One of the things I’ve learned from my now 5 decades of one on one Coaching is to look for emerging patterns and what they might mean.
And this past year I’ve seen a pattern emerge with people who have lost their way in terms of their fitness lifestyle or attempts at weight-loss and physique transformation.
This year more than ever I have received correspondence from many former clients sharing with me a similar story. The common theme is along the lines of this email that I have generalized:
It’s been a while. I thought I was good to go out on my own without Coaching but this was a mistake. I made the mistake of trying Diet X (keto, or IF, or IIFYM – the story varies from email to email). I went way down a rabbit hole and I have paid the price. The diet worked for a while, but now I have gained all my weight back and I have lost all the progress I made with you. I feel so guilty and ashamed but I’m also so confused…..
So without going into more detail, this has been the gist of many, many emails I have received this year, and not just from former clients. Many people have gone from following something that works, and instead, they go to trying something else, and even if that something else is based in research or whatever – instead of this being a wise choice, it has resulted in complete break-down of sustainable progress along with crushing emotional effects.
And as I was pondering this common theme on my daily walk these last few days – it struck me like a thunderbolt. I was able to see what is clearly going on with these people.
They are serial dieters. And they really aren’t seeking to find a solution to their weight issues and physique transformation goals (even though they think they are).
They are actually seeking something else entirely.
And I hope this extended analogy will help you see this as well: HAVING AN AFFAIR:
You see, these people are not seeking a marriage to a sustainable diet-strategy relationship. What they are really seeking is to have an affair with vogue trends. And THAT is what I want to explore with you in this article.
See if you identify yourself in any of what is below
Let’s Compare Romantic Affairs with Diet-Strategy Affairs throughout this article:
Look, with social media being what it is and with the internet being so ubiquitous in our lives now, it’s easier than ever now to have sexual and romantic affairs. There are even online resources for people interested in doing so. Opportunities for such dalliances are everywhere and so is the temptation, should you be so prone or inclined toward it. This level of temptation and opportunity is exactly the SAME WITH DIETS!
And let me differentiate here between one night stands and having an ongoing affair with a diet-strategy.
A one-night stand is akin to food-bingeing alone and shoving in as much hyper-indulgent food as you can once your commitment damn bursts; and then you do the ‘walk of shame’ the next day!
An ongoing diet-strategy affair is something different entirely; and having these diet-strategy affairs reveals something deeper in those of you who end up caught in this vortex.
The first thing you need you to know is that relationship experts say people have affairs in good relationships as well as bad relationships. So, having an affair isn’t always an indication that something is wrong in the relationship.
Similarly having diet-affairs isn’t always an indication that there is something wrong with the diet-strategy you are now abandoning. And I will explain more about that in the discussion section.
So let’s discuss the most obvious and common reasons why people have romantic and sexual affairs and then I will point out the obvious similarities with those of you who are ‘serial dieters.’
Why people have affairs!
Alluring/Sexy (or made to look that way)
So often, the attraction to the other party in the affair is because the other person is so alluring or sexy, especially in comparison to a partner you may have been with for years and decades.
Well, the same is true with diet-affairs. Especially online, every new diet trend out there, whether it is backed by science and research or not, it is always dressed up and presented to consumers in the most seductive and alluring and sexy ways possible.
And many of you serial dieters take the bait – the ‘other’ diet strategy just seems so irresistible compared to the diet-strategy you have now that has lost its allure.
Many people report having affairs just because of the excitement of it all. They are more than bored and complacent in their current relationship (even though they may love their partner) but the excitement of the affair is just too enticing and makes them feel alive again.
Well, the same exists with diet-strategy affairs. Most serial dieters just cannot accept that the most sound weight-control diet-strategies can become boring once you adapt to them. But oh – that new diet you keep seeing, and all those before and after photos and testimonials – that all looks so exciting. And you want to be part of that excitement. The thought enlivens you.
Looking for something ‘better’
And yes, some people are just looking for something better in a new relationship, whether the current relationship is working or not. There are just people out there who are always looking to trade-up in a relationship.
And of course the exact same mindset exists in diet-affairs. You think, “there must be a better diet out there where I can lose more weight – get leaner faster – not have to sacrifice so much”, and on and on. It’s almost a North American Diet-Mentality norm to WANT TO look the next vogue diet trend to come along, because it just might be better, than what you have now.
“Lust” and diet “porn”
Many people have pent up forbidden sexual fantasies in their heads and the one-click away free porn can fuel the fantasy so that it just deepens. And the lust for something this exciting feeds into an overwhelming desire to turn fantasy into reality and have an affair.
