Seth Godin is a legend.
He’s probably the most accomplished internet marketer in history.
His simple, direct, sensible advice has helped thousands of companies grow and prosper. Pretty much anyone who’s sold anything or wants to sell anything knows of Seth Godin (or at least they should).
Seth writes about entrepreneurship, networking, social media, product development, publishing, and everything else involved in business. However, he also talks about how to design your life to help make your ideas grow — to make it easier to succeed.
One of Seth Godin’s firm beliefs is that you should enjoy your work. As he puts it:
“Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from.”
Here’s how the same thing applies to dieting.
Two Kinds of Jobs — Two Kinds of Diets
Imagine if you were presented with these two choices:
Job 1: You make $500,000 per year.
You work at a desk, logging data, 14 hour days, six days per week.
You have to continue this job, without breaks, on this exact same schedule for five years.
After five years you can quit and work somewhere else.
If you quit before then, you lose whatever you’ve earned.
You hate this job.
You hate getting up every morning at five am.
You can’t stand your co-workers.
You hate not being able to make time for exercise or to prepare healthy meals. You rarely get to hang out with friends or spend time with your family.
But you tell yourself that can put up with this job because at the end, it will all be worth it.
Job #2: Let’s say you get to work as a photographer (everyone loves taking pictures, right?). You get paid $50,000 per year.
Maybe photography wasn’t your first choice, but you still enjoy it. You enjoy the benefits even more.
You get to travel wherever you like.
You get to work your own hours and even pick some of your co-workers and negotiate some of your benefits.
You’re free to stop any time and you can keep whatever you’ve earned.
You’d probably pick job number two, because “transferring your passion to your job is far easier than finding a job that happens to match your passion,” says Godin.
Yet when it comes to dieting, people usually pick job number one. They pick a diet that’s at odds with their preferences, passions, and lifestyle. Here’s why.
The Main Reason Dieters Fail
Lack of patience.
Everyone can lose weight. You create a caloric deficit by eating less and moving more, and you lose fat. Simple.
The main reason dieters fail isn’t because they’re eating the wrong foods, doing the wrong kinds of exercise, or even that they fail to create a caloric deficit. The main reason dieters fail is because they don’t maintain a caloric deficit.
When most people diet, they make many large changes at once. They overhaul their diets and eliminate a bunch of foods. They don’t eat any desserts. They start exercising every day for as long as they can, even if they hate it.
When these people are dieting, they are “ON THEIR DIET!,” as Lyle McDonald says.
There’s nothing wrong with this approach at first. People lose weight, they become more motivated, and they tell themselves that the suffering is worth it because the results are coming fast. The problem is that these results won’t keep coming. People set themselves up for failure because they expect to be able to maintain this kind of lifestyle until they reach their goal, and then revert back to their old habits. They can’t.
“Change almost never fails because it’s too early. It almost always fails because it’s too late.”
When most people diet, they’re already at the point where they feel like they’re out of time. If they don’t lose exactly as much fat as they want by a certain date, they give up. This could all have been prevented if they had started earlier, taken longer to reach their goal, and done so in a way that didn’t make them unhappy.
Why Working Too Hard Doesn’t Work for You
“‘How was your day?’ is a question that matters a lot more than it seems.”
You’re a motivated person.
It’s easier for you to crash diet. It’s easier to overwork yourself in the short-term if you can sip drinks on the beach for a week a year from now. It’s easier to deprive yourself in the short-term, suck up the hunger and the deprivation, and see fast results. You’re a worker, and you almost equate suffering with progress. You think if you’re not hungry, then you’re probably not dieting hard enough.
The problem is that overworking yourself in the short-term doesn’t generally work for you in the long-term.
It’s easy to undo eight weeks of progress with a week long binge. Other times there is no dramatic binge — you just get tired of being so strict. You slowly eat more and gain back the fat. You get sick of feeling tired, weak, hungry, deprived, and socially isolated, and you eat everything you’ve denied yourself for weeks.
When your diet is over, you feel exhausted and defeated. You feel like it was all a waste, and it’s not worth doing again. You feel so much angst and anxiety toward dieting that it becomes nearly impossible. You pulled yourself too “thin” (pun intended) and snapped.
