, when we really need it to resist, is to allow small indulgences to seep into our diet every now and then (like having an occasional desert). He calls this “rational self-indulgence”.
This actually means that flexibility in your diet will likely help you maintain it. If you keep resisting different tempting foods and drinks throughout the day(s), towards the end of it you will be less able to do it effectively – add some tiredness and/or stress to the equation and voilà, you’ll find yourself in the morning regretting the feeding frenzy from last night.
Allow yourself small departures from course – perhaps one candy, or a piece of cake from time to time – keep it small and seldom but know that you can do it if you want to.
This little flexibility clause saves you from what MIT professor of behavioural economics Dan Ariely calls ‘the what the hell’ effect: when you break your promise (diet) for the first time, it changes the way you feel and think about your self and your further actions and increases the likelihood of continuing – usually saying – ‘well, now that I have broken my diet, what the hell, I will eat all I want today and then start fresh tomorrow’; but then you repeat this tomorrow with the words ‘what the hell’ and adding ‘I’ll start on Monday‘ and the cycle continues. The first instance of cheating (yourself) is the most critical as it informs your future actions and you should try to prevent it by all means.
Be flexible and you won’t feel as if you’ve failed and cheated your self – rigidity is every diet’s enemy.
All this explains while evening times are the most risky ones for any dieter – the mind just gets too tired, overspent and occupied to resist (we are all familiar with late night snacking – it’s not the night time that makes us fat, it’s our tired brains’ failure to resist temptation)
So, two key points: avoid stress and do your best to avoid and manage temptations and you’ll have dramatically increased your chances of a diet success.
We are constantly tempted and accumulated resistance to temptation over time weakens our will power to resist further (i.e. end of day, end of a long week, difficult day at work etc); this is why it is best to stay away from temptation all together before it’s had a chance to snag us and make us succumb to it.
Yours in health,