It's only fair to share…

Guest Contributor – Sally Symonds

You can’t half break a diet. You’re either on one or you’re not. It’s all or nothing, yes or no.  In theory we are told to forgive ourselves, to not let one slip up make us give up completely.  We are told that even if you’ve fallen off the horse, don’t completely let go – let yourself be pulled along for a while (without being too excessive) until you can fully jump onboard again.

Fantastic theory – but something very few people can actually practice – particularly if they’ve had a nearly a life-time of “on-again/off-again” dieting (which most people have). At any given point in time one in five Australians is dieting. Being “on a diet” as being the best way to lose weight is such a deep-seated belief within our society that most of us fail to even recognise that there is path beyond the “on-again/off-again” cycle, let alone how to access that path.

This all or nothing state of mind also materializes itself in the good day/bad day scenarios, where something slightly unhealthy at morning tea means the whole day is ruined (and then perhaps the whole week as well). All or nothing for many people also equals “the last supper” – the pre-diet binge. This is also then usually succeeded by the post-diet binge – sometimes planned, often not. Anyone who has been to a twelve-week challenge weight-loss celebratory dinner will soon see how simple it is to determine those people who have actually done the challenge – they are the ones eating everything in sight!

All or nothing also manifests into establishing a dichotomy between good and bad (or forbidden) foods. Socially, we are accustomed to think that bad is somehow good – think fast cars, bad boys and biker chicks. Mae West knew just how enticing the bad could be when she said, “When I’m good I’m very good, but when I’m bad I’m better.” When you’re on a diet, bad foods are forbidden – and there’s something very alluring about the forbidden.

Think about Eve and the Garden of Eden. If she’d been told to help herself to an apple she probably wouldn’t even have taken a bite. Designer Daizi Zheng has exploited this idea even further by creating a series of “good” foods which are packaged as “bad” ones – carrot sticks packaged to look like cigarettes, celery sticks sold in a French fry carton and blueberries in a blister pack. This not only makes people to rethink their relationship with food, but also helps people feel physically and psychologically connected to the “good” foods because they so strongly resembled the “bad”.

Diets are the heart of restriction and deprivation. These aren’t happy places for our heads to be in. In the world of psychoanalytics, Jacques Lacan’s theory of desire can be reduced to this: desire equals lack. You desire something because you don’t have it. As soon as you have it, you don’t want it anymore and you desire something else. Similarly, if I said, “Don’t think of a red dog”, what’s the first thing that pops into your head? A red dog! So a typical diet which might tell you not to eat “a, b and c” inevitably causes people to focus on – and desire – exactly those foods.  Diets breed resentment and resentment breeds dissatisfaction, and so begins the vicious cycle.

Diets also create a sense of pressure, particularly when you follow that oft-quoted advice to announce your intentions to the world and thus make yourself accountable to others. You don’t need to be accountable to anyone else; you only need to be accountable to yourself. Making yourself accountable to others only fuels their comments regarding your diet and weight, making you more and more obsessed about what you are (or aren’t) eating.

You often feel like they are waiting for you to fail. They watch what you eat at meals, giving you “those” looks and commenting when you eat something slightly “bad”. They repeatedly ask how much weight you’ve lost and then proceed to share their own weight-loss advice. Everyone, it seems, is a weight-loss expert – even those that could really stand to lose a few kilos themselves!

While some people are undoubtedly trying to be supportive, the end result is often more negative than positive.  Most long term dieters are extremely familiar with all the usual rules and recommendations about how to lose weight – probably because they’ve lost and regained it so many times! But they are still overweight.  If you really want to learn how to lose weight . . . and keep it off . . . it really does seem as if breaking (at least some of) the rules is one of the best ways to do it.


Sally Symonds   has just released a new book : “50+ Recipes to Lose 50+kg . . . And Keep It Off”.  A qualified personal trainer and NLP practitioner, Sally now works with individuals and corporations who want to change their lives – and health – for the better. She is also a highly sought-after motivational and inspirational speaker.

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