Is it possible to stick to a weight loss diet long term? How do we stay consistent even when we’re hungry or not motivated? In our previous article about managing hunger while dieting, we discussed some of the ways we can use food as a tool to better curb our hunger. These strategies often help us avoid the physical sensations of persistent hunger while ensuring our nutrition doesn’t suffer in the face of our weight loss.
However, as we have talked about before on this blog, dieting is more than just dropping pounds on a scale. As we diet, we are also contesting our own psychology, self confidence, and self image.
For this reason, there are many mental strategies we can implement to help make our diet more successful. Some of my favorite tools and suggestions are listed below.
Progress over Perfection
One of the most important pillars of dieting is understanding progress over perfection. This is a simple way to remember that what we do consistently is far more important than what we do occasionally.
Let’s think about calorie restriction. We often find ourselves thinking there is no room for error. One cookie is going to make or break the diet. One cheat meal and we “fall off the wagon.” We are tougher on ourselves than we would ever be on another person, ultimately causing us to give up before we really begin.
Getting out of this mindset allows us to understand that dieting isn’t an all or nothing game. It’s about finding health and sustainable habits to build up our health and confidence. Even if you make a mistake or see some weight gain back, you can keep going. It’s all part of the process.
Think of it this way – if you get a flat tire, you don’t slash the other three. You get the tire fixed and keep on going as soon as possible.
Try shifting your all or nothing thinking with some of these:
- ❌ I don’t have time for a full workout, so I won’t do anything.
- ✅ Something is better than nothing, and I’ll feel better if I move my body.
- ❌ I already overate at this meal, so I’ll start over on Monday.
- ✅ It’s only one meal. If I make the next right choice, I’ll be back on track.
- ❌ I’m a failure because I didn’t follow my plan perfectly this week.
- ✅ I’m human and I’m not perfect.What I do most of the time matters more than what I do some of the time.
- ❌ There is only room for healthy foods in my diet. I’m bad if I eat a treat.
- ✅ Food is just food. If I include treats that I enjoy, I’m less likely to overeat later on.
Use a Consistency Calendar
Print this consistency calendar and hang it in a visible place.
Each day you meet your goals, put a big X on the day. If you don’t meet all 3 of those goals, put a 0. It’s amazing the momentum you can create with this calendar! And if you have a miss, it’s okay. Get right back on track.
My most successful clients follow their plan with at least 85% consistency. That equates to no more than four days missed in the month.
Focus on What is in Your Control
We can’t control everything. We can’t magically obtain a lower body weight, reverse time, or force ourselves to lose a specific amount of fat each week. Even so, many women spend countless hours fretting over these very things. This takes away our energy and our motivation to be a better version of ourselves.
Instead, focus on what you can control. We can control how we spend our time, whether we make healthy choices, and our daily routines. You can be a person who _____________.
Now, fill in the blank with something within your control:
- Walk 8000 steps per day
- Lift weights three times per week
- Eat 3 servings of vegetables per day
- Eat 1 times your target body weight in grams of protein each day
Instead of this:
- Lose 15 lbs
- Lose 5% body fat
- Fit into size 8 clothing
Start small. Pick one thing you can consistently do for several weeks. Then add another habit to your routine.
With practice, you can adapt new habits that will create lasting change. By making the best of what we can control, it puts us back in the driver’s seat of our weight loss in practical and meaningful ways.
Previously, I have written about how decision fatigue can greatly reduce your chances of success on a diet. To combat this particular challenge, it’s best to automate as many decisions as possible.
There are several ways to accomplish this goal.
For one, start a meal plan. By knowing what you are going to eat several days in advance, it will reduce the stress of figuring out what’s for dinner one the way home from work or the kids’ soccer game.
Second, don’t reinvent the wheel. If you and your family have a handful of meals you know and enjoy, work those into your meal plan! Just because you’re planning ahead doesn’t mean you have to stray too far from your existing favorites.
Finally, always remember that substituting in different fruits and vegetables can add variety back into your meals.
Orient to Abundance
When we diet, we worry we won’t get a chance to eat, we won’t feel full, or we won’t have enough variety. The more we consider things to be off limits, the more we crave them. This scarcity mindset wreaks havoc on your mental health in the long run.
Instead, having an abundance mindset is realizing there is enough for everyone, including you. Celebrate what you have, instead of focusing on what you don’t.
When you have the feelings of being deprived, remind yourself:
- Most foods are available at any time.
- Something you can’t eat (or choose not to eat) now can always be eaten later.
- Foods or meals you have a taste for can always be reworked into your future meal plan.
Nutritional compromises are a way to reframe our relationship with food. Instead of thinking some foods are bad and others good, we can see them through the lens of a trade off.
This trade off dictates that you don’t have to restrict any foods, rather, you just have to make a compromise on what you want to eat, which days. By doing so, you reclaim agency on what is “worth” spending calories on.
Let’s say you have some calories leftover after a well balanced day– it’s your choice how you want to spend them! If that’s on a slice of cake or on a piece of chocolate, you are more than welcome to add that last morsel into your meal.
When you’re in a fat loss phase the compromise might be that you don’t get a treat every day, and when you do it may be a small portion size, but I promise you that fitting in the occasional treat will help you keep going for the long haul.
Close the Kitchen, Brush Your Teeth
Nighttime snacking isn’t inherently bad. 9pm calories aren’t any different from 9am calories. The problem occurs when your nighttime snack puts you over your calorie limit.
To stop this from happening, I like to “close the kitchen.” This is a little ritual where I load the dishwasher, turn off the lights, move to a different area of the house, and brush my teeth for the night. This helps signal to the brain that the day is coming to a close.
Find an accountability buddy or hire a coach to keep you on track! Especially useful for the days where you are craving comfort foods, research suggests that accountability partners are a key component in successfully completing weight loss goals.
Motivation isn’t always there. Having someone to support and encourage you to take action even when you aren’t feeling it, will help you build the consistent behaviors to achieve results.
The process of losing weight does not have to be a miserable experience. There will likely be challenges, and stops and starts, but remind yourself that you can build habits that will lead to weight loss and better health.
I hope a few of the mindset strategies and information provided here will help you to stick to your weight loss plan, stay consistent when dieting, and be successful in achieving your goals.
If you’d like more information about fat loss, see my other articles— free resources I offer as a nutrition coach to help everyone start off on a better foot that before. Interested in personal coaching? I can tell you exactly what to do and give you the accountability you need to make it happen. Send me a message to connect!