A fellow health coach recently asked me how to help people who feel restricted in their diets. Well, the obvious answer to that question is that the point of dieting is to restrict either the amount of food you eat, or the types of food you eat. Diets are inherently restrictive. When we tell ourselves we can’t have something, it makes us want it that much more. Simply being on a diet, you’re going to feel restricted.

This is a big reason why diets fail. They are built on the premise of not letting you have something that you probably like eating. What if you could eat in a way where you could have what you wanted without feeling restricted?

I’m not talking about moderation. Moderation rarely works.

An alcoholic can’t drink in moderation.

A diabetic can’t drink coke in moderation.

Our minds are pretty adept at justifying things we want. We may promise ourselves not to eat gluten, but when you’re at a wedding you’re going to convince yourself it’s okay to eat cake.

Or maybe you promised yourself that you would lay off the booze this week, but then you get your period, so it’s wine o’clock, baby.

If we really want something, even though we’ve made an agreement with ourselves to forgo it, our minds will find a way to justify it. This is human nature. It’s not about willpower.

People ask me all the time what I eat to stay healthy. My answer is simple: I eat what I want when I want it. I never feel restricted.

How can this be?

I’ve done the mental work, and now you can do it too.
We make choices that eitherbring us closer to pleasure and familiarity, or that move us away from pain. Think about it! With every decision you make, you consider the pleasure/pain cost.

  • Spending $500 on a pair of shoes may bring you more pleasure than the pain of paying off that credit card bill. Conversely, spending that amount on a pair of shoes may seem horrifying to you, so you choose to save your money. The pain associated with being out $500 is too high.
  • You go see a terrible movie with your loved one because their enjoyment brings you more pleasure than the pain of seeing the awful movie.
  • You play the repetitive ‘wheels on the bus’ song over and over in the car so that your child will be happy. Hearing the song on repeat is less painful than your child screaming and crying.

We are constantly evaluating the pleasure/pain cost, even when we don’t realize it.
This is the key to changing the way we eat in a way that doesn’t feel restrictive.

Here is how this has worked for me in my own life. For years I wanted to stop eating meat, but I didn’t know how to do itwithout driving myself crazy.  Every dish I loved growing up had meat as the centerpiece. I loved the taste of meat, and craved it daily. I tried to stop eating meat dozens of times, and I always failed. I would go weeks without meat, but then I would get a craving and I would cave. I knew that in order to make this change and not torture myself in the process, I would need to associate meat with pain, and not eating meat with pleasure. So what did I do? I read book after book detailing the benefits of a plant based lifestyle. I got excited about it. I read a chapter every single day until I was comfortable with my new lifestyle. I also watched several documentaries about factory farming and animal agriculture. Now, I no longer associate eating meat with pleasure. In fact, I’d rather have shards of glass in my ass than eat an animal ever again.

Do you remember seeing the viral video of David Hasselhoff wasted on the bathroom floor eating a burger? He had his daughter videotape him so that he could see what he was like when he was drunk. He was trying to associate pain with alcohol so that he could finally stop.

This is the best way to break an addiction. Associate enough pain with the substance or food you’re addicted to, and you won’t seek pleasure there. That’s why sometimes people have to hit rock bottom before they finally commit to change.

It’s like a lifelong smoker getting diagnosed with lung cancer. Suddenly the cigarettes she couldn’t live without are associated to the pain of having cancer and possibly dying.

It’s getting a DUI before you finally stop drinking alcohol.
Getting diabetes so you finally clean up your diet.

It’s life or death.

As human beings, we have evolved tremendously, but we’re still animals. Our instincts instruct to us avoid pain and to pursue pleasure. The good news is, we can use this information. We can reprogram our pain points and pleasure points.

When we link pleasure to foods that nourish us, and we link pain to foods that are toxic to us, we never feel restricted. We eat exactly what we want. We never have to diet, because we get extreme pleasure and joy out of eating foods that our bodies are designed to eat!

When I see fresh blueberries, I see vibrant health, radiance, and powerful antioxidants.
When I see a bag of Doritos I see disease, obesity, and poison.

It’s all about reframing our minds.

So, what big changes are you hoping to make for your health?  Grab your journal and write them down.

1. What will your life will look like if you don’t make these changes.
2. What will your life look like if you DO make these changes.
3. How will you FEEL every day if you make these changes?
4. How will your life improve, and the lives of your family members improve if you make these changes?

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