So, you have problems sticking with your diet and nutrition plan! Welcome to the club of almost all human beings .. this is not a scarce issue! Likely everyone you know at some point, fell off the wagon (whatever that really means) when it comes to their diet or their exercise routine. And it’s not good, it’s not bad, it just is what it is.. we’re human, we have limited abilities, we’re not always motivated, and we’re usually not always disciplined either. So, first off, give yourself some grace because we all struggle. I never want you to feel like you’re alone in these battles with your food and your body. Today, I’m specifically referencing diet and exercise, but really these principles and tips can be applied to many things in life so stick with me here even if you don’t have a health or body goal.
The problem when people can’t stick perfectly to a diet, is that they binge when diets are broken in some form or fashion. And then, post- binge the individual feels guilt and shame, restricts again for a time, then binges again. The vicious cycle of binging and restricting is proven to lead to feelings of self-doubt, low self-esteem, and anxiety. When you think you have to be absolutely perfect on your diet plan or else it was all for nothing and you give up completely… you usually binge on those foods you missed. There’s so many reasons why women (and men) can veer away from the plans they set for themselves, and I’m going to discuss a handful of them today.
But, First I want to talk about some of the issues concerning body image and unrealistic ideals of what our bodies should look like… because understanding the why behind why we are or become so strict on ourselves with diets and exercise, and the reasons why we are so enthralled with the way our body looks will contribute greatly to either your success or failure in regards to diet and exercise. The first step is identifying why we feel the need to look a certain way and why we feel that we have to do things perfectly to attain perhaps an unrealistic goal.
So, let’s jump into the sociocultural factors. This obsession with one another’s bodies and especially the ideal female body. And actually, the ideal body changes over time.. I’m sure you’ve noticed.
If you look at old paintings from way back in the 1700’s, the women’s nude bodies were what we would consider chunky now. In today’s modern society we’ve progressed toward this ideal body image of thinness or perfect curvature in all the right places… and oddly enough, as this ideal body of thinness grew as the standard, more people became overweight. Right now, over 2/3 of Americans are overweight. 1/3 are obese.
In one survey I read, in a group of 4000 women, 1/3 of the women spend more than half their life trying to lose weight stressing even more the societal standards for thinness are evasive. And it’s because of these pervasive ideals that people, especially women, become conditioned to fear gaining weight or “feeling” fat. Not only that, but research shows that being overweight entails other negative connotations such as no self-control, being unsuccessful, less smart, lonely, lazy, and more… the stigmas with being overweight or just not the perceived ideal body are many… but it doesn’t make them true. Stigmas aren’t always true. So, are your actions and thoughts involving food and body image realistic and logical…or are they influenced on you and you’ve yet to process them logically with sound reasoning?!
In psychology the term, implicit memory, refers to the idea that a person can , without being aware of it, be influenced by prior learning. We can be conditioned to think or do something and then not even be aware of it.
So you may be viewing things and acting in way that don’t even make sense to you or you just don’t even think about it, but at some point it was or is a learned behavior from the past that is coming out through your behaviors. Think about some actions that don’t really make any sense but nonetheless we accept them as truth.
For example, you step on the scale one day and your weight is up a few pounds… then you feel shame and your self-worth suffers. Now, think about it this way, you wake up and think hmm.. let me see what my self-worth looks like today and then you head to the scale to determine it. That sounds ridiculous right?!
It’s like this unconscious assumption that makes absolutely zero sense. But sometimes, its something we do! So we’ve got to learn to recognize those behaviors and those thoughts that lie in our unconscious realm and fight against those anti-truths. It’s called cognitive restructuring- another psychological term for changing the pattern of your thoughts. You may not realize how often you think on irrational things, but do know that you have the power in you to start acknowledging when they come in to your mind and you have the power to change that.
The brain impacts behavior and behavior impacts the brain. Your thoughts and actions are interrelated. As we grow up or grew up, were conditioned to believe certain things about ourselves based on societal norms. But if we can change those maladaptive thoughts and those irrational thoughts that lead to self-defeating behaviors, we can then change those behaviors to better, more meaningful ones.
Now let's get into the meat of why people fail diets or abandon their plans!
Reason 1: All-or-Nothing Thinking (Stinkin thinkin)
We have to start with this way of thinking because this is basically a self-sabotage method that we don’t even recognize as being so. It’s thinking in terms of “always,” “never” “all good or all bad” and basically assumes that there is an inability to see alternatives in certain situations. For instance, if you can’t stick to a diet 100% it might as well be 0%... which only brings about harsh judgements of yourself, lowering self esteem in the process.
