To lose weight you eat less. It’s simple. But there’s a big difference between simple and easy, which is borne out by the statistics showing most weight loss diets fail. My first diet attempts failed, too, but eventually I found a sustainable approach. The right mindset is an important part, and to build mine I use a mental trick that guarantees long term fat loss success by short-circuiting the thought patterns that lead to falling off the wagon.
All the mindset tricks in the world are no use if you don’t have a solid foundation; of course you need to have a good base fat loss protocol (see here for how to set up a diet). The next piece of the diet adherence puzzle is to use planning and tracking.
But with those foundations and the right mindset, fat loss is is basically guaranteed.
The Easy Option to Overeat Is the Problem
There are no inherently fattening foods, just quantities. So in the context of a weight loss diet, the option to eat too much is the problem. And temptation is sharpened by how easy it is to get a hold of huge quantities of the most delicious, high-calorie foods that were once out of reach of most people, or at least restricted to special occasions. Overeating would be far less likely if it required hunting down a deer, for instance.
The easy option to eat too much opens the door to the mind games that lead to weight loss failure. You know the ones, they start with thoughts like, “oh, today was unusually hard, I’ll just forget about my diet tonight and get back on the wagon tomorrow.” But tomorrow turns out to be hard too, and before you know it you’re completely unravelled and fatter than ever.
To maximize the chance of success on a diet, the option to overeat needs to be nullified. We can’t easily change our physical environment to remove all the temptations around, but with some mental reframing we can achieve the same thing. This reclassification of thoughts is what builds the successful mindset.
The Cost and Benefit of Choices
Life is full of options, and our choices are determined by consequences. Some options have an immediate hedonistic payoff, others have a long term benefit, and some are downright bad. Each choice is made up of cost and benefit.
Some of the hardest choices are the ones that involve some pain or sacrifice now, but pay off later. Not eating that slab of cheesecake when you’re starving and miserable, for example.
But if the consequences are extreme enough choices become easy, even in the face of immediate pleasure. It’s a concrete fact that if you step off the top of a tall building, you’ll no doubt get a huge rush, and possibly the most amazing thrill you’ve ever experienced. But at the very least you’ll also eventually injure yourself badly if not die horribly.
Here’s another concrete fact. If you eat more than your diet protocol calls for, the consequence is that your fat loss won’t succeed.
Obviously our brains process these outcomes differently. Severe injury and death are huge factors dissuading us from a given action, but not losing weight is instinctively far less of a consequence.
The Hijack: Reframing Options
The consequences of not sticking to your diet plan are just as inevitable as the consequences of falling from a great height. The trick is to tap into knowledge of this inevitability before the desire for immediate pleasure takes over. The seriousness of the outcomes is different, but they’re both undesirable. As such, we can hijack the way we categorize straying from a diet plan to be equal to jumping off a skyscraper.
Stepping off the top of tall buildings is technically always an option, but not a serious one. Overeating can be the same by deliberately putting it into the same mental box as nonviable life-threatening behavior. You simply treat the consequences of both things as equally unacceptable. You’re not a person in the habit of arbitrarily leaping to your death for a cheap thrill, and now you’re no longer a person who eats more food than your diet plan calls for.
The option to wreck your diet is effectively gone, and you have the perfect diet mindset.
By using this mental trick you effectively remove the option to overeat, but instead of being restricting, it’s freeing—there’s no more decision fatigue. You don’t spend time wrestling with the question of whether to plunge to your death from a height, and equally you no longer need to choose not to stray from your diet. You’re left with easy automaticity.
Leaping from height could be the most thrilling experience of your life, but you don’t do it because of the inevitable consequence. So it must be with the thrill of eating too much. The results of both actions are just as inevitable, and with this knowledge we can equally categorize them so that neither are a serious option any longer.
Along with a suitable base diet program and actively monitoring what you eat, this mental trick is the icing on the cake of a foolproof plan to lose weight.
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