What is Your Biggest Challenge in Sticking to Your Nutrition Plan?

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Nutrition, Podcast

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Last week, my wife made coconut ice cream.

It was good.

Really good.

So I had one serving. Then another. Then another.

It was mouth-watering, chocolate-mint flavored and mildly guilt-free – aside from the fact that I hounded down about 1200 calories worth of it in a half hour.

What about you?

Do you ever just go ape nuts on your diet and have a complete crash-and-burn like this? Fortunately for me, it was just one night, but sometimes stuff like this can happen for an entire weekend, or in some cases, weeks or months!

So last week, Chris Janzen (the mental performance coach for Pacific Elite Fitness) and I began discussing how we could better help people like me better stick to a nutrition plan and avoid a diet “crash-and-burn”.

First, Chris created this short and sweet nutrition survey to help us understand how we can better help you stick to a healthy diet without throwing up your hands in despair.

But he went even further than that, and also wrote a fantastic piece below, in which he reveals the 3 reasons we can have a hard time sticking to our nutrition plan.

I'd highly recommend you check out Chris's great advice below, and then be sure to leave your thoughts, comments or questions below (and don't forget to take that nutrition survey!)

Chris Janzen is going to help you stick to your nutrition plan.

“When it comes to improving your health and fitness, we all know that having the right information and knowledge about nutrition is often just half the battle.

What you actually do on a consistent basis with that knowledge, is what will truly determine the results you get.

And sometimes the gap between ‘knowing what to do’ and ‘doing what you know’ creates the biggest frustration of all – an inner conflict that can be painfully wide…and annoyingly persistent.

Not doing what you know and not living up to your promises to yourself can be a silent killer. A killer of your goals for being more healthy, killer of ambition to take on bigger fitness challenges, or the killer of the simple yet deep desire to lose a jeans size.

Despite easy access to great information and plans, even the best of intentions and best of efforts can leave you wishing you had more discipline, confidence and motivation, on a consistent basis, to better follow through with your ideal nutrition approach.

In more than 20 years of studying, teaching and coaching in human potential and high performance I see the same mistakes being repeated over and over by people trying to fix the symptoms and not the causes.

Symptoms might show up as excuses like…

“I’m too busy”

“I’m too tired”

“I’m overwhelmed with information”

I just can’t resist the ______ (chocolate, ice cream, pizza, chips)”

“I just need to try harder”

But those are symptoms of not seeing the real problem.

Sticking to your nutrition plan is not an issue of changing what you eat, it’s an issue of changing how you think and how you behave.

Changing or improving your behavior doesn’t have to be hard, and it can be a lot easier than you’re making it out to be.

To make lasting change, you must understand three things about how we humans are designed:

1. We like the path of least resistance.

We are hardwired for self-preservation. That means conserving everything as much as possible…calories, physical energy, mental energy, emotional energy, etc. This directly affects the decisions we make and the action we take.

And because we like the path of least resistance we generally respond to change in one of four ways:

a. Procrastinate – we acknowledge something is amiss in our lives but we decide we can delay taking action until some later time (and be no worse off)…”I know I’m 10lbs heavier than I was a month ago. But there’s a big BBQ after the game this weekend. I’ll deal with it next week (or whenever).”

b. Rationalize – we acknowledge the conflict but downplay it in our mind “It’s only 10lbs. I’m still not as fas as I was back in ’98 and my clothes still fit. No big deal…”

c. Suppress – we try to completely ignore it or push it out of our minds “Hmmm. 10 lbs. I have too much other stuff on my plate to worry about than this…”

d. Accept – we acknowledge it and basically tell ourselves that this is the way things are and there’s no point trying to change it “I’ve always been big boned but I guess this is what happens when you turn _____ (insert age you’re trying to get over)…”

When we engage in any of these behaviors we are effectively resolving our conflict in the moment. But the actual reality is we’re not solving anything. It feels like we are but we’re not.

So why aren’t we doing the right thing?

2. We are ruled by our habits.

In order to conserve as much as possible, we automate the vast majority of how we think, react, decide, feel, and behave.

Modern sciences have reached a general consensus that a full 95% of our thinking and behavior is subconscious, reactive or habitual. That means only 5% of what we do comes from conscious choice and thinking.

Can you see the implications of this?

When we want to adopt new eating behaviors, and do it consistently, it requires conscious effort. Yet we’re a 5% David fighting against the 95% Goliath of our unconscious mind that clings to current habits.

What’s more, the National Science Foundation estimates that we have 12,000-50,000 thoughts per day (depending on how deep of a thinker you are) and roughly 90% of those will be the same as yesterday.

The odds for doing something new are clearly stacked against us.

For most people, in this role of underdog, the front line in the battle for change is trying to summon enough inner strength and determination. Unfortunately…

3. We have a limited supply of willpower.

Even for the most successful and accomplished people on the planet, having “enough willpower” when it comes to eating and nutrition, can be an immense challenge.

Especially if that person seems to have ample willpower in one area of life, it can be confusing why they can’t ‘just do it’ when it comes to adhering to their nutrition plan.

