Each week, we review feedback from coaching clients and readers of the site and our emails. One of the most common frustrations is figuring out what to eat, specifically knowing what to look for in a healthy diet.
The reason for the struggle is that it’s not clear where to begin to fix the problem. It’s not like eating one food suddenly improves your diet.
In fact, you’re likely already aware of what stands in your way. We hear three common barriers:
- Time (or lack thereof)
- Confusion (not being sure of what to do or believe)
A lack of time is a struggle for everyone. But, trying to make time becomes easier if you can eliminate confusion and increases motivation.
And, despite being different issues, they are both deeply connected.
What Prevents Good Diets From Working
In the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, authors Chip and Dan Heath explain that your lack of clarity undercuts both.
In their book, the Heath Brothers were speaking about business and answering the question, “Why won’t your employees do what you want?”
The answer is “Because they don’t know exactly what that is, or how to do it.”
That’s true for your health, too.
Let’s say you set out to make a big change in your life, such as losing 10, 20, or even 100 pounds. It feels exciting but also overwhelming. After all, you think to yourself, “I need to adjust my diet, exercise, and even my sleep. Where do I start?”
Maybe you decide to start by eating better, but what exactly does that mean?
Or, you say: “I’m going to work out more.” But, in the back of your mind, you wonder, “How much is ‘more’? Will it be enough to make a difference? And do I really have the time for that?”
These are the sorts of questions that can kill your motivation before you even begin. You aren’t sure what to do next, so you do nothing. Or, maybe you take a step or two, but then feel you aren’t getting results. Soon, the entire plan starts falling apart.
When you aren’t confident that a change is going to make a difference, it’s hard to truly commit to that change.
4 Habits That Make Any Diet More Effective
Before you can gain confidence in your plan, it helps to have more clarity in your plan.
The Heath Brothers explain that when you know exactly what changes to make — and you see them make a difference — you want to keep doing them.
That’s essentially the same idea behind habit-based coaching. You take one step, then another, and another.
The changes needed for weight loss start with something that seems simple. Painfully simple. Perhaps, even boring.
If you’re looking to build a healthy diet, it doesn’t start with extreme restrictions, blood tests, or need to measure every ounce of food. It begins with habits that help put you in control of your diet, no matter your food preferences or lifestyle.
This includes time-tested techniques such as:
- Eating slowly
- Chewing more
- Getting enough vegetables and fruit (yes, fruit. Fruits are not evil. Neither are carbs.)
- Sleeping 7-8 hours a night
All those habits are a big part of an effective diet plan, but you rarely hear them discussed.
Eating slowly and chewing more helps ensure that the right signals are sent to your brain to indicate when you’re full.
Fruits and vegetables keep you fuller for longer, are loaded with valuable nutrients, and have been proven to help you eat less of the things you love but know you need to limit (hello brownie sundae).
And, sleep is likely the most-underrated diet secret because lack of sleep does everything from make you hungry to increase your cravings for salty and sweet foods.
All of that knowledge is great, but following those simple habits can feel like a chore. So, how can you “make yourself” do it?
How to Stay Motivated (Even When The Scale Goes Up)
Motivation is tricky because it feels as if it’s just a decision, but it’s actually far more complex. Motivation is actually part-psychology and part-biology, according to Eleanor Simpson, associate professor of clinical neurobiology at Columbia University.
Beneath every choice you make, your brain does a complex cost-benefit analysis. The calculation takes into account your surroundings, your history, and how you are feeling at that very moment.
That math is more likely to come out in your favor if you’re already seeing results. Think about it: when you’re down a pound or two from last week, or you feel a little stronger in your next workout, it’s easier to keep pushing and believe you’re on the right track.
But, what if you’re just getting started, feeling stuck, or you’re not seeing any changes? This is when you lose faith and motivation, and even the best plan falls apart.
That’s when you need to realize two things:
- Remember that weight fluctuation (spikes, dips, and plateaus) are part of the process. Within any given week, if you weigh yourself daily, you’ll see days where your weight goes up. This is normal. It could be a result of how you slept, whether you had more salt or carbs than usual, stress levels, and several other reasons. But, assuming you’re staying on track with your plan, the weekly and monthly trend should be headed down, which is exactly what matters.
- To help you get through those days when you see a spike or you “don’t feel like it,” make sure you’ve connected your goals to a larger mission. Or, you need to remind yourself what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and that it’s time to get things done and make your goals a reality, even if it feels like it’s not going to happen.
How to Stick To Your Diet
If you’re looking for a simple technique to help keep yourself accountable, you might want to borrow a tactic that comes from General Stanley McChrystal, a retired four-star general who once led the U.S.’s Joint Special Operations Command, which oversees units like the Navy SEALs and Army Rangers.
According to motivation writer Eric Barker, McChrystal always tells his soldiers:
- Here’s what I’m asking you to do.
- Here’s why it’s important.
- Here’s why I know you can do it.
- Think about what you’ve done together before.
- Now let’s go and do it.
Now imagine this as a conversation between you and your body. You say:
- I’m asking you to go for a walk three times per week.
- It’s important because we’re trying to shed 20 pounds and walking burns calories.
- I know you can do it because you walk from your parking spot to the office every morning.
- You’ve dedicated hours at a time to those TPS reports at work, so you have the attention span to do this.
- Let’s go and get moving.
Try that for any change you make this year. And if it doesn’t work, try listening to the Rocky theme before you do it.
That may sound ridiculous, but it’s effective. Barker explains that, when all else fails, energetic music can improve your performance. (And it doesn’t have to be Rocky. If you prefer hip hop, R&B or even metal, do your thing.) That’s not his opinion, it’s science.
Interested In A Custom Nutrition Plan?
At Born Fitness, we know every individual is unique. There’s no one-size-fits-all nutrition plan. Our team can develop a plan around your lifestyle to help you reach your goals.
If you’re looking for more personalization and hands-on support, our online coaching program may be right for you. Every client is assigned two coaches — one for nutrition and one for fitness. Find out more here.
Adam Bornstein is a New York Times bestselling author and the author of You Can’t Screw This Up. He is the founder of Born Fitness, and the co-founder of Arnold’s Pump Club (with Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Pen Name Consulting. An award-winning writer and editor, Bornstein was previously the Chief Nutrition Officer for Ladder, the Fitness and Nutrition editor for Men’s Health, Editorial Director at LIVESTRONG.com, and a columnist for SHAPE, Men’s Fitness, and Muscle & Fitness. He’s also a nutrition and fitness advisor for LeBron James, Cindy Crawford, Lindsey Vonn, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. According to The Huffington Post, Bornstein is “one of the most inspiring sources in all of health and fitness.” His work has been featured in dozens of publications, including The New York Times, Fast Company, ESPN, and GQ, and he’s appeared on Good Morning America, The Today Show, and E! News.