The same food lust and food porn exist in so many dieters. You fantasize about forbidden foods and go out of your way to fantasize about them. And then, should you so desire, mouth-watering meals are also a click away and delivered to your door.
And then you end up looking for diets that allow for forbidden foods. And yes, even I have posted food-porn type pictures of myself enjoying hyper-palatable foods and meals on a refeed day. But I am also the first to quip, “the Scott Abel Cycle Diet rules… but the Cycle Diet also has rules!”
To put more attention on ‘self’
Many people report having affairs, simply because the other person is paying attention to them and showing them more attention and making them feel more important than their partner in their current relationship. They aren’t lonely per se, but they like the extra attention and feeling important.
The same sort of need is present in serial dieters. When a diet is new and fresh, the dieter is wrapped up in themselves and they give themselves focused attention and importance by abiding in the specifications of the diet. In the initial going, the diet is ‘all about me’ instead of ‘all about we.’ And there is a very specific psychological attraction to that level of self-attention. But once that diet becomes a lifestyle, it can lose that edge of self-focus, so you look to have an affair with the next diet-strategy – not because the newer diet may be superior, but because it renews your attention on yourself!
People often have affairs because they have an over-romanticized perception of what relationships should be and what that next affair could be. They focus more on the romanticism and less on the reality.
Obvious to me as an expert, is that diet affairs work the same way. So many of you who struggle, have this overly romanticized perception of a diet that is easy, where you are never hungry, and the weight comes off effortlessly. You focus only on the short-term romance and care nothing of the long-term relationship. And of course the diet and fitness industry are right there to fuel this over-romanticized commercialism of dieting.
Telling yourself it’s deeper than it is
People can start having affairs for one reason but they continue them for another. One way they continue the affair is they lie to themselves in their own heads. They tell themselves that the affair relationship is deeper than it actually is. And they stay devoted to the affair longer and longer, even at the expense of their real life.
This “lie” is something I witness over and over again with serial dieters, especially the obese dieter. They lie to themselves that this current diet-affair, “this is the one” where they are going to stay on it forever. I see extremely overweight people endorsing ridiculous diets (like The Snake Diet). They gush like a schoolgirl how awesome the diet-affair is, and how much weight they are losing. And they just refuse to see the obvious crash coming ahead; even though it’s a history they have experienced repeatedly.
“Stale” current relationship
People often have affairs because they report their current relationship has just become stale – stale physically, stale in communication, and stale in general. They seek relief from the ho-hum staleness.
Well diet-affairs operate the same way. Once a diet-strategy unfolds over time, your relationship with it can become stale, because YOU become complacent with it. When you only look at a diet, as being ‘a diet’ it can become stale very quickly. You have to look broader than the diet-strategy being ‘a diet.’ You have to look to the motivations you have for pursuing it to begin with. You have to look for ways to keep it alive within the diet-strategy instead of allowing it to become something stale and then ‘blowing it up’ for no real good reason.
Feeling ‘confined and trapped’
Many people have affairs because they feel so confined and trapped in their current relationship. As long-term relationships unfold, many conscious and unconscious rules to the relationship take shape and form. And at first, these rules lead to an understanding about expectations and mutual support. But over time, these relationship rules can lead to one of the participants feeling confined and trapped.
Well, all diet-strategies have rules. You have diet-affairs because the rules that seemed so understandable and rational in the beginning now have you feeling confined and trapped. You seek a way out; and this new diet-strategy offers you that. I see this sort of thing all the time in serial dieters, and I will have more on this in the discussion section.
People report having affairs as a result of; for whatever reason, their own self-image having become quite fragile, and even broken. And they report having an affair had a sort ‘restorative effect’ on their self-image because they felt worthy of someone else’s focused attention.
And the numbers are so high that I can’t even count how many clients and people who have contacted me and their only reason for diving into an ill-fated and ill-advised diet-affair was because they were so desperate to ‘lose weight right now’ to try to restore a very fragile and broken self-image that was based entirely on their body-image.
Very few people in this category even consider taking a long-term approach to weight-loss. Just like the people with low self-esteem who have sexual affairs, those of you who have this type of diet-affair are so desperate for any kind of change right now; that you don’t care, consider, or even think about health or long-term wellness and sustainability. What is the old saying – “you aren’t looking for Mr./Ms. Right, you are really just looking for Mr./Ms. Right Now!”
All of this matters because you just don’t realize that a diet-strategy that you follow is reflective of the relationship you have with yourself. And that relationship is either, compassionate, healthy, nurturing, supportive, stable – or it compromises these things or is lacking many or all of these components that are so essential to healthy self-care.
