Nutrition change is hard. Which is why you revert back to your previous ways of eating after trying diet after diet.
Even when you know the best diet for your health, why can’t you stick to it?
There should be little discrepancy surrounding the best diet for chronic fatigue syndrome. If you’re not sure what it is, read this article before continuing on with this one. But as I’m sure you’ve discovered, the problem isn’t knowing the best course of action. The problem is sticking with a diet over the long-term.
I have no problem telling patients the type of diet they should follow. I have an incredible challenge ensuring patients implement and stick to a diet. Which is why I wrote this blog.
The way we all go about implementing diet changes does not set us up for success. In fact, it actually sets us up for failure. You struggle to stick to your diet not because you lack willpower or discipline. It’s because you’ve never been taught how to effectively implement behavior change in a manner that works.
I’ll show you how to easily stick with a diet for years and years in this post.
Why you can’t stick to a diet
For clarity, let me be clear on the language I’m going to be using moving forward:
- A goal that will take you longer than 3 months to achieve
- You’ve likely never achieved it before
- Long-term goals
- These are goals that take between 1 – 3 months to achieve.
- Short-term goals
- These are goals that take between 1 week and 1 month to complete.
- Steps should be able to be completed in less than a week.
What did you do the last time you thought about changing your diet?
I’d bet you envisioned how good you’d feel after implementing the new diet. In your mind, you saw yourself with increased energy, better focus, and maybe even being able to spend more with those you love. Or, if abs are your jam, maybe you envisioned showing your new 6-pack on that next beach vacation.
You then researched what the best diet for whatever condition you’re dealing with is. After a little research, you declared that you’d start the new diet plan on Monday. New cookbooks were purchased. You grocery shopped for the new foods on Sunday. And once Monday rolled around you nailed your nutrition plan.
But then a month (or four) passed. And you weren’t so excited about eating this way anymore. You went out for dinner with friends and had some food that wasn’t on your diet. And that’s when the wheels came off. A few days later you were back eating the way you ate before starting the new diet.
Does that sound about right?
What you did there was set a dream or long-term goal. And then expected your willpower to carry you through to the finish line. Willpower is a finite resource. (1) Using willpower as the sole means to stick to a diet will not bring about success. The moment your willpower is depleted, you’ll go back to your old eating habits.
If you want to bring about lasting change, you need to let go of setting goals or dreams for your nutrition. Instead, you need to create new habits. Habits will allow you to effortlessly stick to your new diet.
I’ll show you how to do that below.
How to stick to a diet for years and years
Let me start by giving you a quick example of the dreams-goals-steps process in action:
Let’s say your dream is to overcome chronic fatigue syndrome (for good!). One of your long-term goals might be to follow a ketogenic diet. A step you can take to move you towards overcoming chronic fatigue is to remove all the foods in your home that contain gluten.
The reason so many of you default to a long-term goal or dream is that they’re incredibly romantic. It’s easy to get lost in a positive future image of yourself – it’s so intoxicating! Imagine yourself with lots of energy, running up the stairs to play with your daughter. That’s a powerful image. Versus removing foods with gluten from your pantry – not an image that inspires, is it?
In order to stick to a diet for years and years, you’re going to need to drop the romantic allure of big goals or dreams and focus instead on baby steps. Multiple scientific studies have shown that this is the most effective method of behavior change. (2, 3, 4)
In one study, 126 overweight women were trying to lose weight over a 6-week period. Researchers broke the study into two different groups. During each week, group 1 was surveyed asking how much they thought about the day-to-day process of eating healthy. Group 2 was surveyed on how good they’d feel after they had achieved their goal weight.
The end of this study revealed something remarkable…
The women that had focused on the day-to-day task(s) of eating healthy were more likely to stick with the diet over six weeks. And they lost more weight than the women in the other group. A lot of women who focused solely on their dreams or long-term goals actually gained weight. (5)
If you want to stick to a diet or nutrition plan, you need to focus on the day-to-day steps that improve your habits! This will set you up for long-term success!