This is just as much a problem for athletes and models as it is for average people. The former group generally doesn’t gain back as much fat, and they tend to be able to put up with more suffering, but they still don’t get the results they want.
Even bodybuilders who diet to the absolute limits of leanness will often go on epic binges after their contests, or gain more fat than they should in the off season. While fifteen percent body fat is hardly “fat,” it’s “fatter” than most athletes like to be. It also means they have to diet longer the next time they want to get lean. Every time they repeat this cycle, they “work” longer and “vacation” even less.
Here’s a simple solution to help you avoid this problem.
Create a Diet You Don’t Need to Escape From
“I define anxiety as experiencing failure in advance.”
If you fear dieting, you won’t succeed.
Instead of creating a diet that gives you good short-term results and fails you in the long-run, adopt a diet that you can maintain.
You should enjoy your diet. You should be able to maintain it without feeling deprived. Your diet should fit into your lifestyle and be almost unnoticeable.
You should continue to enjoy all of your favorite foods throughout your diet, in moderation.
You should keep going out with friends.
You shouldn’t feel terrible the entire time.
You shouldn’t need a vacation from your diet.
You Still Have to Work
But your work should be enjoyable.
You still need to create a caloric deficit.
You may need to eat fewer desserts than you’d like.
You may need to exercise more than you want to.
There will be times when you probably want four Oreos and you only let yourself have three. However, that’s a lot easier than not letting yourself have any, and/or eating a whole box on Saturday because you got a craving.
How much you need to change your lifestyle to reach your goals depends on where you’re starting and where you want to go. If you’ve been living off of fast food and riding a desk for the past five years, and you want to be shredded, you’re going to have to make some big changes.
Even in extreme cases like this, however, a slower approach is often better. “The reality is that if you’re used to eating a whole damn pizza in one sitting, a good starting point to lose the chub is to just eat half, pat yourself on the back, and call it a day,” says Muata Kamdibe, a man who lost 120 pounds and has kept it off.
If you’re already very lean, but you want to get even leaner, you’re better off making a few small changes. If you want to get really lean and stay that way, you may need to be pretty strict about tracking your calorie intake, making smart foods choices, exercising, etc, but you should still take a minimalist perspective. Do as little as possible and go from there.
Be easier on yourself, and stick to proven methods that you know will work, even if they take longer. That’s another one of Godin’s methods. “I intentionally abandoned the hard stuff early on because not only do I think it’s useless, I think it’s a distraction.”
He focuses on the things that matter to achieving his long-term goals, not necessarily the stuff that keeps him entertained in the short-term.
Be Happy with Slower Progress
It’s better to make small consistent gains than it is to make large ones that disappear quickly.
It’s far better to lose ten pounds of fat over two years and keep it off than it is to lose 20 pounds in a year and gain it all back the next year.
In general, losing fat slower means you have to make fewer changes. You don’t have to experience as much stress, anxiety, or deprivation. Even the physiological adaptations to dieting are less severe when you take a more gradual approach.
There are times when you might want to diet more severely. If you’re getting ready for a competition or photo shoot, or if you just can’t stand a slow rate of progress, then it’s fine to diet harder. However, in most cases you’re better off starting earlier, taking longer to reach your goal, and being able to maintain your results for as long as you want.
The Best Diet is the One You Don’t Know You’re On
To lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than you burn.
You need to maintain a caloric deficit over time until you reach your goal weight (though this doesn’t mean you need to be in a caloric deficit every day).
You need to set up a diet that lets you do this. Denying yourself all of your favorite foods, forcing yourself to do hours of exercise that you don’t enjoy and can’t maintain, and making obtrusive changes to your lifestyle isn’t going to work for you in the long-run.
To paraphrase Seth Godin:
“Instead of wondering when you can stop dieting, maybe you should set up a diet that you don’t need to stop.”
You need to create a diet you don’t need to escape from — one that you enjoy.
A Question for You
How do you create a sustainable, enjoyable, low-stress diet that helps you stay lean?
Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.