How to get healthy without dieting | Darya Rose | TEDxSalem


Translator: Zsófia Herczeg
Reviewer: Tanya Cushman I started my first diet
when I was eleven years old, sixth grade. I wasn’t overweight
or anything close to it, but I came into the kitchen
before school one morning, and my mom was making herself
a chocolate milkshake for breakfast. If you can remember being eleven,
you can imagine how awesome that sounded. When she told me it was a diet shake
that was supposed to help her lose weight, I thought that was even better. Even though I was just a child, I had internalized enough
of the early ’90s supermodel culture to know that being thin was a good thing. My mom agreed to share
her SlimFast with me, and 15 years later, I was still struggling every day
to be happy with food and with myself. During that time, I tried
every diet that crossed my path. In high school, I wouldn’t touch a food
if it had a single gram of fat. In college, carbs
were the forbidden fruit – literally. I’ve eaten more cabbage soup,
grapefruit halves and boneless, skinless chicken breasts than any human ever should. And I have to say, all these diets worked. I mean, I lost that same 10 pounds
at least 20 times. (Laughter) So I know how seductive diets are. I know how good it feels
to work hard at something and have everyone tell you
how great you look. But I also know the heartbreak that comes from trying
to relax just a little and having your cheat day
turn into a cheat week and then a cheat month, leaving you worse off
than where you started, only with an extra layer of shame
and misery that come with failure. Restrictive diets can work amazingly well, but only for a short period of time. In the long run, which it turns out
is what most of us actually care about, diets make losing weight
and getting healthy harder – not easier. Diets create bad habits, they instill a scarcity mindset
around food that often leads to bingeing, and they can even permanently
alter your metabolism for the worse. They’re not awesome. So what should you do instead? They’re rare, but there are people who manage to lose weight
and keep it off indefinitely without dieting. Members of the National
Weight Control Registry have lost at least 30 pounds
and kept it off for at least a year, but on average, they’ve lost 66 pounds
and kept it off for over five years. What’s their secret? They’ve each adopted
a personalized pattern of healthy habits that works for them. The cliché thing to say
is that they’ve built a healthy lifestyle. And in fact, this is the only method that seems to consistently help people
lose weight and stay healthy. The problem, the reason
most people aren’t able to do this is that making this elusive
lifestyle change is actually really hard. But it isn’t impossible, and I believe more people could do it if they knew how to best use
their time and energy. Today, I’m going to give you
three ways to do this. First, the new habits you want to create
need to be intrinsically enjoyable, not simply doable or tolerable. One of the biggest mistakes we make
when trying to build healthy habits is choosing activities
we don’t actually like, like pushing our workouts
way beyond our fitness level or eating flavorless foods
because they’re supposed to be healthy. This approach works in direct opposition
to how your brain forms habits and is never sustainable. For a habit to form,
you need a cue or reminder: something that you can see
or hear or feel, like the smell of fresh brewing coffee. This creates a desire in you
to take a certain action, like getting a cup of coffee. And you do this action because you anticipate
some kind of reward or satisfaction, like that warm tasty beverage and that little hit of energy
that comes with it. Without that feeling of satisfaction,
the cue is never reinforced and the behavior never becomes automatic. And if it isn’t automatic,
it isn’t a real habit. So what does it mean that it needs to be
intrinsically enjoyable? This means that the thing
you enjoy, the reward, needs to be a property
of the activity itself. So you shouldn’t start rewarding
yourself for going for a run by watching an extra hour
of TV before bed. It’s not going to cut it. In fact, these extrinsic rewards, rewards that are not directly
linked to the activity, have been shown to undermine
motivation in the long run by turning something that you
might have actually enjoyed into a chore that you
can now talk yourself out of. So you need to like the activity itself. That is your reward. In my own case, this meant
falling in love with the farmers market. I had no idea that simple foods
like carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes could taste so much better than the ones I’d been buying
my entire life at the grocery store. I have even started
to love foods I used to hate, like beets and Brussels sprouts. All of a sudden,
I was excited to learn to cook. Something I’d had zero interest in
for my entire life. Almost overnight,
healthy eating became my joy, my defaults and a lifelong new identity. This is what an intrinsically enjoyable
habit looks and feels like. Okay, so what if you don’t like to run? Don’t. Choose a different activity
that you do enjoy to get yourself moving. What if all activity feels a little
daunting because you’re out of shape? Start smaller. Choose something less strenuous
that is enjoyable, like an evening stroll around the block. Don’t worry about
how many calories it burns. Worry about starting a habit
that you like. The second part of your new strategy is cultivating awareness around
your thoughts, actions and emotions. The buzzword for this is mindfulness. The reason mindfulness is so important is that your current habits
occur virtually automatically. Remember this is a defining
characteristic of habits. You go through your day on autopilot, and before you know it,
you’re in front of your computer munching on some chips
you grabbed in the break room. Mindfulness is a skill that allows you to become aware