For instance, when someone goes on a diet, they might think I can never eat cake because society says that’s what makes us fat and I don’t want to be fat. Well, that idea is a misperception. It’s not one piece of cake that causes fat gain. One meal doesn’t cause fat gain. It’s a significant increase in calories over time that causes fat gain. It’s habitual calorie bulking… eating more calories than you burn consistently. So, the correct thinking would be, I can enjoy cake every now and then because that’s not going to cause me gain fat.
So, what do we do to overcome all or nothing thinking?... It starts with actively seeking to change your perceptions. Life is full of shades of grey and is not typically black and white… so we’ve got to explore the grey areas. It requires intentionally paying attention to those times when you fall into all or nothing thinking, stop that thought, and use evidence against it. Say it out loud if needed.
Reason 2: No Realistic Goal or Action Plan
People need a goal to look forward to. And a goal needs to have a very specific outcome (I want to lose 20 lbs of fat and 8 inches). It needs a timeline (I want to do that in 4 months), and it needs to be realistic (not I want to lose 20lbs in one month).
Even better, it’s important to set even smaller goals along the way. So, "I want to lose 5lbs and 2 inches this month." Write those specific, measurable, and realistic goals down so you can see it and know what you’re working towards. Once you have your goal set, then it’s time to write down all the things you know you should do to reach it. Ex.: "I need to eat X amount of calories each day, I need to drink X amount of water, and do this type of exercise X amount of days each week" etc. Without a plan, the goal is kind of just a dream. You have to be intentional about how you get to it.
Another reason you need to have a specific goal is to know when a process is NOT working for you. Let’s say you’ve done everything in your action plan that you thought would get you to this goal, and you have only lost 1 lb in a month. Now you know that something is not working. It’s not a reason to get discouraged, it’s an opportunity to learn about your body and how it responds to diet and exercise. What needs to be tweaked, what factor can I add or take away that will help me to achieve this goal?
If one of my clients is not losing weight as expected, I know that we need to tweak the calories.. maybe add some extra steps… Every body is unique and responds differently to diet and exercise.. so maybe their carbs or fats or overall calorie intake need to be adjusted and that’s fine.
There’s nothing wrong with changing the action plan… that’s called flexibility and learning from trial and error. There’s not a one size fits all with diet and nutrition. That’s why my plans are customized to each person’s body type, age, height, weight, etc. So it’s all a learning process and it’s NOT going to be perfect. I promise you that! You will have obstacles and doubts in what you’re doing… but it doesn’t take perfection to reach a goal. It takes flexibility, the willingness to adapt, it takes someone who’s willing to learn, and it takes patience.. which leads me to my next topic of why people can’t stay on track.
Reason #3: No Patience
Patience… you gotta have it. The saying that good things take time is 100% true. Because losing weight in a sustainable way takes patience. And if you’ve been eating a very small amount of calories for a long time, like more than 6 months it’s going to take even longer. People don’t typically want to hear that, but your metabolism has adapted to that small amount so it will now only burn a small amount. So, before you can really see a drastic loss in weight, you’ve got to reverse diet and increase those calories and THEN sit in a maintenance to allow your body to recover and adapt to burning more energy , more food.
I’ve got a client that has been with me for 6 months and we haven’t cut calories yet. She’s now in the phase of sitting in maintenance to let her body adapt… and next month, 7 months in, we’ll start her cut. Now she has lost some weight in the reverse, but her major fat loss will happen during this cut.. but realize it’s taken her 7 months to even begin the cut. So you have to be patient with your body, especially if you’ve deprived it of an adequate amount of food for too long. This doesn’t happen over night or even in a month. All these promises of losing drastic weight in 1 month is not sustainable and is likely not just fat that was actually lost. So be patient with that plan that you created, adjust it as needed, and learn from the setbacks.
OK, So I know this was a lot to read. I actually have a handful of other reasons people derail from their plan and how to combat it.
So, to save your eyes, I urge you to go to my podcast (wherever you listen to them...ITunes, Stitcher, Spotify, etc.) and tune in to episode 16.
I hope this gave you some insight into why we humans struggle to stay on track and how we can fight against those tendencies. If you listen to the podcast, I'd love to read your review and what you thought about the episode.
As always, if you have questions or want an opportunity for one on one coaching, head over to the "Plans" tab and schedule your free consultation call!
Bye for now!