Some time back, I provided a bit of critique on a popular elimination dieting protocol. Simply put, my argument was that their restrictions were extreme for the goals that they claim to be pursuing with the protocol. Of the blowback I got, this argument was the most interesting to me: (paraphrasing) “YOU may not need guidelines – but a lot of us do!”
There are a few reasons this remark still stays with me. 1) I think it is probably very representative to how many people immersed in dietary dogma have a hard time differentiating guidelines from arbitrary rules. And 2) the observation that most guidelines or rules or whatever we want to call them in the land of diet dogma are almost always focused on the negative.
I love the idea of positive guidelines that guide people in the right direction. I also like them being evidence based. And further, I think there’s something to be said for guidelines being person-specific as true lifestyle change doesn’t happen in one fail swoop – it happens with one habit or skill at a time.
On the other hand, the rules in the land of diet dogma are seemingly always focused on the negative. “Go 25 days without this, this, this, and that. If you fail, start over again”, “Don’t eat this food – it’ll make you fat”, “Don’t eat outside of this very narrow range of carbohydrate intake – insidious fat gain zone!!!”….on and on. Let’s ignore the fact, for now, that in general these rules are generally based entirely on “plausible mechanism” based speculation rather than real evidence.
Positive guidelines instead should be geared towards creating the appropriate habit for someone’s step in their healthy lifestyle journey. We can only build so many new habits at once – so we want to do this bit by bit. We don’t want to create a 30 day extreme positive habit program – it’ll have similar drawbacks as 30 day extreme diet challenges. It doesn’t help the vast majority of people create anything close to sustainable.
Examples of positive guidelines include minimum targets of servings or varieties of fruits and vegetables per day, new recipes tried per week, steps walked per day, hours slept per week, etc.
Don’t make massive (and arbitrary) list of things you’re not allowed to do or eat.
Make a bite sized list (even if just 1 thing) of positive tasks that you can do to support your goals.
Even if you want less of something – as in less of a percentage of your diet from ice cream (god forbid) – you’re still best off focusing on positive habits to support that. For example, you may focus on getting more simple sugars in the form of fruit.
Lasting change focuses first and foremost on realistic (small) changes – one step at a time. And positive guidelines are more likely to help support those small changes.
Talk to you soon,