Want to change your diet behavior? Break through these diet barriers first. Getting out of your usual comfortable routine is hard and the first step is figuring out why you’re resisting change in the first place.
When my son turned 5 years old, we had an “inside-out, upside down, backwards” birthday party for him. We handed his friends their goodie bags and waved goodbye as soon as they arrived at the house, and we ate cake and ice cream before the pizza. The parents had a lot of laughs, but the kids were totally bewildered—in no small part, I’m sure, because we were also wearing our underwear over our clothes. So, why am I telling you this? Because sometimes when I’m talking to clients about the lifestyle changes they need to work on, I see that same bewilderment. It’s as if I’m suddenly turning their world inside-out, upside down and backwards. Why is change so hard for some people?
Think about your daily routine. How many things do you do without even thinking about them? When you’re getting dressed in the morning, which shoe do you put on first? You’ve probably never thought about it. But if you always start with the right, try putting on the left shoe first—it might feel a little strange and unfamiliar. Now imagine that you’re faced with a multitude of things you need to change. Everything you do throughout the day is affected, and you’re constantly reminded that you’re doing things differently. It takes some getting used to.
Change is hard and it takes time to develop new, healthy habits to replace the old ones. But in order to get there, you first have to identify the barriers that are getting in your way. People resist change for many reasons, and here are some of the most good diet barriers.
I can’t tell you how many times patients have said to me, “There’s nothing wrong with me, I’m just fat.” Maybe it’s because being overweight doesn’t exactly hurt the way a headache does. It could be that since the weight comes on little by little, you sort of slowly adapt and don’t notice how it’s affecting you. But those who tell me that they feel “Fine, just fat” before they start on a diet and exercise program are the same ones who come back months later—trimmer and fitter—admitting that they had no idea how bad they really felt when they were heavier. With a loss of weight and a gain in stamina from regular exercise, they’ve got more energy, they sleep better and they feel “like a new person.” There’s nothing more motivating than really feeling the results of getting healthier.
You’re envisioning that you’ll have to give up your favorite foods, that you won’t be able to go out and enjoy meals with friends, family or coworkers—and that you’ll have to set aside way too much time for exercise and meal preparation. Sounds like a lot to give up, and you’re not sure you want to. But you can learn ways to lighten up your favorite recipes at home and make better choices in restaurants. And you can be just as sociable with your friends over a healthy meal as you can over a cheeseburger and fries. Focus not on what you’re giving up but what you stand to gain. Yes, some things will have to change. But if you keep your “eye on the prize” of better health, you’re more likely to make adjustments.
Maybe you’ve tried a variety of things in the past, but you haven’t ever been able to make much headway. If you’ve tried everything under the sun but nothing’s worked for you, it’s going to be hard for me to convince you that this time will be any different. It helps to look at why you might have failed. Was the diet too strict and hard to follow? Did you get too aggressive too soon with your exercise and hurt yourself, rather than easing into it slowly? Do you eat when you’re not hungry and use food as a reward or a comfort? Gaining confidence takes time, and you might need to take baby steps to get to where you need to go. But when you take those same steps over and over again, you’re on your way to establishing new, healthier habits—and to building your confidence.
Some people just aren’t convinced that there’s anything they can do to impact their health in a significant way. They’ll say they inherited their hefty build from their parents, or chalk up a high cholesterol level to bad genes. When you believe that there’s nothing you can do that will make a difference, that’s exactly what you’re likely to do—nothing. But you’re just providing yourself with an easy way out. As it’s been said, “Genetics load the gun, but environment pulls the trigger.” Genetics alone doesn’t determine how healthy you’ll be. Your health is greatly influenced by how well you take care of yourself, too. And small changes taken together can definitely add up.