If you’re working hard to lose weight or get your abs on point this year, you are likely not alone. Even if sometimes it feels like all your friends and family want to sabotage your hard work every week with constant happy hours, brunches, and various social gatherings.
Let’s just be blunt about it: eating healthy is not always easy. But that doesn't make it impossible. Here are our Favorite science-backed tips to help you stick to your diet this time and be more successful in the long run.
Find What Motivates You
Start with why. Before you even try to decide to make a change, give yourself a good reason to do it in the first place. Motivation is powerful, and once you've found it, it's really just a matter of holding on to it. But it has to come from you. While others can inspire you to want to change, no one can really give you the daily gusto to make it happen, except you.
Really ask yourself, "what is driving me to do this? What am I hoping to get out of it". And then write it down or take a picture of it, and post it somewhere that you have to see it every day - like in the mirror or the fridge.
Whether that’s a number on the scale, or something of bigger impact, like living longer to see your grandkids someday. This may sound extreme to some, but it’s a harsh reality that eating an unhealthy diet may shorten your life span. If you remind yourself of your motivation when you want to give up, you’ll be less likely to.
Focus on Consistency Not Perfection
Yes, staying on track is crucial to your success, but it’s not always about perfection as much as it is about consistency. And aiming for zero mistakes could end up hurting you more than it helps. Some studies show the amount of self-control we have is limited and exhausting it through something like strict dieting can cause us to overdo it when faced with additional challenges (1). In other words, you may be biologically prepped to go off the deep end if you’ve been cutting for a few weeks and are put in a tempting situation like happy hour or a social event with food and drinks.
Don’t feel like you must go into hibernation, avoiding any temptation and unplanned cheats. Take a deep breath. It is possible to live your life and still be on a strict diet. And it’s all right to indulge a little, every now and then. Heck, research suggests it might even help your progress (2).
Tip: The best diet for you is one that you can stick to. There's only so long you can give up all of your favorite foods and eat foods you don't enjoy.
How to Increase Your Willpower
Once you've found a diet that makes you feel good physically and mentally, it is just a matter of staying on track. This takes willpower.
But the thing about your willpower is that you also must exercise it to keep it going strong. If you’re struggling with your motivation, or feel your self-control slipping often, here are a few proven ways to help you channel your inner badassery and strengthen your resolve for the next temptation:
1. Believe in Yourself
For years we’ve been told we only have a certain amount of willpower, but more recent studies are showing that may not be the case. The amount of willpower you have depends on your genetic make-up, how often you exercise it, and how much you believe in yourself. Telling yourself that you have an unlimited amount of self-discipline could be the key to mastering your goals (3,4).
That's right, go ahead and power pose! You got this ish.
2. Set Clear Goals
Being close to reaching a goal, or sometimes just having an end target in mind can help keep you going strong. Set measurable and specific goals that you can strive for. If your goals are too broad and obscure, how will you ever know if you've reached them? And in addition, goals that are too big feel too far away to achieve. Instead, focus on small steps you can take now. Figure out exactly how you're planning on getting there, and then give yourself a pat on the back when you do. Small goals can help you hold out for a little longer... you're almost there!
3. Make a plan
Think about how you will deal with temptations before they are in front of you. Make sure there are options on hand that fit your diet if you get hungry - keep your fridge stock with ready-made clean options that you can grab and eat with zero guilt. If you are planning on indulging, consider what you are going to have and set limits for yourself in advance. Or schedule your next cheat instead of relying on what’s left of your willpower. One study showed having a pre-planned strategy could help double your chance of success (5).
4. Keep Busy
Dieting usually means that you are constantly thinking about food - which definitely doesn't help you avoid cravings and temptations. But studies imply that keeping your mind active, especially while dieting, can strengthen your willpower. Keep your mind occupied and enjoy your days as much as possible. Find activities that allow you to be creative or think strategically (6). This could even be spending time with family or just going for a long walk.
5. Reduce Stress
Stress can not only cause you to hold on to unwanted belly fat but can also make you crave sugary foods and affect your mental capacity to hold strong (7). So remember to treat yourself. In the non-food kind of way. Find things to do that don’t revolve around eating and won't derail your progress. This can be as a reward for achieving a small goal, or just because you need it. Self-care can do wonders for your resolve and your stress levels. Try spending time doing things that help keep you at ease, whether it’s getting a massage, taking up yoga, listening to music, or getting outdoors.
6. Get Support
It is often said, that we are the sum of the people we surround ourselves with. And even better, some studies suggest hanging out with others who make healthy decisions can influence you to make healthier decisions as well, and vice versa (8). If you're not surrounding yourself with friends and family who support your goals - it's okay to find new support systems who will. No, I am not saying drop your current friend group, but it may be helping to add a new member to the crew, one that helps hold you accountable or is willing to make a change with you. Or at least have a heart-to-heart with those who are maybe holding you back.
7. Avoid Temptation
Turn your home and surrounding into a healthy sanctuary for yourself. You’re bound to eat the things you know you should be avoiding if they’re right in front of you. Go through your house and donate or trash the unhealthy options that will tempt you the most. For some, this may be harder if they have a spouse or children that aren’t on the same healthy eating kick. If that’s the case, create a specific place for the food you don’t want to see, so that you won’t be opening the pantry to see it on a regular basis when you are trying to reach for something healthy. And if you've got a co-worker or certain area of the office where treats are constantly being displayed - avoid walking past it and take the long way to the bathroom.
8. Practice Mindfulness
Studies have shown that mindful eating can not only help you lose more weight but can also help you have a better relationship with your diet overall (9,10). Mindfulness can range from meditating to reduce pain and anxiety to just living in the moment and slowing down a little, but any level of mindfulness you can get is going to help improve your willpower. The trick is to just try and be more aware of what you are doing in each and every moment. Savor your food, enjoy every bite and sensation. And when you're not eating, pay attention to how you feel and you're surroundings. Is something triggering you to want to abandon your diet? Are you really hungry?
9. Just Be You
Learn to love yourself and all your quirks. Not surprisingly, pretending to be someone you’re not is exhausting. And research suggests that all the energy going towards acting a certain way is draining your self-discipline, making it harder for you to stick to your goals in other areas of your life (10). This is why some people all of a sudden snap when always trying to put on a happy face. Instead, let your hair down and be your own weird, true self whenever you get the chance. It will not only build your self-confidence but can also strengthen your willpower and help you to be happier and more successful in general.
What to Do When You Cheat on Your Diet
Well… you cheated when it wasn’t planned, and ate too much. Now what? Don’t give up! And don’t beat yourself up. Just remember to get back on track, back to your regular routine, and leave it in the past. Don’t punish yourself for it. Don't go to the gym and overtrain, or undereat the next meal. Food is not a reward or punishment: and you don’t want your relationship with it to consist of that. Remember why you began eating healthy and return to your usual diet plan.
One day of unhealthy eating is not going to ruin weeks of hard work. And the amount of weight you could potentially gain from overeating every now and then isn't as much as you think. So take a deep breath and move on.
Getting Back on Track
Ultimately, you get to decide how your diet will go. That’s right, go ahead and power pose, puff your chest out and conquer your days. You are unstoppable. And whether you mean to or not, you are motivating those around you. Sticking to your goals, especially when they get hard, is downright inspirational.
So as each temptation comes, remind yourself that you got this! And it’s only a matter of time until you are a goal-crushing badass with a good a**, strutting your stuff around town.
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