Using the 1% Rule to Conquering Diet Culture

Photo by Miguel u00c1. Padriu00f1u00e1n on

Think back to how you used to feel when the first day of school would roll around, whether it was a year of high school or college around the corner. You might have thought to yourself that this would be the year you’d make sweeping changes to your life.

Maybe those included getting all A’s, wearing a more stylish wardrobe to class, being more outgoing with strangers to make new friends, and any other goals that came to mind. After only a couple of weeks, that motivation likely petered out predictably, and you probably fell back into the same habits you always had. 

Me feeling excited about the ambitious changes I plan to make in my life.

You wanted to wear nicer clothes to class, but by week three, you’re back in baggy sweatpants (no hate on sweatpants, those are my fave). You felt motivated to get all A’s, but now B’s, C’s, or D’s seem just fine. You sought to be more outgoing, but end up keeping to yourself when not around a familiar crowd if you share introversion with me.

Often when we are faced with a new chapter in our lives, like a new school year, moving to a new neighborhood, or starting a new job, we want to reinvent ourselves completely and get our poop in a group all at once. I know I still have bouts of motivation to really, no really, get my act together in all facets of life, only to get overwhelmed and return to my base level. All things considered, my base isn’t a bad place to be, but that doesn’t keep me from striving to improve my entire life and being when random strikes of motivation hit. 

You’re Not Rihanna- You Don’t Have to go From Zero to Sixty in 3.5

Since doing my deep dive into diet culture and gentle nutrition, I have started lurking in some anti-diet and intuitive eating forums. They’re filled with wonderful people who answer one another’s questions and provide support when needed. Often, I see questions related to being overwhelmed by the implementation of gentle nutrition/intuitive eating, and they aren’t sure where to start with it. Sometimes, people who are just beginning on intuitive eating journeys are ambitious, and they want to implement everything they have read or heard on the subject into their lives immediately. 

Trying to change one’s life so dramatically in an especially short amount of time often yields unsuccessful long-term results. Sure, we all know someone who decides they want to form a new habit, and they carry it out with a snap of their fingers never looking back. But for most of us, a slow, gradual shift is much more likely to bring success. Diet culture tries to push us toward thinking in the short term by making us think week-long juice cleanses or quitting sugar cold turkey for a month is just what we need. This short-sighted thinking is really what makes the vast majority of us crash and burn with diets or lifestyle changes anyway.

I still think this would taste better than celery juice

Introducing The 1% Rule

I found a video from College Info Geek a few months ago called Why Your Work Disappoints You. I love this blog, and I have been following it since my freshman year of college. Thomas Frank, the creator of CIG, discusses how we often give up before we get started on a project because we know our work won’t be exactly where we want it right away, and we aren’t willing to get better slowly but surely. His remedy for this is called the 1% rule.

Basically, the 1% rule has two parameters: number one being that you set a deadline for yourself, and number two is that you aim to get 1% better each time you create something. Thomas states that if you utilize the 1% rule every week for two years, you’ll have 100 completed projects leading to a 100% improvement from where you started. 

I am absolutely guilty of feeling ambitious, getting overwhelmed, and failing to start because I’m afraid my project or lifestyle change won’t be perfect enough. It took me over five years to work up the courage to even start this blog because I knew it wouldn’t look as nice as other blogs and my writing wouldn’t quite be where I wanted it to be immediately. After watching this video, however, I decided I would start, set deadlines, and work to make my website and my articles 1% better each week. The same can be true for stamping out diet culture in your own life.

Me wanting to start a blog for five years, but having too many self doubts and fears to get started, thanks to my perfectionist tendencies.

The 1% Rule and Intuitive Eating/Gentle Nutrition

I have heard from many people that it feels way too scary to give themselves permission to eat whatever they want whenever they want in the beginning of their anti-diet journey. Everlasting food freedom is a great goal to work toward, but the anxiety from trying to plunge right in can be enough to deter many people from ever really getting started on their intuitive eating path.

Many of us are used to trying to eat and exercise perfectly, so we begin to want to eat intuitively… perfectly. That desire for perfection right away can leave us feeling defeated pretty quickly when we can’t completely let go of all the food rules and anxiety we have been developing for years in one go.

Relearning how to eat intuitively and break free from dieting principles that society has shoved down our throats for decades is really hard work, and it can’t all be done overnight. Instead, of taking a bird’s eye view and attacking all of your diet culture attitudes at once, zoom in with a microscope and think about how you could shift to a healthier relationship with food in tiny, actionable ways.

You taking a deep look at small ways you can improve your relationship with food over time instead of a total overhaul in one day.

Maybe you could devise a method where you allow yourself to unconditionally enjoy one food per week that you previously restricted. You could continue expanding those foods slowly but surely as time goes on, striving to make your diet 1% more flexible each week. Don’t forget a deadline- it helps you stay accountable with these small improvements.

This idea can work for physical activity too. If you tend to exercise from a place of guilt or obligation instead of from a place of joyful movement, think of a way where you can work toward getting 1% more enjoyment out of exercise each week.

Maybe instead of peddling as fast as you can on your bike, you take it down a few notches for a small portion of your ride to enjoy the sites and sounds around you. Maybe instead of power walking alone for the sole purpose of burning those cals, you invite a friend along and catch up on life once a week. Or maybe you save your favorite podcasts and playlists for your exercise time, so exercise gradually becomes more and more enjoyable.

There are an infinite number of ways to integrate small changes that compound over time in your relationship with food and exercise, and I personally find it to be a much more sustainable way to make changes. Try experimenting with different methods and approaches and see what you can get 1% better at each week related to stamping out diet culture in your own life!

My goal is for this to be everyone’s response to diet culture someday.

Closing Thoughts on the 1% Rule

Utilizing the 1% rule for defeating the diet culture mentality in your life is more like slowly wading in the shallow end of the pool instead of plunging off the high dive into the deep end. It seems much less scary, and giving yourself lower stakes increase the likelihood that you will begin working toward your goals.

The 1% rule can be applied to restrictive diets, rigorous exercise, improving self talk, and anything else in life. As always, I ask you you to take some time to reflect on what you want to work on, and how you could work small, gradual changes into your life that lead to truly sustainable changes.

What changes will the 1% rule help you make? Let me know in the comments below!

As Always, a Book Recommendation

If you’d like to learn more about small changes leading to big results, give the book Atomic Habits by James Clear a go. I listened to the audiobook in one drive across Iowa’s highways, surrounded by views of cornfields, and it also changed the way I view lifestyle changes and habit forming. He argues that making a new habit unbelievably easy to start is a surefire way to help you stick to it and see huge changes in your life over time. It’s a remarkable read, and I highly recommend it!

It does have some commentary on how to work toward a particular diet you may be wanting to implement. Yeah, not ideal. I still recommend it because it provides a super effective framework for starting and sticking with habits that really can compound and change your life for the better. You’ll just have to ignore the diet parts, but beyond that, this really is a fantastic read.

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