Maybe I’ll just have one….
The plate of cookies is calling your name. Your internal dialogue starts; Hey it’s a birthday party, come on that’s a special occasion. You haven’t had any sweets today. You can break from your diet for this! It’s tempting, but you steel your resolve. You’re not going to eat it. You know it’s good though. Come on, just half of one. Oh well that negotiation seems pretty reasonable. A coworker chimes in ‘I see you eyeing those cookies, eat one!’
A minute later you’re eating the cookie. The minute after that you’re distressed; I just failed my diet, again. Arg! I can never keep up with these things. I’m going to be unhealthy forever. You sneak another one. Before long, you’ve eaten the entire plate of cookies. You’re not feeling too great about yourself, plus you’ve got a stomach ache. You’ve been sticking to your diet perfectly for 3 weeks, what happened? You only had one week left!
Dieting can be difficult.
Sticking to a diet can hard, almost impossible at times. It doesn’t have to be though. There are four common reasons that conspire together to ruin your diet; it’s a complete mental battle, you’re doing it as a goal and not a habit, your environment isn’t set up for success, and you let others peer pressure you.
1. Diet should be a habit
Part of the problem is the scope of thinking for most diets. Most people ‘go on a diet’ for a month or two. They gain momentum and start feeling good. Then the plan ends and they completely revert back to their old eating habits. A few months later, the weight comes right back. Being healthier isn’t the same as writing a book. You can’t just hit a certain point and call it good.
If you aren’t dedicated to changing your diet for the better in the long term, those old habits will creep back in. It’s not something you work on for a month and expect to be finished. It’s something you have to continuously do. If you don’t commit to it, expect to see fluctuations in your health status.
Slow and steady
It doesn’t have to be all at once. You can slowly substitute one food you know isn’t good for another food you know that is. It’s a lot more feasible than a total life overhaul. By making minor, mindful adjustments, you’ll be eating healthier in a sustainable way. Now, depending on your goals and health needs, it may need to be more drastic than that, but it’s a strategy I’ve seen be effective for many.
On top of that, you have to remember that one small mistake doesn’t constitute a complete failure. A new habit takes time and effort to change. You need to dedicate attention to it every day for months. If you give in or make a mistake, don’t beat yourself up about it. Do an examination of what happened and think about how you can do better next time in a similar circumstance. Over time, it will get easier to pick the right foods.
2. It’s a constant mental battle
On that note, diets are also hard to follow if you’re constantly battling yourself. I want this cookie. No I don’t. Yes I do. Eventually, you’ll wear down your willpower. You need to dig deeper to figure out the reasons why you want to eat better. Your reason has to be strong enough to create serious staying power.
You need reasons you can revisit as you’re making choices. Your reason should remind you why you’re doing it. I’m not saying to throw everything out, but reflect and figure out what foods you want in your life and why? What can you substitute for healthier options?
The less willpower you can use the better. Make it an experiment. Try new things, adjust. If it doesn’t work, go back to the baseline and try again. But if you set yourself up against your mind and create a battle, you’ll almost always fail. Even if you make it through on willpower alone you’ll just binge the second your diet is over anyway. Bad news.
3. Your environment is set up for failure.
You can make this problem even worse by setting up your environment in a way there’s constant temptation. For some, this is harder than others. It can help to make decisions beforehand if I’m offered a cookie, I won’t eat it but when there’s a cookie sitting right in front of you it usually becomes a battle of will power.
So if you’re planning on developing a new, healthy eating plan get rid of all the other junk around you. At home, at work, when you go out. If that’s not an option, do as much as possible to eliminate your temptations. Identify your weak points and make adjustments beforehand.
That way, when you get to the party with a plate of cookies, you’ll already have a bag of carrots ready to go. You’ve already made you decision so it’s easier to follow through. Or, you’ve eliminated all the other temptations. When you open your fridge it’s just fruits, vegetables, and lean meat. No chocolate cake staring back at you. The more prepared you are, the easier it is to make decisions when the time comes.
4. The people around you aren’t helping
It can be even harder when those around you don’t support you It’s up to you to communicate strongly and clearly about what you want to accomplish. Let them know how important it is to you. If they don’t listen It might be a sign to step up the quality of people in your life. It sounds harsh, but if you’re clear about how you want to better your life and they detract from it, it might be cause for some reflection. If they hold you back from this goal, how else might they hold you back in the future?
There’s few things more difficult than having your friends, family, and coworkers constantly try to undermine your goals. It takes a lot of willpower and the goal is to use as little willpower as possible. If you only have one good choice, it’s easier. If you only have one good choice and everyone around you supporting you, it’s simple.
The argument against bets.
I recommend against punishments like if I eat a cookie I have to pay you five dollars. This will only pit your friends and family against you as they try to get you to get you to cave in. While the competition can be fun or motivational for some, many fall to temptation. We want our social circle supporting us, not dragging us backward. More often, an honest plea for their support will be more helpful.
Those are a few of the major reasons why a diet fails. If you’re looking to eat healthier, commit for the long haul. Your physical health factors into your mental health and the two of them are pivotal for happiness. Making slow but sure adjustments in your diet will be easier than you think! Most foods have substitutes and even the ones that don’t you can find in moderation. Best of luck!
Answer the exercises in the comments:
Think of one unhealthy food you eat and a potential substitute you can try.
Who can help you eat healthier? Ask them for help!