“It’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle.”

“It can’t be a diet to work, it has to be a lifestyle change.”

We’ve all heard these phrases before. People usually say this either in defense of a diet (the first) or as a reason not to follow one (the latter). We know the meaning of both of these phrases, right? The justifications are similar. If a diet calls for you to eat cabbage soup for a month, you may lose weight. But you’re obviously not going to sustain it as a life-long nutrition plan. And we know any diet that calls only for a short term, drastic change probably isn’t going to have results that are sustainable (hello rebound weight gain). On the other hand, when you follow a consistent food philosophy or “lifestyle,” calling it a diet sounds restricting and unpleasant.

So how do we know if something is a diet or a lifestyle? Can it be both? My response to this is yes, but they aren’t mutually exclusive. And, before following a new diet or plan, you should make sure it has the potential to be a lifestyle change. 

I have an easy litmus test to determine if something has the potential to be a lifestyle change. Ask yourself, “Does this diet give me FREEDOM, or does it RESTRICT me?”

Let me use an analogy to explain this further.

I recently heard a financial speaker talk about budgeting for her family. She mentioned that she and her husband had been following a budget and paying off debt successfully for a few years. They decided to go on vacation, at which point her husband encouraged her not to worry about the budget and just enjoy herself. You can guess what happened next- she went a little crazy! She said “I felt out of control for the first time in a long time. I had no idea how much I was spending and felt guilty every time I purchased something or spent money on myself.”

She further said “Being on a budget sounds restricting, but what it actually did was GIVE me freedom! Freedom to pick and chose what I wanted without feeling guilty, because I knew it was accounted for in the budget!”

A lifestyle should feel the same way. Of course, every diet is going to be somewhat restricting. But, it should give you the freedom to make choices within certain boundaries without feeling paralyzed by either too much restriction or being too unleashed.

So before you start a new plan for losing weight, getting healthier, bulking up, or whatever it is you’re striving for, ask yourself this question. Is this something that gives me freedom and a feeling of control, or lack of freedom and feeling out of control?