When beginning a diet, we (hopefully) spend an awful lot of time considering our physical health. What's generally forgotten, however, is our psychological health. With the amount of willpower required to maintain a restrictive diet, it's something worth considering.
Photo by Glamour Schatz
Since the beginning of the year (by coincidence — I believe new year's resolutions are generally ineffective at best) I've been trying a number of things in Tim Ferriss' new book, The 4 Hour Body. One of those things is the "Slow Carb Diet", which has taught me a lot more about my own psychological issues than what I like to eat. (This is in no way to be interpreted as an evaluation of the diet or anything in the book, by the way — it's too early for that.) I've found that most foods that cause cravings have a very simple root cause: I want what I can't have. There's more to it than that, but it's point to one simple thing: understanding your own psychology can help you succeed in your diet.
I'd suggest doing the following:
- Before starting your diet, try restricting certain foods for a few days and see how you react once you can have them again. Do you rush out to eat them the moment you're able? If you find yourself in a moment of weakness, try to step back and figure out why you're craving a certain food. Did something bad happen? Are you stressed? Are you just hungry and could avoid eating it by eating something else?
- When you start your diet, take a practice week (or at least a few days if you have a lot of self-control). Use this time to allow yourself to slip up so you can figure out why you're doing it. You can use this information later to help you succeed in your dieting goals.
- When following the diet, if you find yourself having a strong reaction to a meal — good or bad — make note of it and assess why that might be. If you're simply enjoying the food, it's a good meal to remember and repeat. If you've had an especially good or bad day, however, it's worth noting that your mood may be coloring your experience. You don't want to assign too much praise or criticism to a meal when you're in a heightened emotional state.
Note: I have no formal training in psychology, health or anything beyond a few courses in university. This is just something I've found to be helpful when tackling the challenge of a restrictive diet. I thought I'd put it out here since it may be helpful to you. If it is, or if you find it completely useless, please share your thoughts in the comments.