Posts tagged habits
Why You're Not Succeeding at Your Diet and What to Do About It
A2rzLfdiet-complaints-calories-fiber-one-funny-ecard.png

Imagine this:

You get a shiny new plan or program from a coach, the internet, wherever, and you are SO ready to go. You look everything over, prepare yourself in whatever way you can, and then start your new plan. Things go well for a few days and then...you’re out of the food you prepped, work stress happens, schedules get wild,  the weekend happens, and before you know it, you’ve taken a few steps back. Rinse and repeat this cycle basically every week.

Does this cycle sound familiar?

If that hits a little close to home, I promise you, you are not alone. I have always struggled with this because I’m a super planning oriented and an overthinker. I would spend HOURS writing out diet plans for myself, calculating all sorts of numbers, and making the plan of all plans, only to have Monday come around and screw up my plans. I would forget something or have an unplanned event come up or just be a giant ball of stress.  I felt like if I couldn’t execute the plan perfectly, then what the fuck was the point?

What is the issue?

One of the hardest things about making changes is making the actual changes. Planning and preparation is wonderful (and an important part of setting yourself up for success) but all the planning in the world doesn’t mean shit if you can’t execute your plan. Simply stated - you have issues bridging the gap from point A (plan) to point B (working the plan).

In order to break out of this cycle, you first need to identify where the hang up is. This requires a lot of honesty with yourself - you have to be willing to be uncomfortable and accurate in your assessment. Some of the issues I’ve experienced most often and seen my clients struggle with include:

Paralysis by analysis: Focusing too much on the small rocks when you don’t have the big rocks in place.You focus on all of the details and get so overwhelmed that you freeze. You can’t start because you aren’t sure what direction to go.

Lack of ownership: You’re waiting for the “right time” to start or you feel as if things happen TO you and that you are not in control of your eating. You feel like you can’t say no to treats in the office or not have a drink when you’re out with your friends. Basically, life or others are sabotaging your efforts. (This can be a really complex issue that at times is best addressed with a mental health professional and I highly encourage exploring that option!)

Letting perfect be the enemy of good: You feel as if executing the plan to absolution perfection is the ONLY way to execute the plan. Things must go perfectly or else it is a total waste. This leads to what I call the “fuck it” mentality. Things don’t go 100% accordingly to plan so then you feel as if the day is a waste and go way, way off plan.

Being wishy washy on goals: If you’re actions aren’t lining up with your goals, ask yourself: are my actions the problem or are my goals the problem? Do YOU, just you, really want what you say you want? Or do you feel like it is something you SHOULD want because your friends, mom, society, etc. told you you should want that? This is a subtle distinction but a major game changer. If you’re not 100% invested in the goal you are trying to achieve, it’s easy to go off the rails and make excuses when any minor inconvenience pops up.

Managing expectations: It's easy to feel like throwing in the towel after a week when you are bombarded with "lose 10lbs in 7 days!" messaging via social media. It's important to remember that it didn't take 2 weeks to get to where you are, and it may not take 2 weeks to get to another place.  Having realistic expectations helps you know what to expect and keep things in perspective.

Identifying what is causing the issue is a critical first step to being able to figure out a solution. This is obviously not an exhaustive list, and there are several layers to each of these components, but taking the time to sit down and identify the pattern of hang ups is so key. This is also where having a coach, mentor, or accountability buddy can be incredibly helpful. It  can be hard for us to see the issue because it is too close to us. Discussing it with someone else can help bring some clarity.

The only way around the obstacles is through them, so breaking them down and being prepared to do the work to break through them is absolutely key. 

 

IMG_1477.jpg

So what do we DO about it?

Add IN, don’t take away: Add in behaviors, items, or habits that help you move through the obstacles you’ve identified. These are a few of my favorite strategies:

  • Have trouble with figuring things out on the fly? Try tracking your food the night before so you have a roadmap of what the day looks like. If things change during the day, it is easy to make adjustments and keep it moving.
  • Rather than focusing on taking away certain foods or food groups, add IN more of the stuff you want like veggies, fruit, water, etc.
  • Instead of feeling out of control, add in a daily practice that reminds you that you are in control of your actions and reactions. This can be something like exercise, meditation, or just even writing yourself a little note on your phone or planner and keeping it handy.

Practice the hell out of it: The only way to get better at a certain skill is to practice it, and dieting and habit change is no different! Do something that moves the dial closer to your goal every day and view it as practice. You don’t walk into the gym and squat 315 if you’ve never squatted before - you have to practice. The same principles apply when it comes to dieting.

