We’ve all started a new week with fresh healthy eating goals, which by Wednesday have fallen by the wayside – and if that sounds like you, you’re not alone.
And now, Psychologist, Dr Rachel Evans, has set out five reasons you may struggle to stick to a healthy eating plan.
She explained: “Clear intentions and goals are very important when it comes to setting out long-term healthy eating habits, and if you start by outlining targets that are too vague, or too restrictive, you could be at risk of plans failing right from the outset. Based on experiences with my clients, people tend to be much too vague, so they can’t track progress, or they go the opposite way and are too restrictive, which puts them into a state of psychological deprivation, and they just end up thinking about food even more.”
The five reasons are:
You haven’t set clear goals: Goals can often be too vague and it’s not enough to say that you just want to eat ‘less sugar’ or ‘more fruit and vegetables’, as it’s then difficult to know exactly what you’re working towards and track progress. Without clear, identifiable goals, you could be left feeling unsure about what action you need to take when eating healthily, which can lead to no action being taken!
The goals you have set are too restrictive: Even with clear goals, if you can’t keep to an eating plan, it may be because it’s too restrictive, which can lead to a state of physiological and psychological deprivation. When we don’t consume enough, we often end up thinking a lot more about food, which is a survival mechanism and can cause us to become irritable and crave ‘junk’ foods. If you believe you are meeting your body’s energy requirements, but are still finding it difficult to stick to your healthy eating plan, then this may be because you are feeling mentally restricted, as when we cut out certain foods it can actually make them more attractive, because typically we want what we can’t have.
You think you have ‘blown it’: If you believe you have ‘blown it’, in psychology, this is called the abstinence violation effect; when you have one thing off plan which leads to total collapse. This cycle of feeling like you have blown it, so you may as well eat everything you want to and start again with healthy eating on Monday results in people often eating more unhealthy foods than usual, because they believe they won’t be able to eat that food again when they get back on plan – which can be damaging to long term healthy eating plans altogether.
You are trying to get by on pure willpower: We often believe that willpower is all we need to stick to a diet, but my own research has found that good self-control did not predict how well people could stick to their intentions to eat healthily; habits and how people ate in the past was more important.
Subconscious beliefs about food: If you ever feel like you know exactly what you should be doing to stick to your plan, but something is keeping you stuck in old habits of overeating, it can often feel like you are sabotaging yourself over and over again, and this behaviour is likely to be driven by deep subconscious beliefs about food and yourself which can be difficult to break.
To help get a grip on healthy eating plans, Dr Evans advised that it is important to be clear on goals, to ensure that they aren’t too restrictive, and to take small sustainable steps. Rather than beating yourself up and eating more, try to learn from slip-ups and form new healthy habits instead of relying on willpower.