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April 30

The 7 Unbreakable Rules of a Successful Diet: A Guide from a Nutrition Coach

These 7 unbreakable rules of a successful diet will save you years of struggle and frustration. I know because it took me years of struggle and frustration to find them, but once I did, I started seeing real results.

The problem isn’t starting a diet. Everyone who has ever tried to lose weight has started a diet. The real challenge is to finish a diet. These rules are your roadmap for accomplishing that very thing.

Are you ready? Because I’m about to rock your forking world. Get it? Fork. Never mind.

Rule #1: Make Sure Everything You Eat Is Delicious, Satisfying, Fast, and/or Easy

The thing that will sink your dieting efforts faster than anything else is a diet that feels like a sacrifice. The human body has an interesting reaction to being deprived. Like a petulant child, if it doesn’t get what it craves, it throws a fit. When your body is unhappy, it punishes you by storing everything you eat as fat. That’s why deprivation diets don’t work.

We haven’t even gotten to the psychology of sacrifice. I believe there is something inside all of us that keeps score. Every time you tell yourself “no,” every time you choke down something that doesn’t taste good in the name of your diet, every time you try to muscle through the hunger, it’s another strike against your diet. The next time you’re low on willpower, that part of us makes up for lost time. That’s how you can end up gaining more weight on a diet than you started with. You end up compensating for all the time you deprived yourself.

The key is to keep the strike count at zero. You do that by making sure that your diet is delicious, satisfying, fast, and/or easy.

Rule #2: One Baby Step at a Time

As I mentioned in Rule #1, your body freaks out when you change your diet. Our metabolism evolved during a time when our species had to hunt and gather all its resources. Food was scarce, and during lean times our bodies learned to stop using calories as fuel and to store them as fat. Our bodies are still operating on that same Caveman OS. They don’t know that food is as close as ordering DoorDash on your phone.

If you suddenly drop your calorie intake, your body assumes that there is no food and shifts into famine mode. When your body is in famine mode, you burn muscle for fuel and store as much fat as your fat cells can hold. Not ideal when summer is right around the corner. Your body gives zero forks (he he) about looking good on the beach. It’s trying to keep you alive during what it perceives is a global loss of resources.

To avoid shutting down your body’s ability to use your fat stores as fuel, you need to ease into any changes you are making. One small change at a time will give your metabolism a chance to adjust naturally and also requires a lot less mental stamina to sustain. Choose the easiest change you can make to start. Master that change and then do it again. Before you know it, a lot of small changes add up to one lean body.

Rule #3: Don’t Weigh Yourself

The scale is only half of the data you need to determine if your diet is working or not. When you step on a scale, you’re weighing everything: your fat, your lean muscle, your skeleton, your brain, your internal organs, the food in your tummy—everything.

Let’s say that you step on the scale and it tells you that you’ve lost 5 pounds. That could be great if it’s 5 pounds of fat. If it’s 5 pounds of muscle, you’ve just tanked your metabolism. You need a body fat test to tell if your program is working. A body fat test can also tell you what adjustments you need to make to your program.

If your body fat percentage is dropping and your lean body mass is stable, you’re on track. Keep on truckin’! If your body fat is dropping but so is your lean body mass, you’re not eating enough. If your body fat percentage is going up but your lean body mass is dropping, you’re still not eating enough. And if your body fat is dropping and your lean body mass is going up, you just hit the lottery (or you’re a client of mine). Bottom line is without a body fat test, the scale is only giving you half the story.

Rule #4: Never Be Hungry

This might be hard to understand, but stick with me and let me see if I can shed some light on the situation. It takes energy to use your body fat as energy. It’s a lot like petroleum. We use petroleum to fuel our cars, but before we can use the oil as energy, it has to be found, drilled for, pumped out of the ground, shipped to a refinery, refined into gasoline, shipped to the gas stations, and then pumped into your car. Every step of that process requires energy, from the people that find the oil to the machines that pull it out of the ground and refine it.

Your body goes through an eerily similar process to turn your body fat into fuel. I won’t break down the whole complicated process here, but just know that to use fat for fuel, your body has to empty the lipids (fat) out of a fat cell, refine the fat into fuel, and then transport that fuel to hungry cells. Just like the oil, every step of the process of turning fat into fuel requires fuel. A great deal of fuel.

