Diet vs Life: How to Stick to Your Diet When Life Gets in the Way
When you're trying to lose weight, or build muscle, or really just improve (or maintain) your body or health in some way, the single most important thing you can do is simply put together a proper diet and then stick to it.
A funny thing about that "sticking to your diet" part is that it's really quite easy when you're in complete control of everything you're eating 100% of the time.
You know, when you're the one choosing the foods you're going to eat, and the one preparing/cooking those foods, and the one ensuring that the portion sizes are to your diet's exact specifications, and when you can count, monitor, and track everything at all times.
When you can do this 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, sticking to your diet really isn't THAT hard.
Unfortunately for most of us, this just isn't reality. In reality, life tends to get in the way of our ideal eating habits on a fairly regular basis.
Eating out, parties, holidays, family gatherings, special occasions, work, school... the list goes on and on. They're all far from the ideal situations to be in when you are trying to eat a certain way and nearly everyone around you isn't. Yet, these are situations life throws at us all the time.
And what it comes down to then is the almighty battle of diet vs life. Or really, how to best deal with these kinds of situations in a way where you don't end up ruining your diet, but at the same time can still live and enjoy your life like a normal person and not some psycho who only eats alone in their basement with their food scale.
The way I see it, there are only 4 possible ways of dealing with situations like these, and as someone who has at some point done all 4, I am in the unique position of being able to tell you about each with significant first hand experience.
So, here now are the 4 possible scenarios that can take place in these kinds of situations when trying to stick to your diet...
1. You enjoy without caring at all.
Here's when "life" easily wins the battle of diet vs life, but it's usually at the expense of "diet."
- This is the person who throws their entire diet out the window completely and eats whatever they want and however much they want with no regard whatsoever for the way they are supposed to be eating.
- This is the person who can eat really well all week, and then ruin it all in a couple of hours.
- This is the person who will usually have a really hard time returning to their proper eating habits after situations like these.
- This is the person whose old eating habits will be triggered by being in situations like these.
- This is the person who will probably never be able to stick to their diet because of the way they "over-enjoy" in these situations.
It doesn't take a genius to realize that this is the worst possible scenario of them all. In fact, it's probably the reason many people decided to start caring about their diet and eating habits in the first place.
From personal experience, I can tell you that this is certainly the option that is the best in terms of "fun" (only in the short term, of course). However, it's very obviously the option that is the worst in terms of sticking to your diet, weight control, overall health, and actually looking and feeling like something that isn't crap.
This is the only scenario of the 4 on this list that just isn't good for anyone.
2. You obsess without enjoying at all.
Here's when "diet" easily wins that battle of diet vs life, but it's usually at the expense of "life." This is on the opposite end of the above extreme.
- This is the person who is completely obsessed with and anal about what they're eating and how much they're eating.
- This is the person who, even in these situations, is still eating everything to the exact calorie and gram.
- This is the person who has guests over at their house and sneaks off into another room at some point to weigh their serving of food.
- This is the person looking up birthday cake calorie info on their phone at someone's party.
- This is the person who, when the pizza arrives, pulls out their prepared container of food and eats that instead.
- This is the person who sits by them self after a meal and watches everyone else eat dessert while getting asked if "they're sure they don't want any."
- This is the person who in these situations may even get a feeling of superiority, that they are somehow "better" than everyone else because they're so focused on their diet, and everyone else isn't.
- In extreme cases, this is the person who becomes anti-social as a result of their obsessive desire to stick to their diet AT ALL TIMES AND UNDER ALL CIRCUMSTANCES, and pretty soon starts avoiding social situations because of the risk they pose to their diet.
- In REALLY extreme cases, this is the person who develops an eating disorder, whether they ever realize it or not.
This is the one that I probably have the most first hand experience with. While it certainly never came close to the level of an eating disorder or me adjusting my life around my preferred eating habits, I was definitely the guy eating his own prepared meals when everyone else was eating something else. I was also the guy who ended up watching everyone else eat dessert. Hell, I was even the guy who had the food scale on the table during Thanksgiving dinner.
For a very long time I was basically the guy who wanted his diet to be absolutely perfect 100% of the time, and went out of my way to make it that way.
Now, there isn't necessarily anything bad about this. It's actually a great mindset to have. In fact, it's the mindset a lot people need to have in order to avoid falling into the trap of scenario #1 (the "over-enjoyer").
This is the scenario that may be the worst in terms of "fun," but if you can make it work without taking it to really crazy extremes, it's probably the best in terms of sticking to your diet and controlling your weight.
And like I said, there are plenty of people out there who require (and even prefer) this level of strictness. For years, I was happily one of them.
Of course, for every person who prefers this level of strictness, there's probably 10 others who don't. Meaning, this option is definitely not for everyone.
The biggest problem is that the amount of strictness and overall lack of "fun" that comes as a result of this scenario will really bother a lot of people. Not to mention, the level of obsession certain people can take this option to can reach crazy (and sometimes dangerous) heights.
For this reason, I'm split down the middle on this one. It's an option that's very wrong for many people, but just right for others.
3. You prepare and then enjoy. Or, enjoy and then compensate.
Here's when there is no winner or loser in the diet vs life battle. It's a perfectly even draw as long as it's not taken to an extreme.