Track it: I’m a giant data nerd so I like to track everything. Find a way to track your daily wins, skill practice, etc. so you can have some accountability and incentive to complete the task at hand. As totally dorky as it may sound, I use stickers in my planner to help me institute new behaviors. If I drink all my water for the day, I get a sticker. If I’m 100% compliant to my diet, I get a sticker. If I navigated a tough situation by using a new skill I’m trying to build, you guessed it, I get a sticker. If you’re not into stickers, there are apps like HabitBull that help you track various behaviors and habits as well. You can also check in with an accountability buddy and share your wins with them.

Find a way to win everyday: Dieting is a bit of a long game (as in, it's not a 2 week process, but it also isn't a lifestyle - it should start and end) so it is helpful to find ways to "win" throughout the process. Find some small daily and weekly goals that are relevant to you and focus on winning at those items. 

SHARE:

What are some of your favorite reflection strategies?

What are some tools you use to help yourself get through roadblocks?

Consistency Series: Mental Fatigue, Willpower, & Motivation

If you missed the Part 1 post on time and effort and how it relates to consistency in nutrition and exercise efforts, check it out here!

 

 

Outside of time and effort, the second most common issues surrounding consistency with nutrition (and exercise) have to do with mindset and mental fatigue.

“I wish I had more willpower.”

“I’m just not motivated.”

“I can’t resist.”

These are not uncommon statements. In fact, I'd venture to say that one or all of these statements has been said by nearly every individual at some point in their health and fitness journey. I know that I've said them more than a few times.  Here’s the thing: they’re all bullshit.

Before we move on to discuss why they’re bullshit and what we can do about them, there is one big caveat that needs to be addressed when it comes to the realm of nutrition and mental fatigue. If you have been dieting (in a caloric deficit or on an ultra restrictive plan for non-medical purposes) for over 3 months with no reprieve, you don’t even need to read any further. Dieting is not a lifestyle. IT IS NOT. For your health and your sanity, you should not be spending 6+ months in an extreme dieting phase. You can not continue to cut and cut from an already low spot - it’s like trying to continue to remove pebbles from an already empty glass. If you feel burnt out and at the end of your rope because you’ve been dieting for an entire year, you may want to stop dieting and try maintaining for a bit. I realize that sounds scary and there is a lot of anxiety surrounding the issue of gaining weight back and such, but maintaining a new body weight and building up your metabolism are critical endeavors for long term health. If you’re a little freaked out, it’s okay. I recommend seeking out the assistance of a coach to help guide you through the process.

Beyond the constant diet cycle, there are several other factor that come into play when we look at consistency and compliance to a protocol (of exercise or diet). So let’s dive right in.

 

 

“I wish I had more willpower”

Willpower is a fascinating topic that has been investigated extensively. There are several different theories about how willpower works when it comes to things like delayed vs. instant gratification, if we have a set amount of willpower, and self control. One popular theory has to do with something called ego-depletion. Ego depletion states that willpower is a finite resource and that exercising self control requires us to draw from this limited pool. Once we’re out of willpower or have drained that pool, our ability to exercise self-control is impaired. There is some debate on whether ego depletion is real thing and what things impact it, which is beyond the scope of this post (see this meta-analysis for a good review). Why even bring up ego depletion? Because it hits on an important concept, which is that willpower is not rigid. Regardless of whether we only have a set amount of “willpower reserves” or infinite willpower, we can and should utilize willpower more efficiently. 

I like to conceptualize willpower as a muscle (because meathead things) that can be worked over time. To illustrate this, let’s walk through a scenario about squats:

Trainee A is a brand new lifter. They’re really excited and enthusiastic to get started and today is their squat day. It is also the day they graduate to a barbell after spending some time learning good squat mechanics with other mechanisms. After some instruction, they put the bar on their back and proceed to squat. Since this is a new skill, they're likely trying to focus on a whole lot of stuff: sitting down and back, keeping their chest, gripping the bar, keeping their weight in their feet, etc. It’s a mentally exhausting endeavor.

Trainee B is an advanced lifter who has been training consistently for 5-7 years. They’ve been squatting 2-3 times a week for several years now.  It is also their squat day. They warm up with a few sets and then put 315# on to do their working sets. They are focusing on a few specific items but they’ve also squatted thousands of times and have ingrained certain aspects of the movement. Their set may not feel mas mentally overwhelming (or rather, it may not be mentally taxing in the same way) as the new trainee’s set.

Both of these trainees have the same muscles that have the capacity to work in a similar fashion. Both trainees have the potential to build and express their strength and proficiency at the skill being addressed (squatting). The difference? The amount of time and practice the second trainee has had to build up their skill proficiency, muscle, etc. Willpower is no different! You have to practice and develop the skill in order for it to become “easier”. The more you practice, the more routine some aspects of the skill become and the less mentally taxing the skill becomes. Are there times when it is mentally taxing? Absolutely. However, by practicing -instead of throwing in the towel the second you have to exercise some self control - you build a stronger foundation to stand on.

