An abundance of retrospective clinical research has been performed on the subject of weight loss. The consensus of the results of these studies is that 90% of the people who diet eventually gain all of their weight back. This is a fascinating, albeit disturbing, conclusion which merits investigation. How could the vast majority of people, who mustered the motivation AND successfully achieved a desired result, revert to their former eating habits and find themselves right back at square one?? Many anecdotal theories attempt to explain the reason for this phenomenon, led primarily by the notion that diets are unsustainable. I agree and disagree with this theory. I agree that diets, from a behavioral standpoint, are unsustainable. If you view your diet as activity-driven, you are unfortunately doomed to fail. The successful dieter, what I am terming as the “Ten Percenter”, views a diet as mindset-driven.
So how do you become a Ten Percenter? Quite simply, you need to accept the notion that you must eat with purpose and accountability. It’s less about counting calories, and more about choosing to put in your mouth what is going to optimize your health, meal by meal. It’s less about following some crazy complicated point-scale dietary plan, and more about taking a genuine interest in learning about the principles of nutrition and what it can do for your long-term physical and mental health. In other words, a Ten Percenter configures the way they relate to food from a lifestyle perspective. This thought process then serves as a behavioral driving force and undoubtedly leads to logical, meaningful and sustainable dietary decisions. This is the self-discipline that the Ten Percenter lives by effortlessly.
You can apply this same disciplinary concept to just about anything in life. For example, I was reminded of it just the other day in the most unrelated of circumstances. I accompanied my 5-year-old daughter this past week on “National Walk to School Day”. When we left the house, she said that she wanted to “run to school”. I told her that this would be unsafe, as there are many cars on the road in the early morning. She insisted that she would not go in the street, but just stay on the sidewalk and run. I held firm to my word and told her this was still unsafe, because even if she stayed on the sidewalk, cars could be backing out of their driveway as she passed by. She tried to ensure me that she would look out for cars and make sure she was not in harm’s way. I again said NO, because even if she saw them coming, they may not see her, and there would still be an accident. Despite her dismay, I insisted that we would walk the entire way for her safety, because I love her and care about her. On our way to school, she cooperated (for the most part). As we walked by the houses in our neighborhood, however, I imagined her running past the driveways and wondered what would happen if she was struck by a car. I did not dwell on the accident itself, but what her reaction might have been. I envisioned her crying, feeling sorry for herself and thinking “Why did this happen to me?!” I wondered if she would “connect the dots” on why her father told her not to run and determined that this lesson would likely NOT have occurred to her. Instead, I imagined that she would just be surprised and upset by what happened.
Now take this same story and apply it to the average person’s eating habits. We are warned daily about the perils of an unhealthy diet. Just turn on the daily news and you will undoubtedly see something about the obesity epidemic we face. We know quite well the dangers of eating a poor diet; much like a 5-year-old running down the sidewalk during morning rush hour. Despite this fact, we would very likely react like my daughter if we were to get a diagnosis of diabetes or heart disease. We would probably think “Why did this happen to me?” or “What did I do to deserve this?”, despite knowing full well what precipitated it. I believe this is just human nature.
On the topic of human nature, a long while ago I shared my thoughts on the subject of preemptive dietary transformation with a good friend of mine. By preemptive, I’m simply referring to making necessary changes BEFORE a diabetes or heart disease diagnosis. He did not criticize my well-intended philosophy, yet he responded by telling me that he gets regularly scheduled physical exams and the results of his blood work are consistently within the normal limits. Therefore, he said until his doctor tells him to do otherwise, he is going to keep eating and drinking whatever he so chooses. In other words, until the doctor says “oops, you have a problem”, he does not feel the need to be the least bit cautious. On one hand I can understand this type of “reactive” thinking, as it largely embodies the conventional delivery of modern-day healthcare. But on the other hand, I struggle to figure out what it is going to take to make someone realize BEFOREHAND that there may eventually be very dangerous and potentially irreparable consequences associated with consistently eating an unhealhy diet? I challenge anyone to tell me that this type of behavior is not akin to smoking cigarettes daily and expecting to miraculously avoid COPD, emphysema and/or lung cancer. The Ten Percenter obviously understands this, but the Ninety Percenter may not.
Invariably, my conclusion why most people (i.e. Ninety Percenters) do not make sustainable dietary changes is because, whether they know it or not, they are purposely choosing not to. That is the only way to accurately describe it. You can blame it on laziness, lack of awareness, concern, desire….there are many possible excuses. But ultimately it is a choice they make. I was there myself for several years – the majority of my life, in fact….completely unaware of the damage I was doing to my body each day. I cannot precisely explain why I felt that my eating habits were normal. I must have felt an invincible sense of the “it can’t happen to me” philosophy….coupled with the positive reinforcement of today’s food industry “norms”. After all, very few people selling us food these days are giving us nutritional instructions or guidelines. Could you imagine restaurant waiters giving you advice on what to order from the menu based on the standpoint of health? Although an absurd thought, that is essentially why you are eating in the first place, right? Ultimately, I guess I felt like I could run down the sidewalk for blocks and blocks, while each car pulling out of the driveway would somehow miss me.
Let’s be honest, Ten Percenters do not have a crystal ball and do not know what lies ahead. None of us do. Life takes many unexpected turns. Ten Percenters, however, invest in their future health one meal at a time and choose a path that they feel will be optimally successful. Purpose and accountability are what drive the dietary habits of Ten Percenters, and that is what makes them distinctly unique. After all, that is why they are Ten Percenters.