If you are restricting your calories, you’re basically trying to drill for oil without filling up the drill’s gas tank first. That’s why deprivation diets just don’t work. You take away the fuel to turn fat into energy, and guess what? Your body stops turning fat into energy. It turns to sources of energy that are much easier to access, like your muscle. The moral of the story is if you want to use your body fat for fuel, fuel the process.

Rule #5: Have a Plan for Everything

I’m gonna try to stay off my soapbox as I talk about the food industry for a moment. There will come a time when we will discuss my feelings about Big Food, but for now, let’s just agree that when it comes to food, you are being aggressively marketed to. Food companies know exactly how to get your body in the mood to feed, and they are not shy about using that knowledge to sell you food.

Knowing that we live in a world where food is literally being shoved at you, it’s no surprise that we have a hard time staying on a diet. The solution is to have a plan going into every situation. If you’ve been eating McDonald’s for lunch every day, it’s going to be hard to resist when noon rolls around. Unless you have a plan to eat something that’s on-plan and delicious, satisfying, fast, and/or easy, that is.

If you can make that on-plan lunch more delicious than McDees, then we’re really cooking with gas. Going into your day without a plan as to what to eat is an open invitation to food companies to literally fill your void with their product. Plus, to follow Rule #4: Never Be Hungry, you’re going to need to plan ahead. Hunger is your number one enemy here, so make sure that no matter where you are or what you’re doing, you have an on-plan option mapped out.

Rule #6: Build in Pressure Relief Valves

Staying on a diet can be tough. As we’ve already discussed, changing the way you eat creates a very strong reaction in your body and your mind. Even if you’re easing into a program, as I suggest, you may still feel like you’re missing out on the foods (or the wine) that you love. That’s where free meals come in.

A free meal is exactly like a cheat meal, except that it’s a part of your program and thus not a cheat. The distinction here is important. The free meals not only relieve the psychic pressure of following a diet, but the flood of excess calories and carbohydrates into your system stimulates your body to use fat for fuel. That’s why I recommend having two free meals a week.

A free meal is exactly what it sounds like. It’s your chance to eat whatever you want and as much of it as you want. This strategic overfeed, as we say in the fitness world, allows you the option to eat whatever you want. Instead of telling yourself that you can’t eat ice cream because you’re on a diet, you can choose to eat the ice cream as a free meal. Or decide that you would rather save the free meal for something tastier down the road.

The point is, you’re not telling yourself “no,” which we already determined builds internal resentment towards your diet. When you have a couple of free meals in your pocket, you live in a world full of “yes.” Can you see how powerful that can be when it comes to sticking to a diet? If not, you might need a free meal.

Rule #7: Be Gentle with Yourself

This is the last rule in the list, but it’s actually the most important one. Losing weight is hard. If it wasn’t, everyone would already be lean and strong, and I would be writing a blog post about how awesome life is. When you’re trying to do something as complex as changing the composition of your body, it’s going to take some time. You might be working on this for years. I have.

If you’re going to be tough on yourself, it’s going to be a very rocky road (not the delicious ice cream). You’re going to need patience, encouragement, and lots of affirmation from yourself! The world is going to have its own reaction to your efforts. Some will offer the positive energy that helps you through the tough spots, but many will bring a jealous, “who do you think you are to break out of the pack” mentality. If you’re not ready to champion your own efforts, your plan will most likely fail. Just making the attempt to better yourself is worth a self-administered attaboy/girl as the case may be.

Every diet is going to have ups and downs. There will be moments when you’re not going to want to keep going. If you are constantly beating yourself up about it, you won’t keep going. You’ll stay right where you are, like most people. It’s the ones that know how to be gentle with themselves, especially when the going gets tough, that get to their goal.

There you have it—the 7 Unbreakable Rules of a Successful Diet. Follow these rules and you WILL reach your weight loss goal. Ignore them and continue to struggle. Seems like an easy choice to me.

Tiger Ford

About the author

Tiger Ford is a Master Personal Trainer and nutrition coach with over 10,000 hours of experience helping people just like you develop a fitness habit to stay lean and strong for life.

For a one-on-one consultation with Tiger please call 800-428-3496.


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