 

 

“I’m just not motivated”

This is probably one of my favorite statements to hear because it speaks volumes about how we view motivation and attainment of goals. Now, I’m sorry to tell you that the way motivation is conceptualized and presented in the fitness industry is a lie. And here’s what I mean by that. Motivation, or the reason for behaving in a particular way, is usually extremely high when we start something. We are so stoked to clean up our diets, hit the gym, drink all of our water, and so on. This spark of motivation may carry us for a week or month but eventually, that spark fades and we are left feeling one of two things: 1) like there is something “wrong” with us for not leaping out of bed with motivation everyday or 2) like we should just give up. That is when motivation, as it is traditionally presented, is problematic. 

Motivation is just that, a spark. It can ignite a fire in us and propel us towards action but it is not a sustainable source of everyday drive. If motivation is the spark, then discipline is the fuel source for the fire. No one, no one, wakes up every single day and leaps out of bed like an overly caffeinated Mary Poppins who is ready to eat chicken and rice, go lift, and do some cardio. And that’s perfectly okay. What is not okay is deciding to skip the gym or say “fuck it” on your nutrition plan because you’re not feeling like a Disney princess who gets dressed with the assistance of small woodland creatures (sidenote: where can I find some of those to do my dishes everyday?)

Instead of relying on motivation, we have to start to relying on discipline.  Discipline is what carries you through. Discipline is doing the things you should do to reach your goals (those things that motivate you!) when you don’t feel like doing them. Does that mean doing stuff you hate? NOPE. You should be making goals and plans that are centered around the things that do set you on fire. You should try to have to the discipline to be compassionate with yourself when things don’t go according to plan (and that will happen). Make peace with the fact that, at some point, it is going to be hard but you’re capable of doing hard things. So do them.

 

“I can’t resist”

Is someone throwing cookies down your throat? If so, that’s pretty impressive. If not, then you absolutely can “resist”. Truth be told, I don’t love the term “resist” when it comes to discussing choices about food. You are an adult who has free will and the power to make choices about what you put in your mouth. There are certainly situations when it may not be socially appropriate to whip out some tupperware and there are definitely times when you should eat something different because life and stuff. However, it is important to own that choice. No one is making you eat or not eat anything. You have the power to make the decision of what you do and do not eat. 

Beyond the fact that you can absolutely decide what you eat, I think this line of thinking is particularly damaging because it creates a negative self-narrative that can lead to some self-fulling prophecy. If you constantly tell yourself that you are going to fail at something, you are much more likely to fail because you have already set the expectation of failure. Telling yourself that dieting is going to suck and that you suck at dieting makes dieting extremely difficult. You would never tell a friend “Hey, I know you really want to do this thing but you’re going to suck at it and probably fail.”, so why tell yourself that?

It is also worth noting that sometimes having a small "taste" of something to "quiet the temptation" can do more harm than good. For a good portion of people, having juuuust enough of something the historically lack control around turns into a slippery slope of eating, guilt, and over restriction. It's okay to not have a "cheat day" or "cheat meal" if it doesn't work for you. Often times, life will provide little diet reprieves in the form of special occasions and no one should be dieting so often that they are going without for half of the year. 

Bottom line: the story that you tell yourself about yourself can influence your thoughts and actions. If you tell yourself you have no willpower and are powerless to the influence of baked goods, you’re gonna have a bad time.


All of these topics can be an entire article or articles on their own (and they probably will be) but I hope this provides a brief snapshot of some of the more relevant points when it comes to consistency in dieting and exercise.

Part 3 will be coming next week!

Whole30 Wrap Up

You can see my progress from week to week here: week 1, week 2, week 3, week 4. I’ve officially finished my Whole30 and I can comfortably say this one of the biggest learning experiences I’ve had in recent memory. It was difficult, especially the first week or so, but towards the end, it became much easier. Why? I formed new habits and kicked my sugar cravings. In the interest of consistency (and because I really like lists), let’s break it down like I have been the past 4 weeks: the good, the bad, and the lessons learned. OH, and the requisite bathroom before & after shot.

20130207-100631.jpg

[before & after]

 

THE GOOD

I kicked my sugar cravings: This was one of the main reasons I did the Whole30 – after the holidays my sweet tooth was out of control and it needed to be reigned in. After the first two weeks, I pretty much stopped craving sugar. Yes, I wanted wine and chocolate but more so because I just wanted something not necessarily because I wanted the sugar fix. After having some wine, chocolate, and a cookie or two on Day 31 – I can safely say that I’m over the sugar cravings. Those things were good (best part was the WINE) and I was satisfied with very little of the cookies and chocolate. This is a major win for me!

