Spring is in the air – and with it, comes the excitement of knowing that summer is just around the corner. But for many, that excitement is accompanied by stress, because it’s almost time to don that dreaded swimsuit. There are a plethora of diets out there, all appealing to the universal quest for the perfect plan that will produce the best results.

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So how do you choose? How do you know which one will deliver on its promise to give you the best bikini body ever?

Having personally spent over a decade being unhappy with my body, and relentlessly trying new diets and reading countless books on the subject to find the “perfect plan” for me, here’s what I’ve learned: that perfect plan isn’t out there ANYWHERE.

It’s a fruitless search. Don’t believe me? Just look at the statistics: 95% of dieters regain their weight (and more) within 5 years of losing it. I was one of those.

Today, I have a body that I’m proud of – but it didn’t come from the perfect diet. It actually didn’t come from losing weight at all (my body’s very close to the weight it was when I hated it – just a significantly healthier and stronger version now). It was not a quick fix, but it’s given me results to last a lifetime: I didn’t achieve a bikini body; I achieved my forever body.

I learned three crucial lessons throughout the process that I feel compelled to share with you – things that really aren’t promoted by the diet industry because a) these facts don’t cater to a quick-fix approach, and b) if everyone had their forever body and no longer felt the need to lose weight, diets would become obsolete.

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So before you take on yet another diet, here’s what I want you to know:

1) The Most Critical Thing To (Re)Learn Cannot Be Found In A Menu Plan

Knowing when you are hungry enough to eat (but not too hungry) and full enough to stop eating (but not too full), is one of the most important things to learn, or rather re-learn, if you want sustainable results. Menu plans don’t tell you how to do this.

We are all born with the innate ability to know when and how much to eat – we actually have specific hormones whose sole functions are to give us these cues (babies pick up these cues effortlessly: crying when they’re hungry, and pushing away the breast when they’re full), but somehow throughout our lives, we begin to “unlearn” how to listen to them – usually beginning with dieting. Luckily, there’s an easy method for becoming reacquainted with your body’s cues.

First, you need to become familiar with the hunger scale, a scale by which you rate your hunger/fullness:

  1. Starving – weak, grumpy (a.k.a. “hangry”)
  2. Uncomfortably hungry – you could eat everything in sight
  3. Very hungry – food is preoccupying your mind
  4. Hungry – feeling the urge to eat
  5. Not hungry, not full – you are thinking about other things than food
  6. Satisfied – you could eat more, but you’re no longer hungry
  7. Full but comfortable – you could be sustained for 3-4 hours
  8. Too full – you feel like you ate more than you needed
  9. Uncomfortably full – indigestion and serious gas could be kicking in…
  10. “Thanksgiving” full – you’re unbuttoning your pants and getting ready for a nap

Next, start journaling your levels of hunger (before eating) and fullness (after eating) – do this for at least a week and you’ll notice patterns. If you’re waiting until you’re at a 1-2 to before you eat, most likely that’s when you’ll stop at 9-10 (counterproductive to the goal, obviously). Aim consistently to eat when you are at 3-4, and stop when you are 6-8.

If you do nothing else this spring, but commit to tuning in to and recording these cues, you will be well on your way to achieving your forever body.

2) The Math Is Seriously Outdated

Burning more calories than you consume is simply not enough anymore – at least not for a long-term sustainable plan. Perhaps back when our food was not so processed, refined, and genetically/chemically-altered, the calories in/calories out equation would have been much more relevant. Today, a calorie is not just a calorie. There’s so much more to the equation now.

So here’s an updated one, far more relevant to our modern food system:

Quality > Quantity

This equation applies both to food and to fitness, and the first step to applying it is to learn what quality really is: educate yourself, find reputable resources (don’t just rely on marketing/package claims), and most importantly – listen to and trust your body!

For your fitness:
Don’t underestimate the power of 30 minutes/day. You don’t need an hour or more to get your fitness on and get results! There are plenty of effective, high quality workouts you can get done in a short amount of time (hint: it’s probably not on the elliptical machine).

For your food:
Opt for choices that nourish you, satisfy you, and give you sustained energy – and when you do this, along with obeying your body’s natural hunger and satiety cues (which by the way are clearer when you’re eating more nutrient-dense foods; when the body’s well-nourished, everything functions better), you won’t have to worry about counting calories – or fat grams, or carbs – at all.

Don’t buy into the myth that you can eat “everything in moderation”! Why? Because you could end up eating your entire day’s worth of calories in moderate amounts of crap-food – and starve your body of critical nutrients in the process. Even if the calories are low enough to allow you to lose weight in the short-term, I guarantee the weight-loss won’t be sustainable because you’ll be starving.

Go for the 80/20 rule instead: 80% of the time, choose quality foods; and the other 20%, choose whatever would fall into your “everything in moderation” category – and choose that 20% wisely. I personally like to evaluate these foods for their “worth-it-ness”: i.e. if the pleasure (taste, comfort, etc.) of eating them is, without-question, worth claiming a portion of my precious 20%, then I eat it. If it only scores a “meh,” then I don’t. It’s that simple.

3) The Number Really Isn’t The Goal

Hitting that number – on the scale, the dress tag, or the tape measure – won’t really make you happy. Believe me. So if you’ve been waiting until you hit that number to start being truly happy, to live your life out fully, to cease thinking/obsessing over your body, stop waiting. The number isn’t the goal; the feeling is. Happy is. And you can decide to be happy now – before you even lose an inch!

How? Each and every day, be grateful for your strengths and all that you have in your life; take pleasure in the process of committing to your health; take care of your body because you love it, not because you hate it; set incremental goals that are realistic and attainable for your body and your life; and acknowledge and reward yourself for your progress along the way.

You can instantaneously hit your ultimate goal with one decision.

These three things took me years to discover – but I’m not saying that it needs to take you that long to achieve a body that you’re proud of. In fact, I hope I’ve helped to save you some time. The bottom line is, you’re never going to find that “perfect plan,” no matter how long and hard you search; it’s not out there, it’s in you.

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