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Why Dieting is Like Writing

February 26th, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Perhaps that’s not an accurate headline. What I wanted to say was, “why reaching and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is like becoming a writer”, but that just doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it. Questionable headline aside, let’s start with a brief discussion about dieting.

How to diet

First off – I have been fairly skinny all my life (my wrists are still skeletal, but if you threw a tennis ball at my belly it would now bounce off, rather than fall straight to the floor. True story (it isn’t)), so I have never been on a diet. However, I base the following on the current medical consensus, and stuff that I have heard. Which makes me right. And it’s my website, so there.

Eating salad is like being a writer

A salad. Salads depict dieting. Although this salad does look rather lovely. Image courtesy of stu_spivack over on Flickr.

Diets do not work. Or rather, diets are okay, but the vast majority of people find it impossible to take the diet they are on and make it part of an ongoing healthy lifestyle. Instead a diet is abandoned once it’s deemed a failure, or even a “success”. The dieter then returns to old habits, puts the weight back on and then takes up dieting again. This cycle persists.

So, what to do? And what has this got to do with writing? Don’t be so impatient.

I was listening to an episode of The Skeptics Guide To The Universe recently, as I regularly do. They will often talk about dieting in the context of the information available to the public, and how to approach that information(skeptically is usually the answer, as you may have guessed. But if you’ll allow me a little elaboration, the idea is to approach things with an open, yet thorough mind. Don’t take things at face value). On this particular occasion, they were talking with Jeff Ainslee about his project Fat 2 Fit Radio.

His advice matched what I have heard doctors saying to friends and family. Eat little but often – five small meals a day rather than three large ones. And eat food that is good for you, obviously. That way you’re getting the good stuff, but don’t get hungry (and therefore snacky), because you’re eating more frequently.

But here’s the interesting part (and well done for sticking with it thus far), he also said that dieters generally have their priorities all wrong. Don’t try to lose weight. No, that’s not the aim. Instead, try to live a healthy lifestyle, and the weight will take care of itself. Here’s an interesting quote:

… you look at your goal weight, and you look at that person, you figure out how that person eats and exercises, and then you start eating that right now, and then eventually you become that person [...] You start to live the lifestyle of that thinner person, and you will become that person.

Jeff Ainslee on The Skeptics Guide to the Universe, Feb 9 2011 episode

See. Interesting.

Wait, I thought this was a writing website

Right, so here’s the connection. Have you ever binge-written? Throughout my writing career (and I use the term as loosely as a term can be used here), I have had periods of must-write, must-write, must-write (usually when I’ve had a new idea), followed by periods of stopping altogether, for months at a time. Doesn’t that rather sound like the dieter – bouts of dieting, followed by bouts of, er, not-dieting, followed by dissatisfaction, followed by dieting?

Now, this might not be a problem for some people. They may finish a writing project, and be happy to leave writing for a few months or a year, until they really feel the need again. But I’m willing to bet that for most people, that writing sprint does not produce a finished project, but half a project. I would also bet that the reason behind frequent binge-writing is because deep down, that person wants to be a writer. They become dissatisfied with not being a writer, do a stint of writing to make themselves feel better, don’t sustain it, and start the cycle again when dissatisfaction returns.

Become the writer

So the solution might be similar to the dieting one. Instead of worrying about how many books you haven’t published, change your lifestyle. Picture the author you want to become (the equivalent of the healthy person above). How often does that author write? How much time do they spend on it a week? How many words do they write each day? Go further – how do they fit their writing routine around their day job (many writers have them)? If they don’t have a day job, what might they do instead (book-signings, public speaking events, teaching)? How do they fit their writing around their family?

Now, I’m not going to suggest becoming that person now. I think for a lot of us, that’s a bit of a stretch. But do visualise it, write it down if it helps (it does, so do). Then you can think about gradually becoming that writer. Set yourself some goals. By the end of the year, how many words/pages do you want to be writing per day? Work this out for a few of the aspects of the writer you have imagined. Think about what you have to do to achieve those goals. By the end of the year, you will be a lot closer to becoming that writer.

See – just like dieting. I wasn’t lying was I? Please discuss away in the comments. If anyone has any tips on achieving these things, please do share, as we all need inspiration!

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