It’s simple. You can’t stick to your diet because you made it too hard.
There are many elements of our life that we need to consider when committing to a long-term change in what we eat:
If you work full time and have two kids at school age, you’ll get home one night and one of your kids will chuck a tantrum for an irrational reason. While this persists, you’ll get a phone call from your mother who nags at you for another irrational reason, and then you’ll vacuum the floor, step on a piece of lego and get your period. All thoughts of steamed fish with stir-fried exotic vegetables go out the window while you whip up some spaghetti with pesto. And you’re going to follow it with three glasses of red because your husband won’t understand why you’re angry that he went out for beers after work and then switched The Good Wife off so he could watch footy replays.
Time poor people will find it extremely difficult to adhere to a diet that requires hours of food sourcing and preparation. They need to eat food that is either cooked by someone else (healthy choice food plans, which are not feasible in the very long term), or home made food that can be prepared in large batches and eaten later, partnered with a list of healthy quick fixes for nights when those run out.
Skill and inclination
I can go home, look at a fridge and pantry selection that to many seems hopeless, and, in half an hour, come up with a fairly nice meal fitting within my new food limitations. To my best friend, that’s an admirable but probably unnecessary skill. If I asked her to produce a filling, low-carb breakfast, she’d probably hand me two eggs and tell me to go cook them myself, because she only has the inclination to prepare a bowl of cereal or a piece of fruit.
If you can’t easily figure out how to put together a tasty meal that adheres to principles like low-carb or low calorie (and especially if you don’t have the time and energy to read up on methods and recipes), then you might have to consider that you will probably fail after you get sick of eating two boiled eggs for breakfast for two weeks. Portion control might work better – but you’ll have to figure out a way to keep yourself full and energised throughout the day.
You’ve been on the Aitkins diet for 8 days and you walk past a friend in a cafeteria with a basket of hot chips. They smell like heaven. You veer closer, and the chip owner sees your pain. They offer you some. Just one, you say with commitment. Then you sit down, have a natter, eat the rest with them absently, order another basket, and then top it off with a chocolate milk and a bite of their donut. Then you go home miserable and pour a glass of red. You weigh yourself the next day, and you’ve put on all the weight you just lost, and you wonder, what’s the point? I can’t live that way, I’m going back to the sweet life (you know, that one that is slowly killing you.)
Some people can cope with temptation, but most have a level of willpower that crumbles with a good aroma. If you know you’re going to crack at some stage throughout your diet, you need an escape plan from the downward guilt spiral that ensues. This is done by adding the crack into the plan. You could add your unavoidable sins into a daily calorie count. E.g., you know you need that glass of Pinot and wedge of Manchego at 7pm, so your 1400 calorie day is reduced to 1170 before you even consider what’s for breakfast. Alternatively, consider a 5:2 diet, or, as I prefer, a 2:5, where you control your calories on some days, then let them blow out a little on others.
Values, customs and personal need
In many parts of South East Asia, it’s not hard to live without wheat and dairy. Local recipes, produce and tastes have always been rice and coconut heavy. Reversing that, imagine a Siberean committing to a diet that focuses on Vietnamese flavours, equatorial fish and tropical fruit. What about a person who hates salad trying to commit to a raw food diet, a baker giving up bread, or a vegan going for a low-carb, high protein option? It’s all going to get too hard, and these lifestyle choices are going to fail.
If you can’t live without pasta, don’t give it up. Look at portion sizes, flour quality and the number of times per week you allow yourself to eat it. If you need cheese, try tossing out bread instead. If your stomach size can’t handle a drop to 1200 calories right away, start at 1750 and work your way down over weeks or months. Don’t ignore your personal needs and wants when designing your lifestyle. Like with willpower, start by answering the questions you can, then design the rest of your life around these answers.