Why do so many diets fail?

Vice vs Virtue: Is reaching a compromise the best way to eat?

I am a serial dieter. In fact, I have even been a cereal dieter after being momentarily swept up in the “Special K 2 week challenge” marketing campaign. Despite the regime - Weight Watchers, Cabbage Soup, South Beach, 4 hour body, high carb, low carb and no carb - the one common thread is that I haven't managed to stick to any of them. The motions tend go from motivated to demotivated to deprived to depressed to full of pizza.

A friend sent me an interesting article the other day about studies they’d dubbed the “vice-virtue” way of eating. The theory being that finding a balance between your vice (In my case, Carbs) and the virtuous foods you should be eating. By eliminating the withdrawal of total deprivation, people tend to be more compliant with their eating plan and more likely to stick it out. Some restaurants already cater for this in their side options. Often when offered “Chips or Salad”, you can have half an half. You’ve cut by half the bad thing you would have had whilst still satiating the craving AND you’ve taken in a portion of veggies you otherwise wouldn’t have had. It’s a step in the right direction and might save you from late night calling Mr Delivery in tears for Nandos chips and perinaise dip because the carb withdrawals have kicked in. (Speaking from the experience of.. um.. a friend.)

I recently read the Tim Noakes Real Meal Revolution book and while I believe his theories are very sound, I struggled to apply them to my own life. For one, Noakes and his co-authors are all very active people. The book encourages you to ditch carbs and get your fuel from fat and fat is a HUGE source of fuel. For the authors, all that fuel has somewhere to go - usually along a marathon track or up a mountain or into a cravasse. Me? I need enough fuel to get me from my bedroom to my home office a sum total of (hold on, let me measure) 13 steps away. I’m no dietician but I don’t think I need too much energy to make the trip. A lot of the recipes in the book are geared to upping your fat intake and I simply don’t need that so I needed to wing it on my own. The next issue with cutting out carbs is that I know have no idea what to eat. Carbs are the vehicle for everything else we eat. If I can’t have toast, must I just eat the tablespoon of bovril out the jar? Does the ham just lie… directly on the plate? How do I carry it to my mouth without the bread handles? With a fork? No. I have done a lot of things I am not proud of in my life but eating cold ham with a fork is where I draw the line.

Anyway, back to the vice/virtue. So to adapt what I believe about Noakes and to ensure I actually have a fighting chance at sticking to the plan, I allowed myself one (complex) carb a day at lunchtime. This means I have some seed loaf to put my ham on or to make bovril toast with or if I’m feeling really fancy, have a fried egg. In the morning I have yoghurt and a bit of fruit and the evenings, a protein with a veggie. Its only been 2 weeks but I’ve stuck to it - no wild cravings, no tearful Mr Delivery calls, no vicious assaults on my boyfriend. And it seems to be working. I am losing a bit of weight because I have cut out a lot of my vices and replaced them with virtues so even though I still have that one vice, the overall health picture is so much better.

Some of you might say “But ya hey, you should be getting active as well” and yes, 100% agree that I should, and I intend to, but one thing at a time. The same friend that sent me the vice/virtue article also recently did a chat at our conference and spoke about changing small things, on a small scale, but consistently. Making an achievable small change everyday eventually leads to a build up of changes that can make an exponential difference. If I tasked myself (as I have every time before) with cutting out all vices, starting to run 5km a day and solving world hunger within the week, I’d be foetal position by Thursday. I’d love to think I have the constitution and motivation to stick to all of that but history shows that I do not. So for now, I’ll make molehills out of mountains, little victories I can achieve each day (and saying no to an eclair my boyfriend cruelly brought home yesterday is a MASSIVE victory.) that will eventually lead to a big change and perhaps I’ll fit into my old jeans again.


Vice Virtue Study: http://news.vanderbilt.edu/2014/08/size-matters-healthier-foods/