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I Need To Diet: A Train of Thought

 013-KreugerBy Devin Kreuger

I need to lose some weight.

It’s actually a good thing my friend is having that destination wedding in November, because that event is going to give me the motivation I’ve needed to pull myself together and get fit. There’s nothing like the thought of being on a beach to put some fuel on the weight-loss fire. Bathing suits are unforgiving. I can avoid them here at home, but on holiday…

So I’ll diet.

I’ve tried diets before, and had some successes, so I know I can do it this time.

 Back in 2003 I had a terrific run with the South Beach Diet. I dropped the extra weight, and even kept it off… for a while, at least. And then in 2010 I used that app on my phone to regulate my caloric intake. That helped me lose some weight, so long as I stuck with that app. Why’d I stop using it, again?

But this time it will be different, I’m sure. I’ll watch what I eat, and I’ll drop the extra pounds, and I’ll keep it off. It’ll be easy.

All I have to do is to find a good diet regimen, and focus my willpower. Positive visualizations—I’ve heard they work too. I’ll imagine how much better my life is going to be when I’m down to my ideal weight. I’ll feel great. My relationships will improve. I’ll be full of energy, and I’ll be more productive, which will lead to being more successful. Life will be great!

One amazing diet program is all that’s standing between me, and my ideal life! I can already feel the motivation coursing through my veins! I’m ready for this! Let’s make this happen!

Okay, now what diet plan is working for people these days?

Hey… I remember reading a research grant proposal from one of the researchers on campus, and she was studying dieting. I should look her up and see what advice she has for people looking to lose weight. I’m sure she’ll point me in the right direction for a diet that will work.

Let’s see… Janet Polivy… Here it is: The False-Hope Syndrome: Unrealistic Expectations of Self-Change. Hmmmm. This isn’t sounding too upbeat. What does the abstract say?

“People appear to behave paradoxically, by persisting in repeated self-change attempts despite previous failures.”

 My earlier diets weren’t failures though. They worked at first! I lost that weight.

“…Self-change attempts provide some initial rewards even when unsuccessful. Feelings of control and optimism often accompany the early stages of self-modification efforts.”

Well that’s true enough. I guess looking at my dieting over the long-term, those diets were helpful in the short-run. I felt so good about my weight, that as time went by I’d reward myself again and again. And over the course of a year or so, the extra weight was back, and I’d be on the hunt for another diet.

“In addition, unrealistic expectations concerning the ease, speed, likely degree of change, and presumed benefits of changing may overwhelm the knowledge of one’s prior failures.”

That’s harsh. But now that I think about it, it has the ring of truth. While I did lose some weight on those diets, fast-forward a year and the weight would come back. Darn. It’s much easier to remember that I lost those pounds than it is to remember that they came back.

“It is thus important to learn to distinguish between potentially feasible and impossible self-change goals in order to avoid overconfidence and false hopes leading to eventual failure and distress.”

That actually sounds like a smart idea… Instead of confidently and enthusiastically jumping onto a new diet regimen that will ‘change my life!’, maybe I should consider a more realistic approach to developing a healthier lifestyle over the long-term. It’s easy enough to carve carbs out of my diet for a month, but forever?

Okay, Professor Polivy, I’ve heard you. Instead of worrying about how I’m going to look in my swimsuit in November—a very short-term concern, indeed—I’ll keep my eye focused on the longer-term. What changes could I make, and what habits can I build into my life, that will truly last?

I suppose there are no quick answers, so I’ll have to give it some serious thought. It’s certainly a less exciting route to take—jumping onto a new diet can be so thrilling!—but as with my financial investments, I suppose it’s the long-term that really matters. Slow and steady wins the race.

Devin Kreuger is Director of the Office of the Vice-Principal Research at the University of Toronto Mississauga. He can be contacted at [email protected] Visit www.utm.utoronto.ca/research

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