I hate the word diet. Or at least I hate it’s modern connotations. When we think of “a diet”, we think of something special, that we are making a special effort or are somehow restricted to special foods. A diet is a sacrifice we are making. We are denying ourselves what we want or may be counting calories or avoiding dairy, bread, carbs or some other food group. Diet is something we do in January or when the first glimpse of sunshine breaks through in early summer.

But the truth is we are already on ‘a diet’. The foods you eat right now are your diet. Your diet is whatever you eat every day for the rest of your life. Stop thinking diet in terms of something special and accept that diet is the daily food you eat.

Why? Because the minute we travel down the route of treating our diet as something special, we set ourselves up for failure.

The mind is a wonderful thing. If we have the wrong association in our minds with the word ‘diet’, then that is exactly what the mind will produce for us. If we associate diet with some special foods for a limited period of time then we find our ‘willpower’ starts to wane after a set time and we start drifting back into ‘old’ habits and craving those exact same foods we’ve told ourselves we are ‘off’.

If our diet instructs us to avoid dairy our minds automatically focus on the word dairy and so dairy takes on a whole new level of attention for us – and not in the way that is conducive to our diet. Milkshakes, cheese, yoghurt all keep cropping up in front of us everywhere we go.

If you were cynical you could make a whole industry out of telling people what foods to avoid safe in the knowledge that is exactly what their minds will then focus on. Oh, hang on…

We must be careful what we think and hear when we are training new routines and habits for ourselves. Having a negative focus automatically makes our subconscious bring to light that exact same negative. So ‘avoid red meat’ will mean we are going to notice all the ham, sausages and mouth watering steak that pass us by each day. We’ll notice their aroma, hear the sizzle on the grill, see everybody else chomping on hot dogs and wonder would one really hurt all that much?

While it’s ok to know that you want to avoid red meat, changing your diet should be a positive experience. Rather than focusing on what to avoid, it’s important to focus on what you wish to eat. Consider these two statements

There is a huge variety of tasty salads out there. They are light, delish and easy to do. Go experiment!”

or

“Avoid red meat. It’s laced with artificial hormones and bloats your body.”

You can feel straight away the mental imagery both bring to mind, the focus each has and the manner in which they set us up to succeed or fail. In the case of the second we may even begin to bloat despite being on our diet as that is what the mind is focusing on.

sixpack
Can you see yourself like this? (picture from From Wiki Commons, user Martin Weicker – thank you! )

So the first thing to know about improving your diet is to stop approaching your diet as something you ‘need’ to put effort into or is for a specific period of time or somehow is a sacrifice for you. The second thing to know is to approach your diet in a positive and reinforcing manner rather than dwelling on the negatives.

When you ‘begin’ a ‘diet’ always be careful to build positive associations in your mind with the foods you wish to consume and let them be the focus of your attention. It is natural that at first you will tend to focus on the negative – sadly, that’s the way we’ve been trained since birth – but even something simple like replacing each negative thought with two positive ones will produce marvellous results.

Longer term, its important that you can feel and see yourself the way you wish to be. You will hardly be able to eat only salads if you have an image of yourself at Christmas tucking into turkey with gusto. Nor will you be able to avoid cheese if you keep telling people your favourite food was cheese laden pizza. Your new thinking must be able to produce a vision of yourself as you wish to be and you must believe that the vision is achievable.

If you cannot see yourself with the wash board abs, the slim waist and the healthy glow, no amount of ‘dieting’ will achieve it. Dieting is equally about the state of your mind as it is with the food. And just like training to run a marathon, it takes a bit of practice.

For a heavily overweight person, washboard abs may be a stretch too far. So pick something else. See yourself at the end of the week pulling in that belt a notch tighter. Or at the end of a month being able to walk comfortably around the block. The point is that you must train your mind to believe the imagery you give it. If you find it difficult to see yourself with a sixpack of abs then pick a shorter point along the journey that you can believe in. As your progress along these points you will find that the sixpack makes more sense. You build confidence in achieving what you’ve set out to achieve.

As you work on your mental imagery, it automatically follows that you will begin to consume that which will produce the desired outcome. If you are focusing on pulling that belt a notch tighter, you will have no desire to eat chocolate as it does not sit with the mental imagery you believe in. Which leads me nicely to the third strand of dieting – Acting As If.

You will find it harder to eat healthily if your kitchen is stocked full of prepacked meals and pizzas. And this relates back to the ability of how we see ourselves and whether we can believe in the imagery we feed to our mind.

Act as if you are everything you wish for. That means there is no point having pizza or chocolate in the house. Who would eat that around here?! Bin it. Stock up on the foods you wish to eat. Act as if you have already changed your diet and you are incredibly happy with your new life. Don’t dwell on the old but focus on the new. Focus on the positive – the chance to experiment every morning with a new juice, discovering a quick ten minute meal that tastes better than anything else, the knowledge that you are investing and growing your belief in you. If you act like you have the six pack, if you act like you radiate a healthy glow then that is exactly what will happen.

Avoid the common pitfall of trying to plan every little detail out to the last. Know there will be times along the path that not everything goes to plan – that wedding, social meal and those first pangs of hunger will all throw up their own set of circumstances that could send you running back to your old diet. But rather than try plan for every contingency, know that when these circumstances arrive you will breeze through them. They are just a little bit of pain to grow a better you. Accept they will occur and when they do, see yourself on the other side still living the new you.