20130207-101154.jpg

[grain free donuts with chocolate glaze will be a very occasional treat, not a craving]

I learned about my food habits: I thought I was pretty “in tune” with my body beforehand but WOW, this challenge really opened my eyes to how habitual some things were. For example, while baking for work I would go to take a “taste” or lick the spoon, out of habit. I didn’t necessarily “want” it, I just went to do it. I was also struggling with after-dinner cravings and those disappeared two weeks in – I wasn’t hungry, I just wanted something out of habit. I don’t think I would have fully realized these things without the Whole30 and honestly, it was a huge realization for me.

I lost weight: I lost 8lbs – I went into this not really expecting to lose anything. Afterall, I had been pretty much paleo for awhile and thought that it wouldn’t really affect me that much – but it did. I have SO much more to say about this but we will get to that. It just goes to show that being consistent really DOES matter.

20130207-101108.jpg

[Jicama home fries - never tried them before but love them now!]

I refreshed my recipe & food repertoire: I made an effort to try new recipes and branch out because I was getting major food boredom and I ended up learning so much! I had forgotten how much I like things like kombucha and lamb and I don’t know if I would have “remembered” these items otherwise.

 

THE BAD

20130207-100930.jpg

[I couldn't eat enough paleo chili]

I struggled with eating enough: I really, REALLY had to make a concerted effort to eat enough food – to the point where I had to track my macros/calories (yes, I’m aware you’re not supposed to do this but I have no issues with calorie restriction/ “dieting” and used this as information to make sure I was eating enough). Even though I felt like I was eating all.the.time., it wasn't enough. Even my husband was surprised by this since I do eat a lot of food and often.

I lost weight: Yes, this goes in both categories. I didn’t eat enough – I lost 8lbs and all of that was muscle. Every.last.pound. Despite switching to doing more lifting and less WOD-ing, I lost a decent amount of muscle mass (I had my coach measure my body fat pre and post challenge, hence why I can say it was all muscle). I also did not PR any of my slow lifts (push press, deadlift, front squat, etc.) and was feeling very gassed during harder workouts. I have A LOT more to say on the muscle loss – but that’s a whole different post. Suffice it say, that wasn't even close to the results I was going for BUT I learned from it.

20130207-100623.jpg

[This was the best glass of wine I've had in a long time]

I felt too restricted at times: At times, I felt overly restricted. This feeling waned a bit towards the end but I still felt a little crazy. I just wanted something, anything that was different than what I had been eating to maintain some mental sanity.

 

LESSONS LEARNED

The power of habit: This challenge really taught about how powerful habits are and how hard they are to change. It also taught me that it can be done. I had no idea how deeply engrained some of my habits were until I was forced to stare them in the face. It was definitely eye-opening. I think this is the BIGGEST benefit of the Whole30, by far.

20130207-101026.jpg

[10# snatch PR - not really relevant, but there it is]

It helped me discover my priorities: Finding out I lost 8lbs of pure muscle pissed me off. I was NOT happy about it. Let’s look at this again – I was angry that I lost weight. Never, EVER in my life would I think that would happen. I was really shocked at my reaction, I couldn’t understand it and honestly, it took me a full day to come to grips with it. Then it hit me, being “lean” isn’t a huge priority for me – and I would have never, ever learned that without this challenge. I’m going to write up an entire post dedicated to this but suffice to say, I learned a lot about myself in this area.

20130207-100942.jpg

[last whole30 dinner!]

I learned to take an analytical approach to food: Keeping a detailed food journal everyday really opened my eyes to some errors I was making and I don’t think I would have kept track of everything without this challenge. I didn’t over-analyze my food to death but approaching my diet in an analytical, data driven fashion was extremely helpful to my scientific brain. I could look back, see what I did, what the result was, and how I could change it to get a different result in the future. I really recommend that people journal during a challenge – it’s more beneficial than I ever thought it would be.

 

SO the big question is: Will I continue to eat this way?

The answer?: Yes but with some changes (and some wine). My body is very, very happy with no grains, sugar, legumes, and dairy - that's why a paleo approach works for me. But, I obviously made some errors, and adjustments need to be made. I have to figure out how to eat enough while keeping my stomach happy and that's going to take some work.

So, there you go! My Whole30 in a nutshell – it was an amazing, eye-opening learning experience and even though I didn’t get optimal results, I wouldn’t change a thing. This challenge has allowed me to take my nutrition to the next level and identify where I need to re-evaluate, what needs to change, and how to be better.  Basically, I loved it.