Some of you aren’t just having a diet-affair here and there. Many of you are serial ‘affairists’ – like sex addicts – you are pop-culture diet addicts, and you just can’t see it. But if it takes all of your fingers and all of your toes to count how many different diet-strategies you have tried – then you are very likely a serial dieter/serial affairists.
As it is with relationship affairs, all the above is about you having an ‘idealized’ version of something better, when in fact; it’s just something different again and again.
So let’s nail down the commonalities between “relationship affairs” and “diet-strategy affairs”
1) You confuse something that is ‘stable’ and ‘working’ with complacency and boredom. You think that somehow a sustainable diet-strategy is supposed to be exciting and invigorating but diet-strategies just don’t work this way. This leads to…..
2) Unrealistic expectations both from the affair and from the current diet relationship. In my 5 decades Coaching, I’ve seen people abandon diet-strategies simply because they had false and unreal expectations of the results they thought a diet-strategy ‘should’ deliver; as in endless weight-loss with no plateaus. And then you end up fantasizing and idealizing (romanticising) about the ‘next’ diet strategy ‘affair’ and then you convince yourself that it will be better than what is already stable and workable for you. But now you’ve convinced yourself in your own mind, to abandon ‘what is’ in favor of ‘what might be’ – and you go right back to this faulty ‘hope over experience’ North American Diet Mentality LUST!
3) Having needs met – in this case the need to be ‘diet-focused’ all over again. People report to relationship counselors that sex is not the reason they have affairs. When they think about it, they say the initiating reason was to just ‘feel sexy’ again.
I submit to all you serial dieters that same sort of thing exists for you as well: when your current diet-strategy becomes second nature and mundane to you; then, well, you tell yourself that something must be missing, so it’s on to the next sexy and enticing diet tryst you’ve heard about. It’s that need for the feeling sexy and exciting phase you really crave; and it becomes less about actually solving your weight issues.
Examine your pursuits of various diets, even the ones that made no sense, and you will know this to be true.
At that point, your hunger is not for a real and true solution to your weight issue – your hunger is actually for ‘the next thing’ and not really for something that is stable and sustainable – because you had that, but you choose to abandon it.
4) You get to ‘break rules’ that have come to bother you about your current diet. As I mentioned earlier, all relationships have conscious and unconscious structure and rules. This includes relationship you have with yourself. And as I said, a diet-strategy is a reflection of the relationship you have with yourself. People who have affairs report that it’s often just to get away from the way things are in their current relationship. They feel trapped and confined, and the affair feels like a way out of this feeling.
You have diet-strategy affairs for the exact same reason. Somewhere along the way you’ve built up some resentment to the rules and commitments for the current diet. You feel fenced in with the current diet-strategy and its rules, but now you see a gate for getting out. HOWEVER, you fail to see the irony that the rules that make you feel confined and trapped with every old/current diet are also what you embrace and seek out in every new diet. You end up right back where you started – seeking rules to abide in and then eventually looking for an alternative that will allow you to abandon those rules – even if it means abandoning those rules in favor of even more restrictive and confining ones associated with the ‘new’ diet.
5) You start thinking something crucial is missing in the current diet-strategy relationship. People report having affairs because they say something was missing in their long-term stable relationship. At least this is the narrative they have developed in their own minds. They end up abandoning a relationship that is 80% satisfying and stable, and they seek out the so-called missing 20% in someone else.
Dieters often end up creating this false narrative in your own heads as well. You tell yourself that you, or the diet, have overlooked something important or you tell yourself something else that is crucial has been neglected and sacrificed. So again, I say this allows you to start questioning ‘what is’ so it makes easier for you to entertain ‘what could be’ – so you leave the humdrum routine of what you know and then you fill yourself with phoney excitement over the shiny and new and sexy and alluring ‘other diet.’ You seek that 20% of what is missing by blowing it up in your mind to being 80%, so then, you have to of course abandon the current scenario.
6) You start telling yourself that this one is what can make you happy. So often, people who have affairs want to over-romanticize the affairs to be something deeper than they are. They are unsatisfied in their current long-term relationship so they talk themselves into believing that the current liaison is deeper than it is.
If I had a dime for every time I saw this with serial dieters who write me or who want to argue with me on social media about this or that diet. They are ‘all in’ on some current crazy diet and don’t want to hear and won’t listen to any critique about it. ‘This is the one’ that will make them lose all the weight and be there forever – until it’s not. Once again, this is the result of short-term thinking and hope over experience when someone isn’t honest with themselves in their own minds about how sustainable some current diet-strategy is for the long-term. Come to think of it, maybe I should change “hope over experience” to “romanticized over pragmatic.”