Do you set goals or steps?
Most of you will think that the goals you set are small enough to be steps. I do it all the time! In reality, the goals you set are more like quantum leaps than steps.
A prime example is setting a target to walk 10,000 steps every day. 10,000 steps seem simple enough – it’s just walking, right? Walking 10,000 steps each day is a small goal that is easily achieved!
But is it?
The number of steps you take on a given day will vary based on where you live. But on average, North Americans take between 2000-5000 steps per day. (6, 7) A target of 10,000 steps per day is anywhere from two to five times more walking than you’re doing now.
That’s a HUGE leap in daily steps. HUGE!
You’d have to alter your daily routines to fit another hour of walking into your day. Do you really have an extra hour each day just for walking? Probably not.
And this is why most people give up after a few weeks of trying to hit 10,000 steps. It’s too steep of a behavior change. It takes willpower. Lots and lots of willpower.
Relying on willpower is why you can’t stick to a diet. In order to stick to a diet for years, you need to remove willpower from the equation. You need to make your goals so small you can’t help but succeed!
Small goals, or steps as I like to call them, is something much smaller than doubling your current total. Going back to the example of steps per day, let’s say your daily average is 5000 steps each day. A step towards the goal of 10,000 might be 5050 steps per day for the next week. Adding an additional 50 steps each day is not going to require you to alter your schedule. It’s such a small improvement that you’ll be able to hit that target without any real effort or willpower.
These small steps add up. If all you did was walk 50 additional steps per day for a year, you’ll have taken 18,000 more steps in a year. Which could be the difference between gaining weight and maintaining weight. Over time, these small steps add up to big rewards.
In the world of nutrition change, small steps are rarely taken. Instead, it’s radical dietary changes. Common examples include starting a ketogenic diet tomorrow when your current diet is filled with refined foods. Or, going gluten-free when you don’t yet know all the foods gluten hides in or what gluten even is.
And I completely understand why you do this. Setting and achieving steps is not exciting. Steps don’t get you motivated.
So, set both goals and steps. Set goals for your long-term ambitions. Goals will keep you excited and motivated. Set steps every day and week. But make sure your steps are an action you can complete today or within the week. Make them so small that you can’t help but achieve them!
The most important step in nutrition change
Remember, your first step needs to be so easy you can’t help but succeed. Having success on your first step will ensure you stay committed to your second and third steps. When all these small wins get strung together, you end up with a strong feeling of accomplishment.
At the clinic, the very first step we start patients on has nothing to do with healthy foods. Instead, it has everything to do with unhealthy foods.
Humans make a large number of their decisions and choices based on convenience.
Do you want to commit to exercise 5x/week?
If the gym is on your way home from work, you’re way more likely to exercise compared to if getting to the gym adds 15 minutes to your commute.
If you want to avoid eating junk food, you need to get your willpower out of the equation. The next time you get hungry, you’re going to search for the most convenient way to satiate that hunger. If your pantry is filled with chips and cookies, guess what’s going to be consumed?
But if your pantry is filled with nothing but macadamia nuts and pecans, your most convenient option is the nuts. It’s highly unlikely you’ll get in your car and drive to the grocery store for a bag of potato chips. That’s not convenient. And when it comes to nutrition change, convenience is king.
If you’ve got a fridge filled with fruits, veggies, and meats that are prepared and easily accessible, that’s what you’re going to eat. The first step in how to stick to a diet is all about inconveniencing yourself to eat unhealthily. It’s as simple as that.
And it all begins at the grocery store. The grocery store is where you take your first step in sticking with your diet. Keep your grocery cart to the outside perimeter of the store. The majority of unhealthy, fatigue-causing foods are located down the aisles.
If you avoid the aisles, you’ll have taken your first step towards sticking to a long-term nutrition plan. Keep making small steps like this and you’ll have no choice but to be successful.
Be sure to let me know what your small steps are in the comments section below!