You’ve got unrealistic expectations
There’s nothing wrong with a bit of ambition, but if you’re planning to lose 10kg in 12 weeks, you’re almost certainly setting yourself up to fail. In a study of almost 2,000 dieters who tried to eat better for a year, the subjects with the highest expected weight loss were far more likely to drop out. Set realistic goals – or, even better, goals that are in your control, like learning to cook a new meal every week or only drinking two nights a week.
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You’re still saying ‘can’t’ instead of ‘don’t’
In a 2012 study, researchers found that volunteers who said “I don’t skip exercise” instead of “I can’t skip exercise” trained more often – and it also works for food. “Can’t” suggests that you might want to do something, but aren’t able to. If you can’t go for a cheeky pint after work or have a slab of cake on charity Friday, the implication is that under other circumstances, you’d be up for it. But if you say you don’t, there’s no room for debate. It’s a rule.
You’re going all or nothing
If your eating plan doesn’t include any room for manoeuvre, and you’re aiming to keep at it for more than a few weeks, something’s going to give. And, spoilers, it’ll probably be your waistline.
Scheduled cheats are one option, though sports nutritionist and coach Brian St Pierre of Precision Nutrition recommends having cheat meals rather than days to give yourself less binge time – once you get up from the table, the binge is over. In the long term, your goal should be to change your tastes entirely. Work out your biggest stalling points and make it a priority to find replacements for them.
You’re still keeping the bad stuff nearby
It sounds ridiculous, but it isn’t. In a study published in the International Journal Of Obesity, office workers ate more sweets (averaging around 2.2 a day) when the sweets were (a) nearby and (b) clearly visible, giving added credence to the idea that your primate brain just wants what it sees. Keep the biscuits out of site or across the office, and the apples and almond butter nearby.
You aren’t thinking about the ‘why’
Sure, you can probably get through a few hours/days/weeks of good eating on willpower alone, but at some point – unless you consider why you’ve got such bad habits in the first place – you’re going to fall, and hard. “Think about why you’re going for that cake,” says Precision Nutrition coach Jess Wolny. “Is it because you’re bored, or low on energy? If so, look for activities that fix the problem without filling you with sugar.” Once you know the reasons for your behaviours, they’re easier to fix.
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You aren’t accountable
It’s easy to make promises to yourself. After all, nobody’s going to know if you break them. “The problem is, this can be the start of a vicious cycle of letting yourself down,” says Wolny. “Once you’ve given up on one thing, it’s easier to do it again and again.” Entry-level accountability starts with writing goals down and making them easy to stick to: having a piece of fruit with breakfast, for instance, or a glass of water as soon as you get up. “If you’re feeling brave, tell friends or family what you’re doing,” says Wolny. “Ask them to keep you accountable, whether you’re snacking in the kitchen or in the pub.”