Why most food-related New Year’s Resolutions don’t stick. (Or: Your problem isn’t an information problem)

It’s January 6 — a time when many of us are thinking about our eating and our bodies. Maybe you’re a New Year’s Resolution person, or maybe you’re just filled to the brim with sugar after the holidays.

Either way, you’ve started to wonder: Should I eat differently?  

And if you’re asking that question, the world has a lot of suggested answers about “what” you should do: Cut out dairy! Or gluten! Or sugar! Or carbs! Or at least cut down on them!

Almost all of these suggestions are based on what I call a “what”-based model of eating.

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According to a “what”-based model of eating, if you’re unhappy with your eating or not feeling good in your body, you should change the “what” :

  • “What” foods or macronutrients you eat: Stop eating fat! Or carbs! Or meat! Or processed foods!

  • “What” quantity you eat:  Count your calories! Or Points!

  • “What” time you eat: Don’t eat in the morning so you can fast intermittently! Don’t eat after 7 pm!

You’ve probably come across hundreds of “what” based models of eating. Nearly every diet sold on Amazon, embraced by Dr. Oz, or obsessively discussed by your co-worker is one. If you feel dissatisfied with your eating, or your body, a “what”-based approach to eating is usually what’s recommended.

There’s nothing wrong with tweaking the “what” of your eating, if it contributes to your overall happiness and wellness.

However, I have found that a “what” based model of eating is usually radically insufficient.

Radically insufficient.

A “what”-based model of eating, alone, is usually only sufficient if your problem is an information problem — as in, you don’t know what foods or quantities of foods are right for you.

It’s true that, given all of the trends in the diet and health industry, it’s easy to “pretend” like we all have information problems. “Didn’t you know, meat is bad for you!” is followed, a few years or month later, by “Didn’t you know, you’re supposed to eat only meat and vegetables now, and no carbs?” It can be genuinely hard to keep up with that information.

However, most of us know what a reasonably healthy diet looks like, irrespective of what macronutrient is currently being vilified. We know what portions of food, and what foods, make us feel good in our bodies. Sure, it might not be the “perfect”, trendy healthy diet, but it’s probably good enough to be a reasonably happy and healthy person.

In fact, I bet that most people reading this essay are actually somewhat knowledgeable about nutrition. You’ve read some articles or books, you’ve thought about it.

The problem isn’t that you don’t “know” what a reasonably healthy diet. The problem is that despite knowing what would make your body feel good, and despite wanting to eat in a way that makes your body feel good, you frequently find yourself not doing it.

A “what” based-model of eating is useless, in the long term, against that kind of problem. (It might work for a short time when you follow the strict guidelines. But eventually, inevitably, it will break down).

The only solution to that kind of problem is a “why”-based model of eating.

Following a “why”-based model of eating requires a curious, rigorous exploration of “why” you eat the way you do:

Why do you stuff an entire chocolate bar into your mouth on the drive home from the grocery store?
Why do you feel like reaching for the chips once everyone in your house goes to bed?
Why do you eat “too much” when you are at work or at a family event?

It’s easy to dismiss these questions. Yeah, sure, sometimes I feel emotional and I eat some things. But I already knew that!

But it’s way more complex than that. There are an astonishingly large, nuanced number of factors that are influencing you every single time you eat. I guarantee it. Because every single person I’ve ever worked with had an astonishingly large, complex, nuanced number of factors that influenced their eating.

And the key here is that you probably aren’t aware of many of these factors. Yes, even if you are a smart, thoughtful, emotionally-intelligent person — which, if you’re reading this post, I bet you are!

I can say that with confidence because every single person who has ever done the Dessert Club has discovered new factors that influenced their eating that they weren’t aware of. And Dessert Club participants are generally some of the most lovely, smart, thoughtful, and emotionally-intelligent people around! (Seriously, they are the best people.)

This shift, from the “what”-based model of eating promoted by society, to a “why”-based model of eating, is at the core of the Dessert Club curriculum. If it intrigues you, I’d encourage you to learn more about the Dessert Club and consider joining us — the next round is currently open for enrollment and I only run these groups twice a year.

If you’d like to learn more about who would be a good fit for the group, or reading stories from past participants, click here.