- This is the person who knows they will be in some kind of "non-ideal" eating situation that night, so they purposely prepare beforehand by eating a little bit less (few hundred calories) during the day than they normally would. This then allows them to eat a little bit more (the same few hundred calories) later that night without causing any real problems with their diet. They don't obsess over the exact numbers, they just eat a little less during the day, and then just relax and enjoy a little bit later that night.
- This is also the person whose diet might have been a little off earlier in the day (for example, too many calories and too little protein), so they compensate for it during the rest of that day (in this example, by eating less calories and more protein). Again, they do it without obsessing over the specifics. They take their best guess at what their diet was too high or low in, and try to make up for it later on that day.
- This is also the person who might have a had an entire day (or even a couple of days) of less-than-ideal eating habits, where they weren't able to prepare in advance or compensate for within the same day. Instead, the very next day(s)... that's when they compensate. They figure they probably ate a bit more than they should have on Saturday, so on Sunday they eat a bit less than they normally would have. No big deal, everything ends up breaking even in the end.
- These are the people who get to enjoy the situations life throws at them AND keep their diet intact without really obsessing over it.
Here's a scenario that's actually quite good for many people, assuming they truly understand the concept of "a little bit." Meaning, they won't under eat by 1000+ calories during the day and essentially starve themselves and then go crazy at night and overeat by way too much because they were so extra hungry.
The only way this option works is when the person understands that they'll just eat a couple of hundred calories less throughout the day then they usually would, and then eat about the same few hundred calories more later on therefore balancing everything out evenly. Some sane amount of moderation is still definitely required here.
But when done right, this is a scenario that allows you to take what's good about the first 2 scenarios, and avoid the things that make them bad. You get to relax and enjoy some food you wouldn't normally eat (or just eat a little more than you're normally supposed to) BUT still focus just enough on your diet to practically cancel out any ill effects of this "enjoyment."
This option basically allows you to just enjoy, guilt free, without hurting your diet or weight related goals at all in the process. But once again, in order to work correctly (and safely) it requires the ability to not take things to extremes (as in starving yourself in preparation for later on, and then eating way too much because you're so over hungry at that point), and for many people, they just can't handle it.
For this reason, this will be very right some people, but very wrong for others.
4. You just enjoy... in moderation.
Here's where "life" wins in the diet vs life battle, but it's NOT really at the expense of "diet" so long as it's actually done in moderation.
- This is the person who realizes that if their diet is perfect 95% of the time, they can eat a few hundred extra calories or eat some food they wouldn't normally eat, and it won't have any significant effect on their body or diet as long as it's only done once in a while, and with some amount of moderation.
- This is the person who processes the presence of mind to know when to stop, and then the will power needed to actually stop.
- This is the person who can indulge a little, but then walk away long before they become the type of person in scenario #1 (the "over-enjoyer").
Sounds pretty good right? Sounds like this one is the best scenario of them all, doesn't it? Well, for some people, it is.
However (and this is a BIG however), this option requires a significant amount of both will power and the presence of mind to sort of police yourself to only eat this way in moderation, and to only do it once in a while. If you can, then yes... this is a terrific option. If you can't, this will quickly lead to scenario #1.
And quite honestly, I think a lot of people lack what is needed to successfully pull this off and only enjoy in moderation. For many people, a little turns into a little more, and a little more turns into a lot, and a lot turns into old eating habits resurfacing, and this all turns into one screwed up diet.
For the people who can make this option work, by all means... go for it. For those who can't, don't. For those who think they can but actually can't, hopefully you'll learn quickly enough that this option really isn't for you.
My advice, and how I personally deal with the diet vs life battle.
If I had to give some advice and recommendations for how to deal with situations like these when trying to stick to your diet, I'd say that it really takes some combination of everything that's good about each of the above scenarios.
Sure, if you are the type of person who would really benefit specifically from scenario #2 (a healthy obsession/very strict eating), then that's probably the best option for you. If you're the type of person who knows they have the will power and presence of mind needed for scenario #4 (enjoying in moderation), then again... that's probably a great option for you. Scenario #3 is an interesting combination of the two, and that can work great for many people as well.
In the end, it comes down to what's best for you, and I'd guess that for most of the population, it's some combination of keeping some focus on your diet BUT still getting to relax and enjoy a little at the same time.
For me personally, I started out in scenario #1 (eating without caring at all), and as you can imagine, that didn't lead to anything good whatsoever.
From there, I jumped right into scenario #2 (healthy obsession), and made it work just fine for years.
However, over the last couple of years, I've slowly eased away from scenario #2 and moved towards almost a combination of #3 (preparing and enjoying) and #4 (enjoying in moderation).
I'm not sure what caused this to happen, but I'm pretty happy it did. It's a lot more relaxing, a lot more fun, and as long I follow through properly (which I have) and ensure I'm doing everything right the other 95% of the time (which I am), my diet, body and health really don't suffer one bit.
Of course, that's just me. Hopefully this article has helped you figure out what's best for you. (NEW: I've recently put together a full breakdown of my own diet and how I currently deal with these types of "life situations" right here: My Diet)