When I signed up for my first marathon, I didn’t train at all. I decided to do the whole thing without building up to the entire 26.2 miles.
Instead, I bought all new gear — clothes, expensive running shoes, a fancy watch — and threw out all my old stuff. I set a goal of finishing in less than three hours, and all I could see was the medal around my neck.
I started the race out strong, going faster than my usual pace. But by mile three I was struggling. By mile five, I was completely burned out and hating life. By mile seven I was done. I never even crossed the finish line.
So I immediately signed up for another one and did the exact same thing.
Only a complete masochist would do this, so I hope you’ve figured out that I’m only kidding.
I did cross the finish line — but only because I spent months training for the race, adding to my mileage with every run and slowly improving.
My finish time was five-and-a-half hours, but that didn’t matter because my true accomplishment was who I became during the training process and seeing what I was capable of.
Just Like Dieting
My made-up story sounds crazy because it is crazy. No one in their right mind would sign up for a marathon without training for it, nor would they put that kind of pressure on themselves to finish so fast.
Okay, so now I want you to clean out your kitchen, throw out all your food, and go buy all new food — the kind you rarely eat. Eat half of what you usually do, and do all of this for the next 30 days.
And if you can’t stick to it, start over again and keep doing the same thing until you can.
Does this scenario sound crazy? Hardly. Women do this all the time — and spend their lives doing it.
For some reason, we keep dieting even though it never works. And we keep feeling like a failure, never seeing that it’s the approach — and not us — that’s the failure.
Let’s break down why the all-or-nothing dieting approach to losing weight is the equivalent of trying to do a dead sprint to a marathon finish line. And then let’s choose a more effective (and less demoralizing) way.
Why All-or-Nothing Doesn’t Work
You make too many changes, all at once. Changing everything you do at the same time is unsustainable, especially when the changes involve doing the complete opposite of habits you’ve taken a lifetime to establish.
Trying to change multiple behaviors at once is overwhelming, and doing this prevents you from making the distinctions that come with individual changes.
Distinctions are critical because they mean you’re learning what works and what doesn’t, which makes it more likely that your changes will take root and become new habits.
Making distinctions requires a trial-and-error period that takes time, and you miss this opportunity when you’re trying to change everything in the next 30 days.
You have to use willpower. Making so many changes at the same time requires enormous willpower. And not only does willpower run out, using it keeps you stuck in a vicious cycle that’s hard to escape.
Having to use willpower to try not to do what you want to do — like binge on Oreos while watching The Crown — sets that thing up as even more desirable. When this happens, you need even more willpower to avoid doing it.
Using willpower means depleting the very resource you need to succeed. You’re effectively working against yourself and keeping yourself stuck.
You create resistance. Dieting involves focusing directly on something you hate: the weight. Staring at your body, hating it and then trying to beat it into submission generates tremendous resistance.
And dieting means you’re resistant toward not only your body but also the food that you eat (or are trying not to eat). You’re supposed to eliminate, decrease, and avoid certain foods — usually those you prefer (and possibly binge on).
If you’ve trained yourself to eat emotionally, you will eat to eat to make yourself feel better . . . and you will almost certainly feel pulled toward the foods you’re not “supposed” to eat.
How to Break Free
The all-or-nothing dieting approach to lose weight sets you up for a pressure-filled, miserable experience that ultimately fails and puts you back at square one, eroding your confidence each time.
But it doesn’t have to be like this.
Taking the opposite approach means that you experiment and figure out what does and does not work for you.
You have preferences, a personal schedule, and a unique environment — all of which factor into the foods you eat. What works for your best friend may not necessarily work for you, so you have to figure out what does.
It means you make distinctions and gradually form new habits. Making small changes over a long period of time requires zero willpower, so you work with yourself rather than against yourself, increasing your chances of being successful.
And it means that you start from a place of acceptance instead of resistance. You assess where you are without judgment or shame — and you start right where you are.
Take the Long-Term Approach
The antidote to dieting to get rid of the excess weight you see is to shift your perspective entirely.
You have to be willing to make small changes over time, commit to changing your habits instead of drastically altering what you do for the next two weeks, and focus on feeling better rather than just looking better.
All of this takes time. But as the saying goes, “A year from now you’ll wish you had started today.”
If you want your weight-loss “marathon medal,” you have to be willing to sacrifice the immediate gratification that comes with getting it. You have to be willing to switch your mindset from all or nothing to patiently and consistently making small, steady changes over time.
The best kind of marathon is the one where you focus on one mile at a time and gather small wins along the way. It’s the one where those small wins build your confidence and help you see that you’ve got what it takes to cross the finish line.
It’s the race where you realize that the real prize is becoming a whole new version of yourself — one that’s capable of much more than you thought.
And that’s the version of you that no longer obsesses about her weight. Because she no longer has to.