Have you tried and failed countless diets? Did you find yourself highly motivated in the first days and weeks of a new food plan only to have cravings demolish all your hard work? If you’re like most people, maintaining permanent dietary change is difficult at best. The problem is that most dieters neglect to learn how to stick to a diet when embarking on a new way of eating.
It’s one thing to read a book or magazine article and decide, “That’s my diet.” But the real question is, are you going to stick to it when the rubber meets the road? Luckily, weight loss motivation is a skill that can be learned, but I have good news and bad news. Bad news first: self-motivating to lose weight and maintain weight loss requires ongoing diligence. Like exercise, keeping yourself on track with food necessitates regular “pumping up” of your motivational system. The good news is that it can be done, and once you get in the habit of regularly exercising your motivation, you can finally stay focused enough to follow a healthy eating plan for life.
What do I mean by exercising your motivation? Motivational exercise is anything you do that inspires you to stay on your chosen path. For instance, if you want to follow a plant-based food plan–shown in scientific research to be your best bet against cancer, heart disease, and diabetes–you should read all the books, blogs, and newsletters on that subject that you can get your hands on. Schedule mini motivation breaks into you day–watch a YouTube video on your lunch break or listen to podcasts or teleconferences while running the treadmill.
When I first embarked on the vegetable-based diet style known as Eat to Live, I listened to author Dr. Joel Fuhrman for a half hour every day on my ipod while walking the dogs, and I did that for a year and a half! I recognized that the pull of cakes, cookies, donuts, nachos, and French fries was too strong to attempt sticking to the plan on my own limited-supply willpower. And here I am, seven years later, going strong on daily salads, fruits, steamed veggies, beans, and seeds. But even today, I still seek out new articles and websites that support this diet style to insure my enthusiasm for healthy eating.
When I encourage friends and clients to continue educating themselves as a form of ongoing motivation, they often tell me, “I know the diet, I just have to stay focused.” Dear reader, “knowing” the value of a certain way of eating is simply not enough to keep you committed for the long term. Have you ever been to a stimulating lecture or workshop after which you felt excited and passionate to make change? And maybe you did make some changes for a while, but then the passion started to wane, and soon enough you were back into your usual habits, wondering what happened. Well, when the excitement flags and old behaviors make a comeback, that’s a sign you’ve waited too long for another motivation exercise session.
Here’s a list of possible motivational interventions that can help keep you focused for the long haul.
- Books, websites, newsletters, blogs
- Online video
- Support groups
- Write down a list of reasons to lose weight or change your diet
- Write down what will happen if you don’t change
- Visualize yourself a year from now, having achieved your goal
- Visualize yourself a year from now, having stayed the same
- Teach someone what you’ve learned about diet and motivation
- Write an article
- Join an online support group
- Hire a diet coach
- Attend lectures, workshops, and retreats
There are a few things to consider when devising your motivational exercise program. First, make sure the info you’re reading or watching is in alignment with your food plan. For instance, if you are attempting to add more fruits and veggies and decrease animal foods, don’t read the Atkins Diet, which is contrary to your goal. Also, don’t try to read a whole book in a few days. Stretch it out over a couple of weeks so you get little doses of incentive over time. It’s not necessary to spend an hour a day exercising your motivation–aim for ten minutes at least three times a week. If your interest is flagging, watch a full-length DVD or attend a lecture to give yourself an extra boost.
Y’all, the “foods” we have access to today are way too compelling for willpower to resist on its own. Luckily, with a little proactive intervention, strengthening your weight loss motivation can help you stick to a diet for good.