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Diet or lifestyle, discipline or deprivation?

How you think about it really matters to your ultimate success

Back in Nov. 2010 when I “officially” started my transformation journey we were having a discussion about diet vs. lifestyle and my coach said: “Of course you’re going to be on a ‘diet’ to lose 200 lbs!”

It’s logical that to change my body that significantly, I would need to follow a nutrition and exercise plan with distinct rules, and that it would require self-control and discipline. I remember him also saying that I wouldn’t be on a diet forever, alluding to a “maintenance phase” I would learn later.

I believed my coach was right about the “diet,” and I knew he had the knowledge and expertise to guide me to goal. My job was to follow the plan. So I didn’t think much more about the diet vs. lifestyle mentality at the time, though I was consciously aware that I had been on many different diets in my lifetime and most had failed. In fact, I could have been the the “poster child” for the yo-yo dieting club!

So what was different this time? Well, a lot.

I was really ready to change and deeply connected to my “why” — which became my internal motivation over the long haul. I had carefully put all of the necessary support tools in place — my nutritional coach, a personal trainer, and a very skilled therapist.

In addition, there was my mentor, O’Neal Hampton, who had lived it, and a tribe of people who supported me along the way. Finally, because I was ready this time, I was 100% All-IN and made a commitment to myself and my coach in weight-loss boot camp: “I will not quit, no matter what!

In Dec. 2010, I went about business and worked the plan as laid out by my coach, while simultaneously working with my counselor on mindset and emotional matters. I learned new skills, including how to uncover my limiting beliefs and re-frame them to support me in achieving my goals. I was supported by my personal trainer and my tribe. And thus, I knew that if I stuck to the plan, I would get the 200+ lbs off. This time, I believed that I could do it and that I deserved it — a very different mindset than all other attempts at weight loss. Getting the weight off and practicing self-care became my laser beam focus. But during those 18 months of weight loss, there was not much conversation about what would happen when I achieved goal.

Now, fast forward six years. Up until this May, I’d maintained a -200 lb loss (which defies the odds) by developing a whole lot of personal awareness, understanding, self-love and acceptance. It’s those things — stemming from the work I did on the inside while losing weight on the outside — that have mattered most in keeping the weight off and living healthy for six years.

And now here I am — struggling and up in my weight. Am I concerned? Yes. Am I ready to throw in the towel on me — are you kidding? Do I presume I will put all my weight back on — hell no! Why? Because it’s the internal work that sustains me and keeps me focused on my long-term goals, then and now.

Diet vs. Lifestyle – it’s about mentality/mindset. Period.

In our Mindset, Motivation and Momentum group the other night, someone asked me what kind of plan I implemented to KEEP the weight off, and how it differed from the plan I followed to lose the weight initially.

Hmmmmm. Good question. There isn’t a lot of difference between the nutritional plan I followed to lose the weight vs. how I’ve kept it off. In both scenarios, I ate whole and fresh, not processed foods; smaller meals more frequently & consistently; and I learned to ensure that what I’m putting in my body fuels mind, body and spirit and makes me “feel” good — foods  like protein (lean meats, beans, eggs), healthy fats (nuts, avocado, salmon) and carbs via fresh veggies and fruit.

One key difference is that to maintain my weight loss, I’ve done more experimenting about what actually works for me, including learning more about sugar addiction (in theory and practice) and accepting that I am a sugar addict. I’ve also explored the connection between drinking alcohol and overeating, and I’ve been tried and tested when it comes to the propensity to emotionally eat. Thus, I’ve learned to pay more attention to trigger situations and trigger foods and try to avoid them.

However, the question prompted me to think about the diet vs. lifestyle debate when it comes to weight loss and weight maintenance. I know the debate well as I’ve lived it from both angles.

For me previously — and for so many people — following a diet meant restricting or depriving myself of things I wanted in order to change my body (lose weight). It was focused on following a set of rules prescribed by someone else — a list of shoulds. Success was contingent on willpower and self-control and when I fell off the diet bandwagon (as of course I did, because I”m human), I felt like a failure, was quick to beat myself up, and used it as evidence that I couldn’t do it. And so the cycle continued. Sound familiar?

This approach to the word “diet” means you are disconnected from yourself and from making your own choices. In essence, you’re following a set of external rules established by someone else that is supposed to equal success for you. I believe this is in large part the reason for the failure and how the word “diet” got a bad wrap. Yes, a diet can be mentally viewed as restriction and deprivation, requiring willpower and control to succeed. And under that scenario, we’re almost always likely to fail!

Alternatively, a diet can be motivated by a longer-term goal that YOU choose/desire, stemming from a place of self-awareness, self-love and self-care. For example, I wanted and needed to lose 200 lbs to avoid stroke, heart disease and/or diabetes, and to have the life I wanted. This is an example of the most compelling “why.” When it’s a matter of life and death, it’s requires a serious commitment to doing things differently, as well as a different mindset. Yes, it also requires some self-control and discipline — even sacrifice — in the short term to achieve your long term, higher-level goal. But what major goal or accomplishment wouldn’t? Isn’t that how we achieve?

To me, it’s empowering to embark on a path to weight loss that requires a diet — a plan that I choose (perhaps with expert help), stemming from self-awareness and the deep desire for a different life. It’s how you frame it to yourself and mentally approach it each day that makes all the difference.

So you can call it a “healthy lifestyle” or a “diet,” I don’t care! I’ve used both terms. To me, that’s just semantics. The key is your mindset — how you approach the process (positive or negative, focused on loving self-care and discipline vs. deprivation…), as well as what you tell yourself when you struggle or fall off the plan. And you will!

