As a nutritionist, I see many people who struggle to maintain a healthy diet and meet their nutrition-related goals. I've seen clients, friends, and family members make amazing progress then give up completely because of a holiday, vacation, or a tough week.
Watching a committed person sabotage his or her own efforts is hard, but every person who achieves long-term success must learn the art of balance. To help you get there, I'm sharing the most common mistakes I see people make, and how to avoid them.
1. Chasing Perfection
This is you if: you stress-out over whether or not the veggies in that salad are organic.
Perfectionism is possibly the most potent form of self-sabotage, because even if you are 100% committed, you will never achieve perfection. Perfectionists are prone to creating so much stress around healthy eating, that it actually becomes extremely unhealthy.
The best way to beat perfectionism is to avoid any source of fear-based nutrition advice.
There is absolutely no evidence to say that a ‘perfect’ diet is better than a ‘pretty good’ diet. Your body will remember what you do most of the time, so focus on taking good care of yourself while also having fun.
2. Scheduling “Cheat Days”
This is you if: you spend all week eating “good” foods while simultaneously planning for all the ice cream, popcorn, chips, and candy you’ll eat on your “cheat day.”
While ‘cheat days’ or ‘cheat meals’ might work for a few people, it usually results in a disordered relationship with food. Good health isn’t just about what’s on your plate. It’s about what’s in your head. Looking at food as “good” vs. “bad” is a sign of disordered eating.
To get out of this headspace, you need to create a lifestyle you actually love. Just like you shouldn’t need to cheat in a healthy relationship, you shouldn’t need to cheat on a healthy diet.
Food should not be about punishment and reward.
Focus on including a wide variety of delicious foods and take the word "cheat" out of your vocabulary.
3. Relying on Motivation
This is you if: you go on a diet and join a gym in the same week, but fail to follow-through with your commitment once the motivation wears off.
Long-term success has absolutely nothing to do with motivation.
In fact, motivation can be a big problem if it causes you to make too many changes at once. It is unrealistic to expect that you will successfully quit sugar, go paleo, and maintain a 5-times-per-week Crossfit schedule all in the same month.
Instead of waiting for motivation to kick in, focus on taking the smallest possible step in the right direction today.
The smallest changes done consistently are more effective than huge changes done intermittently. Even if all you do is add an extra glass of water, it’s enough to build momentum and lead to more steps in the right direction.
4. Never Making a Plan
This is you if: you want to start eating better but then “life happens” and you’re eating take-out all week.
While being able to ‘just roll with it’ is an important skill to cultivate, learning how to plan for success is also important. If you want to make changes, you’re going to have to do some work to get there. Success isn’t something that "just happens".
Spend some time on the weekend prepping healthy lunches for the week. Keep a small container of trail mix in your bag. If you choose to eat something else, that's okay too - as long as it's a choice and not the result of being unprepared.
Choosing to end self-sabotage means choosing to accept yourself as you are right now and making changes that will lead to your long-term happiness today. Start with the small steps that are easiest, and that you're most likely to actually do. Every journey begins with a single step.