of your current mental state. It creates the pause necessary for you to reflect
on your values before acting, giving you the mental flexibility
you need to choose something new. Think about how you feel
when you get home from work. You’re probably tired and hungry, maybe not in the best mood
after fighting traffic. This morning, you planned on cooking
a healthy meal when you got home, but now there’s a good chance
that you don’t feel like it. This combination of fatigue,
hunger and frustration is triggering you
to want calorie-rich food that does not take a lot of effort. So that easy pizza in the freezer
is pulling you much more strongly than the low-calorie fish
and veggies in the fridge that require prep and cooking. Being aware of these individual feelings, rather than simply reacting to them
or trying to resist them, is a powerful skill because once you do it, you can then ask yourself
if those feelings are worth acting on or if it’s worth it to do
the healthier thing anyway, even if it’s a little harder today. And here’s the thing: even if in this instance you decide
that you really are too tired to cook, a pizza really is the best option, that awareness can help you recognize that there’s actually something you can do
to prevent this situation in the future. For instance, you could grab a handful of nuts
before leaving the office to avoid compounding
your fatigue with hunger. Or maybe the dinner you chose to cook
was too ambitious or not exciting enough, and you need to choose a different meal to jump start your new cooking habit. New habits will almost always feel like
more work the first few times you do them. But if they’re intrinsically rewarding, eventually it will start to feel
like the easiest option. Mindfulness is what
will help you get there. This is why I recommend
developing a regular mindful practice to develop this skill. Even if it is just
a simple breathing exercise. Practicing mindfulness when it’s easy,
when you are not triggered, makes it much more likely you’ll succeed in the more difficult situations
you’ll face in your life. The third part of your new strategy
might be the most important. It is developing a growth mindset. “Growth mindset” is a term
coined by psychologist Carol Dweck to describe the belief that you can overcome
obstacles of perseverance and develop your skills with effort. A growth mindset stands
in contrast to a fixed mindset, which is the belief that your talents
and traits are set at birth and you can’t really
change much with effort. In my experience, health is one of the most difficult areas
of life to develop a growth mindset. Because when diet after diet
leaves you heavier and less healthy, it’s easy to start believing
that the problem is you. You start to develop a personal narrative about how you are
just not a fitness person or you just love comfort food too much. When you start to believe
stories like this about yourself, it becomes very difficult
to make meaningful change. This is the trap of the fixed mindset. Fortunately, a growth mindset
is something you can develop. It involves understanding that all humans are capable
of learning and developing their skills. And you are no exception. You can learn to cook. You can learn to like food
you hated as a kid. You can become an active person
even if you hate the gym. And you can prioritize your own self-care even if you work long hours
or have a family – or both. Developing a growth mindset
also requires understanding that missteps are part
of the learning process. Not only do setbacks not define you, they are opportunities to grow and learn more about how you
and the world work – both individually and together. If a baby falls down when learning
to walk, is he a failure? Of course not. Rather than focusing
on how things didn’t work out for you or what’s impossible to change, someone with a growth mindset always remains focused
on what is workable. They keep their attention on their actions
and the things they can control to get a different outcome next time. To cultivate this mindset in yourself, I love Russ Harris’s suggestion
to ask yourself three questions: What worked? What didn’t work? And what can I do differently next time? These three questions
are a simple framework you can use to get your mind away
from unhelpful thoughts of failure and toward positive action, shifting your mindset
from fixed to growth. Changing things like beliefs
and habits is not easy. Developing a mindful
practice takes effort. And working to discover
healthy habits you actually enjoy takes a lot of self-reflection
and a willingness to try things even without complete confidence
that they’re going to work. But it’s possible to make progress
in all these areas – if you focus your energy
in the right places. I spent 15 years forcing myself
to eat foods that left me unsatisfied and do workouts that made me miserable. And all I had to show for it
was extra body weight and a deep frustration
with myself and how I looked. It only took a couple of months
to start seeing results once I changed my strategy. After several years, not only had my effort
not backfired as usual, but I had met and even exceeded
my fitness goals. But by then, that felt less important
than the fact that I was actually happy. The daily struggle I’d lived with
for almost my entire life had ended. My lifestyle had definitely changed. I was eating way more vegetables, rarely bothered with processed foods, was cooking regularly
and was active daily. But I adored all these things. They brought me joy and fulfillment. My healthy habits were now
an expression of self-love rather than self-hatred. I’ve now been happy and healthy
for as long as I spent dieting – nearly 15 years. In some ways, the change
has felt momentous. But in other ways, it’s felt like the easiest
and most natural thing in the world, like this was always the way
it was meant to be. Because this is how it feels to work
with your mind, instead of against it. Thank you. (Applause)

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