Diets Won’t Work. But This Simple, Powerful Way Will
You don’t need (traditional) diets to reach your fitness goal.
There’s a secret that I don’t tell anyone when it comes to my diet.
I’ve never been on one.
Yes, that’s true. I’ve never followed a diet. And to date, every time my mother visits her dietician I try to tell her that there’s no use in it.
Because the secret to weight loss is to respect the antifragility of the body.
Wait, what? Antifragility? Okay, calm down, let’s understand.
I’ve written about Antifragility in other articles already. But I enjoy talking about it a lot that I’ll give a primer again.
You probably already know about things that are fragile. They’re like a vase — if you drop it from a height, it shatters. Then comes things that are robust — say steel rod that doesn’t break when dropped from a height.
Before Nassim Taleb wrote his book Antifragile, the general public only knew about the fragile and robust.
But he introduced them to Antifragile — things that gain from disorder. To continue our example from dropping from the height, a tennis ball is antifragile. The higher you throw it from, the higher it jumps.
Let’s see other examples. Hydra in Greek mythology was a monster that would grow two heads every time you cut one. That is a classic example of antifragile. Things that gain from chaos and disorder.
Now come to real life. A good example of an antifragile system is airline safety measures.
Every time a plane crashes, the safety systems get better. And thus fewer and fewer failures occur every year. The same is the case with Silicon Valley startups — the more feedback and failures they get from the market, the better they get due to constant tinkering.
In simpler words, any system that reacts positively to negative events is antifragile.
Phew. I hope you got the concept.
Diets Are Fragile
Dr. Khandee Ahnaimugan does a great job of applying the idea of applying Antifragility to diet.
At its most basic level diet is about the list of things to eat and a list of things to not eat.
According to Dr. Khandee, “With a diet, you are either following the recommendations or else you’re not on a diet. If you’re following the diet, you’re doing well. But eating the foods that aren’t a part of the diet ( or those that are forbidden) is considered cheating.”
Further, in an attempt to list the cons of going on a diet, he says that most diets don’t take into account the myriad of factors that affect you — your personal preferences, your environment, your lifestyle, and in general the unique, complicated structure of everyone’s body.
Your chances of success on a diet are directly linked to your adherence to the rules.
Thus, he says, that a person on a diet is fragile. For instance, if they deviate from the diet on any occasion — they had a bad day, good day, party, celebration, etc — their progress is derailed.
Dieticians want people to minimize these deviations. And if they do, they often feel guilty, disappointed, and lacking willpower.
There isn’t a lot of room for experimentation as well. If you’re on Keto and feel like having carbs you can’t really do that without leaving the Keto diet.
Don’t get me wrong. Diets do work. The question is if they are fragile. And if not, what’s an antifragile manner to eat?
The Simple Shift That Helped Me Lose (and Then Maintain) Weight
We’ve discussed the cons of diets and how they’re fragile — meaning they break instantly and fail to keep their promises in the slightest deviation.
In a world filled with randomness, ups and downs, and constant deviations, you cannot see your diet as black and white, i.e. either you follow X [replace with your diet] or you don’t.
So what’s the alternative? The antifragile way of eating.
The core concept of making your diet antifragile is focusing on changing behavior instead of adopting a crash-and-burn diet.
Most diets forget about the psychological changes that one needs to go through in order to lose weight, gain muscle, etc. They just prescribe certain do’s and don’t’s hoping that the person would learn to control his impulsive behaviors automatically.
But it doesn’t work that way, does it? In other words, diets don’t attack the root of the problem and only work on the superficial instead of the consequential.
So how should you exactly do it? By observing yourself over time. Here are some things you should keep in check (assuming you want to lose weight):
- What behaviors are causing you to gain weight?
- What triggers tempt you to eat foods that you know are bad for you?
- Are there specific occasions where you tend to slip off? Say, an outing with friends or at Thanksgiving parties?
In these ways and many more, you can start to understand the root of the issue. I know it would take more time and a lot more strength to be honest with yourself. But the rewards would be permanent and life-altering.
Once you know the cause of your problems, make a change, and ensure that it doesn’t happen the next time. That’s it.
Let’s say I ate a cake during an office party because I was working the whole day and was hungry. Here are a few things I could’ve done to prevent that:
- Drink more water (keeps you filled)
- Have proper, filling meals
- Have some nuts as an evening snack
These are just top-of-the-head (and perhaps stupid) examples. But you get the point, right?
Do you tend to slip off during vacations? Then make the necessary arrangements to ensure that you don’t.
All this seems pretty basic but, trust me, it works. Here’s a real example from my life.
My goal was to build muscle. But every morning, instead of cooking a protein-rich meal, I would just default to anything that others were eating.
To solve this, I prepared my morning meals in advance for 3–4 days. Problem solved.
Now, I didn’t go crazy on a diet as most people would do. I just changed my first meal. And with time, I did this with my dinner as well — I now only have 3–5 choices for dinner which are all healthy and protein-rich.
Yet, I still haven’t talked about the main benefit of eating this way. You see, an antifragile diet welcomes obstacles and challenges, but the traditional diet detests them.
Every obstacle gives you feedback to adjust your eating habits. So when things go wrong, it’s not a disaster that pushes you into a guilt-trip. It’s just information that will make you more resilient.
Slowly you become like the airline safety system — you’ll have fewer ‘crashes’ with every bad day. Over time, this will lay down the foundation of long-lasting weight control.
I wasn’t taught to eat in this way. And I never could adopt diets. But I knew what works and what doesn’t. I had the discipline to reflect on my experience and learn from adversity.
This is why I’m so fascinated by the concept of Antifragility.
So as I end this article, here’s an action tip for you — start logging your food choices in a diary, or an app. And see where you're going wrong. (It doesn’t take a visit to the dietician to know that you shouldn’t be eating pancakes in the morning).
You know more than you think. And you can get better with experience quicker than you thought possible.
Instead of preaching a particular way of eating (which by the way would get a lot of comments here), I’m just telling you how to make your own eating philosophy.
Because in the end, that’s the only way to make the change stick for the long-term.
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