Healthy for life

I aim to live a whole, healthy and happy life, and to live healthy longer. Let’s be honest — the path I was on for the first 47 years of my life was NOT achieving that goal and it was never going to! In the process of my weight struggle, I gave up things that I really wanted — like true romantic love and a life partner; meeting new people, having fun and socializing; exploring physical pursuits, and more. Doing it the old way kept me living small and safe, and I was at risk of an early death from obesity related diseases. So, YES, embracing and achieving my desired outcome required BIG and BOLD changes in my thinking, as well as in my actions. I had to first admit that I needed help. And, then I needed the right diet plan to lose 200 lbs. Finally, I had to believe that I deserved it and I could succeed.

In truth, I needed to change my mentality about myself and the process of getting the weight off, as well as allow myself to get deeply connected to what really mattered to me over the long term — my personal why. That also meant I had to stop making excuses or rationalizing how hard it was for me, and frankly, just do it! The whole process required self-awareness and understanding, brutal honesty and vulnerability. It still does!

These past years, I’ve had to continually look inward and work on the “inside”, while maintaining a healthy diet and exercise to sustain the physical changes on the outside. To be honest, this is where I think most people quit or throw in the towel. The internal work is the hard part because it requires us to accept things about ourselves we may not like, and learn to love ourselves exactly as we are. It also requires changing habits and behaviors that have become comfortable. The good news:– it’s the internal work that allows you to reap the greatest reward!

For me, living a healthy lifestyle means making intuitive, mindful choices about food based on how it makes me feel — mind, body and spirit. It is not just about the body or the physical, but all three. Food nourishes and fuels my mind, body and spirit. When I make the choice to eat whole, fresh and not processed food or sugar — I feel better all the way around. When I choose natural movement like walking or hiking every day and do my strength training workout, I feel better in mind, body and spirit. When I start my day by looking inwardly through mindfulness, gratitude and/or prayer, I feel better in mind, body and spirit. All of this together fuels momentum and increases my chances of creating healthy habits and sticking with it – for life. It also requires constant and consistent self-awareness and self-discipline. That part never ends!

Discipline vs. deprivation

A final word on the idea that diet = deprivation and a healthy lifestyle = discipline. Perhaps for you, that’s true. And that’s okay. For me, the words themselves matter far less than how I frame it in my head. I can’t think of anyone who has had great success in any area of life without self-discipline or even self-sacrifice. To me, it’s an active choice.

Discipline is about choosing what you want most vs. what you want right now. It’s about being focused on the longer-term outcome vs. feeding immediate gratification. [Easier said than done, for sure.] Self-discipline is also about empowerment. It means taking better care of me, through self-awareness, understanding and connection with myself — being my own advocate.

Discipline is a pattern of behavior where I choose what serves me based on my goals vs. deprivation which employs  “control” or willpower to adhere to someone else’s rules — living by the shoulds vs. knowing what’s right for yourself. A deprivation mindset also implies you’re trying to fix something that isn’t good enough. It feels punitive, whereas self-discipline feels empowering.

How this plays out in weight loss sometimes gets tricky. Often we have to manage conflicting goals. I often hear people say, “I want to lose weight and feel healthy more than anything.” Then in the next breath they say, “But I want to eat dessert when everyone else is having it. I don’t want to deprive myself because it will come back to haunt me later.” Okay. You can absolutely look at it that way, but you likely can’t have it both ways. It is about choices. If it makes you feel good to enjoy the dessert right now, then by all means enjoy that dessert and every bite. Yum! But know it is not disconnected from your longer-term goal. It is part of a series of active choices along the same path.

On the other hand, if like me, you know that having that dessert will set off a sugar binge that will make you feel bloated, tired and crave more and more, perhaps it’s not the right choice. Implementing self-discipline around sugar makes me feel empowered, not deprived, 90% of the time. Plus, I now know that enjoying a bowl of luscious berries from the Farmers Market makes me feel better in mind, body and spirit and fuels me far better than a sugary dessert or a big bowl of ice cream. When I go for the ice cream, it’s usually driven by an emotional need and I always feel worse — physically and emotionally after. Now, have I had ice cream recently? Yes, of course, I am human.

I believe the key to achieving any big, hairy audacious goal — including losing weight — is intense self-awareness and authenticity. It’s about being honest with yourself about what works for you and what doesn’t, and being in alignment with what YOU really, really, really want most. This in turn takes practice, self-acceptance and forgiveness because sometimes we win, and sometimes we don’t.

So what is the key to long-term success?

For me, success starts and ends with my mindset. It is an inside job to sustain the healthy and vibrant, in-the-equation life I desire — supporting a healthy and happy mind, body and spirit. And it is constantly changing and evolving!

For you…? I believe that YOU truly know best. But knowing the answer to this question may help you.

There’s certainly been a lot written about diet vs. lifestyle and discipline vs. deprivation by a variety of experts and non-experts. I am not an expert on anyone but ME, so I’m not suggesting what will work for you. My goal is to share my story and observations based on personal experience. By sharing the lessons I’ve learned, perhaps I will help someone else the way that others have inspired and helped me.

Cheers. Happy #motivationmonday!



Read some of my related blogs on the subject of mindset and motivation, and changing from the inside out:

EDITOR’S NOTE: This blog is dedicated to the amazing women who inspired recent conversation on these topics. A big shout out to the In-the-Equation Twin Cities Mindset, Motivation & Momentum group. 

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