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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Why can't I stick to healthy eating plan for more than 12 weeks?

    Related Topic
    After 12 weeks I tend to lose interest and go back to bad habits with a vengeance! It seems to be the max amount of time I can stick to my plan!!!!!' what can I do?
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  • Flick19

    HealthShare Member

    Why can't I stick to a healthy eating plan for more than 12 weeks?

  • Martin Flood

    Pharmacist

    Martin is a Lifestyle Medicine Practitioner who specializes in helping people overcome their physical, mental and emotional struggles with food, eating and weight.His online Breakfree … View Profile

    This is a really common problem - probably one that is shared by most people who try and make lifestyle changes.

    Many of us believe that we should be able to create habits around almost any behaviour, particularly if we stick at things long enough. This is certainly true of simple behaviours (flossing teeth for example). But creating habits around more complex lifestyle changes is just not that simple.

    We often look to motivation to keep us going. But it's just not possible to remain motivated to do something ALL of the time. When you talk about ‘being motivated’ to do something, you probably mean that you feel like taking action. You are in the mood or perhaps ‘in the zone’. You probably have a heightened sense of energy, willingness, desire, optimism and excitement about whatever it is you want to do. It’s essentially an upbeat and very pleasurable emotional reaction that drives you to take action. And no doubt you have this when youi first start your diet.

    Unfortunately the feeling of motivation never lasts. It can’t. After all, it’s an emotional response, and you can never be on an emotional ‘high’ all the time. So like your emotions, which ebb and flow and go up and down from day to day, your motivation does exactly the same. Sometimes it will be there, and other times (perhaps even most of the time) it won’t. This is just a perfectly normal and natural part of being human. And so when your motivation falls away, so too will your diert.

    When this occurs (and it always will), we have 2 options. We either give up or we turn to willpower to keep us going. But here's the thing - you can't rely on willpower either.  Willpower may be able to keep you on your diet for a few weeks (hell, even a few months); but sooner or later (usually sooner) your willpower will run out. You see, willpower is like a battery - the more you use it, the sooner it will just run out. And so the inevitable eventually happens - you give up & return to your old ways. Again, this is human nature. So don't beat yourself up about this.

    So if you can't rely on motivation or willpower to keep you going, what's the alternative?

    Well I call it the ‘Action Mindset’ - and it will trump willpower & motivation every time.

    How do you get it?

    To develop your Action Mindset, you actually need to develop 5 key skills. Research tells us that people who can develop these skills, find it a lot easier to commit to the actions needed to maintain complex lifestyle changes. These 5 key skills are Clarity; Willingness; Perspective; Self-Responsibility; and Self-Compassion.

    I hope I've been able to shed some light on your dilemma.
    Martin

  • Chris Fonda

    Dietitian, Nutritionist, Sports Dietitian

    As an Accredited Sports Dietitian, APD and athlete (springboard diver), Chris has both professional and personal experience in sport at the sub-elite and elite level.Chris … View Profile

    I believe that when people adopt the “all or nothing” approach to healthy eating they are setting themselves up for failure. Whether it be a 2 week, 6 week or 12 week challenge, they quite often restrict the foods that you enjoy and may even cut out entire food groups.

    Habits are behaviours which are ingrained in our memory and daily lives developed over many years, as such, they are difficult to change right away. The best approach to sticking to a healthy eating plan is to make small, managable changes that you can stick to over a long period of time. An Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) is able to help you achieve your health and nutrition goals and can be a valuable behaviour change agent incorporating dietary counselling and techniques that can help you make lifelong changes.

    Unfortunately, APD's are often the last resort once people have exhausted all other options to reach their healthy eating goals. Seeing an APD right away will not only save you money, but will relieve the stress and anxiety from yo-yo dieting. To find an APD near you head to the Dietitians Association of Australia website (www.daa.asn.au) and click on “find an APD” tab. 

  • Melissa Adamski

    Dietitian, Nutritionist

    I am an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) and Accredited Nutritionist (AN) with a passion for food and good nutrition. I also have my own private … View Profile

    Great responses from Martin and Chris!

    For success in long term behaviour change with foods, I feel it is important not inly to make small changes but also not do too many at once. Work on introducing one small nutrition and lifestyle change every 1-2 weeks. This helps give you time to experience some barriers (which we all do), work out ways to overcome barriers (your dietitian can help you with this) and also discuss and see what has worked for you.

    Next change you make may then be easier when you look back on what has worked before.

  • Jane O'Shea

    Dietitian, Nutritionist

    I am an Accredited Nutritionist and Accredited Practising Dietitian. I am also a licensee for the “Am I Hungry?” Mindful Eating Program, “Am I Hungry” … View Profile

    When we go on a diet, we are trying not to do something we really like doing.  Just saying "I'm not going to eat that chocolate" makes me want to eat that chocolate even more!' Dieting is really difficult to do for very long, that is why we need to think outside the square and start looking at eating behaviour and how we relate to food.  We live in a world where food is everywhere, and because we are hard-wired to eat, it makes it very difficult not to want to eat when we see food. Turning your thoughts about food and eating around can help take the power out of food, and make it easier to manage eating habits for the long term

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