7) It’s exciting because you get to change the narrative in your own mind. So much of the reasons why any of us do anything is because of the narratives we create in our own heads. Having an affair is a really big monstrous deal, and the narratives in the mind have to change to support the affair and all it takes to carry it out.
Diet-affairs work the same way. You change your thinking to accommodate the new affair – what is allowed, what is not allowed – what meals to make and tweak. If anything, this is exciting because it’s not thinking about the former diet; whether that diet worked or did not work
Look I could go on and on and I have gone on and on. Before I discuss ‘consequences’ of having an affair, let me just make some other discussion points here.
Social media just makes it all even more enticing. Whether it is relationship affairs or diet affairs, social media is right there in various hidden and obvious forms; where anyone can find support to make such impulsive and bad decisions that can have tremendous long-term consequences, which I will get to.
And let me reiterate the point that people have diet-affairs whether their diets are good or bad; just like research shows even people in good relationships, have relationship affairs – an affair isn’t always ‘a sign that something is wrong in the relationship.’ I can’t tell you how many people write me who were already on very sound healthy diets, and yet they abandoned these diets for something else.
And the reason they abandon solid diets is because they think a diet should give back more than it is capable of doing. They start believing that diets are magical. And why wouldn’t you believe that diets are ‘magical’ with all the nonsense that is pushed out there on social media regarding what a specific diet can do?
And furthermore, many of you have a diet affair because you think your current diet-strategy no longer delivers what is promised. But you fail to see that you are no longer delivering to the diet either; just like with people who check out of current relationships long before they end up having an affair. You went from 100% compliance to the diet-strategy in the early honeymoon phase and it worked well for you. But over time you slipped to 80% compliance, then maybe less. But you end up holding the diet more accountable than you hold yourself. So you venture on to another honeymoon period with another diet strategy likely doomed to fail.
Even your meals become an extended part of the fantasy. Meals are like the sex part of the affair– and meals stop being exciting and enthralling and become same old, same old – so you seek to meet that need for ‘exciting and new’ in the next diet-partner.
So, what is the big deal here Coach? This is such a long article about diet-strategy affairs and serial dieters; and it’s a cute analogy and all, but what is the point?
The point is that affairs lead to consequences – major consequences.
Consequences of affairs
Part of the point of this whole analogy is that affairs are risky. What if risk ends up in a worst case scenario, as it often does with affairs? When I think of consequences of affairs the word that comes to mind is ‘damage.’ In terms of diet-strategy affairs and damage I wrote a whole book on the subject: ‘Metabolic Damage and the Dangers of Dieting.’ And I have seen this diet damage play out my whole career.
What puzzled me up till this point was the ‘why’ behind the reason so many of you are so willing to go from one diet affair to the next. I understand it a lot better now.
And in real life, almost always, affairs end badly and cause pain, agonizing and destabilizing pain. Like romantic relationships, affairs tend to end; and if not in heart-break then they end long after the collateral and residual damage is done. Metabolic damage plays out in similar ways.
Let’s remember the trajectory that so many affairs follow. It’s a path of “blowing up the comfort and security of what is – on a fantasy of what could be.” And many of you serial dieters can benefit from looking at your dieting history in this way.
Having affairs leads to shattered connections to many existing relationships – even relationships that were previously stable and working. But here’s the damage beyond those shattered connections:
Shattered connections lead to shattered ambition!
This brings us back to the beginning of this article where I shared with you, that not only do diet-strategy affairs not work out, but the damage, and the shattered ambition it leads to, makes it really hard for you to go back to a previous diet-strategy that may have been right all along. And it’s not only because you don’t trust diet strategies anymore, it’s because you now don’t trust yourself to follow them either. You have damaged your self-connection. As a Coach, this metaphor has really helped me understand why so many of you struggle to get back to sound and workable and stable dieting protocols – DAMAGE – but the worst kind of damage, is damage that is not so conscious and visible.
The shattered self-connection of the affair causes anxiety, distress, and distrust (of diets and self) destroyed confidence and general emotional (and metabolic) overwhelm.
Your initial ‘romancing the diet’ ends up being just another attractive fiction you’ve talked yourself into. And you end up experiencing months and even years that every diet-affair you have, takes a little more out of you each time. Instead of delivering the romanticized fantasy ‘you complete me’ you experience the dread reality of ‘you deplete me.’
One of the reasons for this is because like most personal affairs, the diet affair only exists in the shadow of your real life, and is never really part of it; therefore it is doomed to fail or at the very least, wreak havoc on your real life. So, if you are someone who always struggles with diet and weight-control, this is yet another way you need to examine how you engage diet-strategy.
