Let's hear it for mindlessness

We hear a lot about Mindfulness.  Eating slowly, chewing lots and all that.  But let’s hear it for mindlessness too.  It’s one of the core mechanisms of the Diet Groove.

When something becomes mindless it’s automatic.  And that’s what we’re aiming for with our diet.

But while mindful eating is a good thing, mindful dieting is hard work.  If you’re thinking about food all day long you’re only making life difficult for yourself.  And this is where many diets don’t help you. 

Diets are now billed as enjoyable eating extravaganzas.  Dieting is no longer presented as a hardship or deprivation.  Instead, diet books tend to look more like gourmet cook books.  They are packed full of delicious sounding recipes and gorgeous photography.

This is a mistake.  It’s well intentioned, perhaps.  But in helping you stick to a diet it doesn’t do you any favours.  The problem is that they over promise and under deliver.  Yes both.  They over promise by exaggerating the foodie delight of your diet.  Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t eat nice stuff on your diet.  Even on the Fast Days, flavour is important.  But you don’t want to dwell on it.  A piece of grilled chicken, lightly caramelised on the griddle is great.  And it can look wonderful in it’s full colour, full page photo. 

But what it is really promising you is an exaggeration.  What it promises is the idea of juicy chicken, basted in butter, covered in crispy skin and with a handful of hot salty fries on the side.  Perhaps with some mayonnaise and a cold glass of wine too.  What the glossy food-porn approach to dieting promises is the indulgence of food.

It puts food on a pedestal and encourages you to think about it.  You’re encouraged to linger over recipes, shop for the right ingredients, prepare, cook, present and enjoy.  And there’s nothing wrong with this per-se.  I do it every week.  But as a way of life for losing weight it’s like putting an alcoholic to work in a bar.  It’s cruel.  It encourages you to think about food too much and when you’re trying to lose weight that’s not really helpful.

And then, to make matters worse, these diets don’t even deliver what they promise.  Yes the dishes look delicious, and yes the diets are wonderfully varied, and yes the food will turn out yummy.  But remember, they are weight loss diets.  By definition there will always be something missing.  There just won’t be enough food for one, and the chicken won’t be quite the unctuous morsel you really want.  Sure it’ll be nice.  But it’ll be chicken ‘light’: just a tiny bit blander, ever so slightly drier: there’ll be no crispy skin and no dribble of buttery juice.  And the light spicy salsa will be fresh and refreshing when actually you want it to be rich and sultry.

We need to do things differently if we are going to stay in the groove.  First we’ve actually got to let ourselves have the real deal every so often.  Eat the juicy chicken, basted in butter, covered in crispy skin and with a handful of hot salty fries on the side and add some mayonnaise and a cold glass of wine too.

But then we’ve got to take the Fast Days and Burn Days in our stride.  Absolutely we should eat delicious meals on these days, but we mustn’t pretend that they are the answer to all our prayers.  Don’t put the ‘salmon filets in grapefruit salsa’ on a pedestal.  It’ll only let you down in the end.

So here’s what to do.  Do search out delicious Fast Day and Burn Day recipes.  I’ll give you some and when I pass on anything I find that looks good it is bound to come with some food porn photography, they all do these days.  But what you need to do is to pick out your top ten, say five Fast favourites and five Burn favourites and make them regulars.

They can come from any diet – Paleo, Atkins and Dukan all work on the same lines as long as you use them on the right days.  Then get used to making them.  Knock them together off the top of your head.  Keep the right kind of Hungarian paprika in your spice draw, or whatever. 

One thing which the Cabbage Soup type of diet did have right was making the ‘eating less’ bit as friction free as possible.  In terms of difficulty, there’s nothing to it.  It is mindlessly easy to follow. Of course it leaves all the hard work to you in the amount of sheer willpower it demands.  But you can’t criticise it for romanticising the food.

Make your regulars part of your routine.  Remember you’ll always take time out on Reload meals.  But from day to day, through the working week, for example, just stick to a group of tried and tested meals.

You’ll be surprised at how few you actually need to keep things varied and interesting.  And remember they can all be delicious.  And when you get bored of one just swap it out with something else.  Just don’t expect to live off them forever.  You can’t.

Routine is one of your behavioural weapons.  Amy Brain (gimme the donut) so easily trumps the best intentions of your Thoughtful Brain.  Mindless routine is one way to fight back.  If we can set up routines that blinker us to the donut shop, that provide the satisfaction we demand and fall effortlessly and automatically into place, then the chances of being hijacked by Amy are much reduced. 

Or put simply, you’re much less likely to call out for a pizza if you’ve already got a steak in the fridge.