The “You” Diet
The trouble with motivation and readiness is that they are difficult to coach. Merely knowing that being motivated and ready to commit to a diet is more important than the specific nature of the diet itself won’t automatically increase your motivation and readiness. Each of us must find our own way there.
There is, however, a second explanation for the great variety of paths taken to successful weight loss, and for the common pattern of succeeding after many failures, that is more actionable. And that explanation is simply that different ways of losing weight work best for different people.
“There’s a process of trial and error involved in determining which approaches and which strategies fit into a particular person’s lifestyle,” says J. Graham Thomas, Ph.D., an assistant research professor at the Miriam Hospital and Brown Medical School’s Weight Control & Diabetes Research Center. “Most people don’t get it right the first time.”
Your chances of getting it right this time and getting down to your ideal race weight for the 2012 season may improve if you choose the diet plan that’s the best fit for your tastes, needs and preferences instead of trying to find the best weight-loss diet for everyone—which doesn’t exist. Check out these capsule reviews of four of the most popular diets among triathletes, then take your pick.
Racing Weight: My own Racing Weight diet does not peddle any particular “shtick” but simply encourages athletes to improve their overall diet quality, eating more lean proteins, veggies, fruits, whole grains and low-fat dairy products and eating fewer fatty proteins, sweets, refined grains and full-fat dairy products. I think it’s a good system for triathletes who just want the education they need to take charge of their own weight-loss efforts, but it may not work as well for you if you require more hands-on guidance.
Paleo: The Paleo Diet and other “primitive” diets allow their adherents to eat everything that our ancient ancestors presumably ate—meat, fish, vegetables, fruits and nuts—and little that they did not eat: grains, dairy, sweets and other processed foods. Triathletes who generally like the idea of doing things the “natural” way (i.e., those who, like Christian Peterson, switched to barefoot running after reading Born to Run) tend to get great results from the Paleo Diet. It is fairly restrictive, however, and therefore not a good option for those who need freedom in their food choices.
Low-Fat: Followers of low-fat weight-loss diets typically eat lots of grains, fruits and vegetables, and restrict their intake of dairy products, fried foods and many meats. Low-fat diets typically work well for triathletes who prefer to eat fairly “normally” even while pursuing weight loss, but not as well for those who need a little more restriction to stay on track.
Vegetarian: You might assume that vegetarianism as a path to weight loss is a good fit for those who are indifferent to meat to begin with and is not a good fit for meat lovers, but there are many meat lovers who become vegetarians and thrive. A lot of athletes, like Jon Smith, simply feel great on a vegetarian diet, while others don’t. Psychologically, vegetarianism seems to work best for those who prefer the simplicity of a diet with just one big restriction.
Your Best Behavior
As research of the National Weight Control Registry indicates, men and women who succeed in losing weight and keeping it off do so with all kinds of methods. But while their diets are all over the map, there are certain key behaviors that most members share. These behaviors, which include daily exercise, dietary consistency and self-monitoring, can be seen as evidence of a real commitment to losing weight—and it’s this commitment that matters more than anything else in the pursuit of weight loss.
As a triathlete, you’ve already got the daily exercise thing down cold. But how about self-monitoring and dietary consistency? If you’re serious about shedding excess fat this winter, you’ll want to follow the example set by the most successful dieters with these key behaviors.
Self-monitoring is any behavior that increases a dieter’s awareness of what and how much he or she is eating. These behaviors include food journaling, calorie counting and weighing. Nearly all NWCR members weigh themselves at least once a week and as often as daily. “You don’t know whether or not what you’re doing is working unless you weigh yourself,” says Brown University’s J. Graham Thomas.
As for dietary consistency, most NWCR members maintain the same eating habits on the weekend as they do during the week. This is critical, as it has been shown that most dieters eat more and stop losing weight on weekends. Like it or not, if you’re serious about losing weight, there are no days off!
Matt Fitzgerald is the author of Iron War: Dave Scott, Mark Allen & The Greatest Race Ever Run (VeloPress 2011) and a coach and training intelligence specialist for PEAR Sports (Mattfitzgerald.org).