Once the trajectory of the diet-strategy affairs fully plays out to the damage and consequences phase, you are left heavy with guilt and shame yet again. And to reiterate, this even does damage to the former diet-strategy that was always stable and there for you before. You can’t seem to get back to it, because so much psychological and emotional damage has been done. You don’t trust yourself now to go back to what once worked. You can barely even remember how and why it worked. – Guilt, shame, and flaming out yet again have stained going back to an old reliable stable relationship. Now there’s just pain and confusion and a sense of ‘yet another failure.’
“SHATTERED CONNECTION LEADS TO SHATTERED AMBITION” indeed!
And yet you don’t make the solid and obvious connection – that if you just brought the same level of energy to the tried and proven former diet-strategy relationship, as you do to each diet affair that you initiate – then you would not be seeking the next ill-conceived romantic diet fantasy in the first place.
What serial dieters keep on doing is not learning from experience. And so, what the romanticised notion of the next diet-affair allows you to do is keep operating a ‘hope over experience’ narrative in your own head.
The first mistake people make in adapting any diet-strategy is that you don’t look beyond the goal of the weight-loss. On a deeper level, because how you eat is reflection of the relationship you have with yourself; you SHOULD BE SEEKING stability, dependability, comfort, safety, security, and reliability from a specific diet-strategy – and you often get it – but it stops feeling ‘rewarding’ – it stops being a sexy novelty, it stops ‘delivering’ ongoing titillating honeymoon-type stimulation – so you seek to meet these particular needs elsewhere, as in the next magical romantic diet fantasy.
As with with pressures and expectations in your romantic relationship, the fact is most of you have been led to have unrealistic expectations from a diet and what it can do.
The real truth is that if you ‘struggle’ with weight loss and physique transformation then a diet-strategy relationship is going to be hard, it’s going to require diligence and devotion, compliance and consistency – on a level you may not be ready for. That is the reality:
The key of any long-term stable intimate relationship is for a partner to also be a great friend, and not just an alluring ‘sex-attraction or novelty.’ This same principle exists with diet-strategy. It has to become what you believe in on a long-term commitment level. It is NOT something that exists on a ‘satisfy my needs and wants for stimulation’ level.
Like any relationship, no diet strategy can be perfect – or at least not perfect all the time. And to make it work, just like making great relationships work, there must be devotion and sacrifice, not just ‘what have you done for me lately.’
The intimacy you are seeking is not in a magical diet-strategy and neither is the fantasy you seek of eating whatever you want, whenever you want; or, ‘this diet is easy’; or, ‘effortless weight loss’ or whatever other sexy and alluring tempting ‘tag-line’ you buy into when seeking the next diet to satisfy your “lustful” needs to a weight loss solution.
So you blow up a vow of ‘for better or worse’ by telling yourself it isn’t working anymore – when in fact, it’s working as well as it always has, and you just take it for granted now.
You think a shakeup is better than the mundane same same – but the mundane same same is what works and will work in the future. You’ve just convinced yourself that something different might be something better.
You keep romancing an exciting new period for a diet tryst but it just leads to the same result down the road – now this new diet becomes old and mundane, or worse.
Or, in a different scenario, you’ve lost your passion for your current diet-strategy, and you can only feel passionate again with a new one. Yet, ‘sustained passion’ has little to do with a sustainable diet-strategy aimed at weight control.
You fail to realize that a healthy and sustainable diet-strategy doesn’t excite; it’s not meant to be endlessly sexy and exciting, ever! And yet, it’s the experience of the excitement-factor via diet that you seek. You don’t really seek a weight-loss solution, or something workable – so much as you seek that feeling of being energized anew by the new diet.
Therefore, for all these reasons you’ve never even contemplated before -> you seek the affair, not the marriage.
And that is why you repeatedly struggle.
You forget that it is commitment and consistency that keeps you grounded. But your romantic imagination isn’t served by these things; so you to stoke that phoney affair fire because you think you need it – AGAIN.
And the resulting damage from this is that you just can’t trust yourself, that what worked once, can work again.
And this is the story of serial dieters I see, who over and over again, experience one failed diet-strategy affair after another.
Now, not every single one of these points is going to apply to you. But if more than one of them do, and they apply to you more than one time; they you may want to consider if you are just a serial-dieter who will eventually seek out the next diet-strategy affair.
But now, you can also contemplate what the consequences and ramifications may bring to you the next time you choose to go down that rabbit hole to nowhere.
Some of you will get it.
Some of you will not.