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  • Writer's pictureJulian Molteno


“Regardless of assigned diet, 12 month weight change was greater in the most adherent. These results suggest that strategies to increase adherence may deserve more emphasis than the specific diet itself” International Journal of Obesity. I was struck by that quote, when I read it a few months ago, as it chimed with a conclusion I was fast coming to of my own accord. The Journal of Obesity’s finding only served to confirm and clarify some of my own thoughts. I sent the quote to a few of my clients. The best reply I had was from Joy, who (with her powerful Oxford brain) got straight to the nub of the matter, by asking the pertinent question, “What increases adherence?” Great question. My answer (which she rejected) was:

1. Variety 2. Taste

I am beginning to understand that it really does not seem to matter what dietary regime you choose, so long as you actually stick to it; and if every meal you eat is tasty, and you have plenty of variety — adherence is easy. Deciding which eating style suits you — low carb, plant-based, intermittent fasting, vegetarian or vegan — is up to you, but there is one crucial question we all have to answer: within our chosen diet, what exactly are we trying to adhere to? What I am moving more and more toward with regard to diet, is the concept of eating within set parameters. The amazing thing about having a prescribed set of limits, is that far from restricting and constraining you — they actually set you free! I first learned of this apparent contradiction from one of my Personal Trainer colleagues at Fitness First called Sia. Sia was very interested in sex. Sex is a subject that most of us feel is rather private, and are quite hesitant to talk about — Sia, however, was completely open, and totally unembarrassed, to discuss all matters sexual. I remember him telling me that when he was going to have sex with a new partner, he would ask them what they did not want to do — what made them uncomfortable, what acts they did not want to engage in. As Sia then explained to me, once you had established these limits, once you had established the boundaries, then anything else was acceptable! You now had the freedom to do whatever pleased you, safe in the knowledge that your partner was fine with that too.  

When it comes to diet, the exact same principles apply. Once you have set your parameters, your limits, then you have the freedom to eat whatever you like! The tricky bit is — setting the correct parameters. There is no point in setting very tight parameters (of any sort) knowing that you are going to break them. Mentally this is damaging, as you feel you have failed. Which you have! On the other hand, there is very little benefit in setting parameters too loosely, as they will not be tough enough to enable you to make any meaningful progress. These parameters are not just negative — foods you cannot eat; they can be positive too — foods you have to eat every day. After much thought and experimentation over the past few years, I have come up with what I think, is a workable system — one that incorporates two sets of parallel parameters. I like to think of these parallel parameters as “inner” and “outer” parameters. The inner ones are challenging, but can, on occasion, be broken — they are “aspirational” and “daily” parameters. The outer parameters are less challenging, and should never be broken — they are “achievable“ and “yearly” parameters, you must feel sure that you can keep them. Another way to imagine these parameters is as “permeable” and “impermeable.” I have listed my 2019 parallel parameters below: INNER (daily) PARAMETERS — can occasionally be broken One protein bar per day Two protein shakes per day Tuna, salmon or sardines etc. every day Bacon, sausages or burgers only on the weekend, and then only 2 out of 3 A banana after a workout Salad every day OUTER (yearly) PARAMETERS — never  to be broken No starchy carbs: potatoes, pasta, rice, bread, etc. No sweets, sugary, kiddie stuff No diet drinks, Diet Coke etc. No chocolate bars, Mars etc. No “healthy” bars, Nak’d etc. No pizza No alcohol Over the course of the year I know I will break some of my inner parameters. Fish every single day is do-able but there will be days that I will not manage it. Similarly with the burger, sausages and bacon situation, there will be times when I eat those foods in the week, at a restaurant for instance. We must aspire to keep within these daily parameters, but be realistic enough to acknowledge that we will fail every now and again. (And realise that failure is part of the parallel parameters system.) With regard to my outer parameters, however, I feel pretty confident I can stay within them at all times. The only challenge will be the diet drinks and healthy bars; tough to do for 365 days, especially when on holiday, etc. I have basically eaten no starchy carbs for years, so should be ok on that score. Now that the New Year is upon us, I am suggesting to all my clients that they write their own parallel parameters list. Often it is only when we start to really think about the actual nuts and bolts of an issue, and write down our thoughts and (hopefully) conclusions, that we really start to gain an understanding of what is actually required to achieve real success toward any given serious objective. It is quite tough to get the correct balance between the inner and outer parameters straight away, so you may have to adapt them slightly as you go along. For instance, I initially put in my Inner Parameters that I was only allowed peanut butter once a day. After failing every day for a week on that score, I removed the PB debacle from my Inner Parameters altogether! Hopefully this parallel parameters structure will help to clarify, and sort in your mind, the type of foods (or specific food items) you want never to eat, and the foods you don’t really want to eat, but know you occasionally will. Once you have this list written down and clearly defined, the boundaries set, then you are free to eat whatever you please! No guilt — no confusion — and no inner struggle. What joy!! 

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