The answer to why, is in part revealed by groundbreaking research by Roy Baumeister, Head of Psychology at Florida State University and one of the world’s most prolific and influential social psychologists. After studying thousands of people in and out of laboratories, his experiments consistently demonstrated two things:

1. We have a finite resource of willpower that gets depleted the more you use it.

2. The same stock of willpower is used across situations and all manners of tasks.

You use the same supply of willpower in keeping attention in long meetings, being frustrated in traffic jams, coping with demanding children and even making decisions.

‘Decision fatigue’ refers to the fact that the more decisions you make throughout the day, the more fatigued your willpower is, and less effective you are to carry through on the promises you made yourself in the morning. And when you use willpower to resist something you want, you become even more vulnerable to temptations.

No wonder the chocolate muffins in the office at 3pm are so alluring and you can’t bring yourself to actually order the salad while your friends are digging into the pizza and fries.

So that’s the battle ground upon which you fight to adopt and consistently execute your nutrition plan.

The good news is it’s not all bad news.

Quite the opposite really…

If you’ve struggled to make the changes or adopt consistent behaviors it may not be your fault. You just haven’t been shown the right way for you and the right strategies to overcome our natural human tendencies and barriers to change.

So this is your chance.

Ben and I are looking to create a brand new program to finally address these major hurdles and help you break bad habits, eliminate the feelings of overwhelm, create a manageable approach to implementation that easily fits into your lifestyle and can be enjoyable to execute.

But first we need to know more about YOUR biggest challenges, bad habits and gaps in your behavior that you’d like to eliminate.

So please click here to take the survey
and tell us what’s on your mind and in your way of being your healthiest, fittest, and best self.

And feel free to leave your comments or questions below. Heck, even if you don't want to take the survey, you can at least write a quick note below about what you find makes it's hardest for you to stick to a nutrition plan.

Ask Ben a Podcast Question

34 thoughts on “What is Your Biggest Challenge in Sticking to Your Nutrition Plan?

  1. Malcolm Ross-Watt says:

    I train well, follow my eating plan well and am where I want to be health wise.

    At times I may be a little lazy or not fully motivated, but not bad.

    I love the training and how it makes me feel having a healthy body (not too much of an ascetic thing more feel good)

    Yet I cant apply this discipline to all other areas of my life with the same dedication.

    So my question is how to carry over this discipline into other areas.

    Seriously, I think we are all better at what we enjoy doing. Some people enjoy rocket science, I’m sure I would close the text book after the first page!

    If I see people that guzzle bad food while knowing how bad it is for them, I find it unbelievable that they do it. Yet when there is something in my life that I procrastinate about doing and put off doing other important things, I begin to understand the problem a little better.

    Guess we’re all looking for a silver bullet answer, but yes, it takes effort to be applied and its not easy. I write this, having previously being 30 kg overweight and lost the kg. Sometimes it just clicks and from there its plain sailing. Problem is finding the click spot.

    Thanks Ben for your interesting article. You never know it might have the click spot for some people out there.

    1. Derek Kansley says:

      I agree with Malcolm. It is finding the correct click spot. a few years back I gave up smoking, by finding the correct click spot. This is after numerous failed attempts, and as Malcolm says once you are in the zone it is plain sailing.
      Problem is I just cannot find that spot when it comes to losing weight. All goes well for a week or two and it sure feels as if I am in the zone, then I get side tracked and I tend to lose my motivation.
      As the person below commented. I am not a huge junk food eater it is that I overeat on the healthy items. I particularly have to stem my peanut craving. I can’t seem to put the packet aside once I start.

  2. fitinthemiddle says:

    Who wouldn't fall for a chocolate mint flavored coconut ice cream? I'm actually craving for it right now I read this blog and look at the picture.

  3. PhibB says:

    My biggest challenge is tempting sweets or crunchy food being around at work. Having a "cheat day" once a week helps because I know I will have something fun and can pass for now.

  4. sboxall says:

    My biggest challenge are portion sizes. I have been a nutrition and fitness junkie for over a decade and I have no appetite for junk food (e.g., I have never eaten a Dorito), so I have no problem making the right choices. My house is filled with fruits, veggies, quinoa, rice, coconut oil, oats, etc…My biggest problem is finding the balance between eating too much and eating too little. I am coming back from overtraining (which, thanks to you, Ben, is firmly in the past) and I am trying to lose the last 5-10lbs I gained during my 6 months of rest/recovery (also know as my "can't-work-out pity-party") and it has been damn hard! I commute 40 miles, xfit twice, teach 3 spinning classes and do 1 long run (120 min. plus) every week. Sometimes I just want to eat a horse! Even if I am choosing healthy foods, I have a hard time eating less of the good stuff.

    1. Chris Janzen says:

      Thanks for your input. Portion sizes is a common challenge so we'll address that (and related challenges) in the program.

  5. Laura L Stapleton says:

    Wow! I liked the survey. It identified my weak points in a way I can't deny. Knowing what to do and eat isn't enough. I've been letting myself weasel out of creating the good habits instead of bad. Just this once turns into just this every time. Especially when there's ice cream in the world. :D

    1. Chris Janzen says:

      Hi Laura – glad the survey helped you gain some clarity (even if you didn't always like the answers). Just remember that every habit is a learned habit. So you can learn to stop it and learn a new approach that will serve you better. Stay tuned….

  6. Jeff says:

    I follow the the Low Carb for Triathletes diet which goes pretty well with the Perfect Health Diet. I'm an Ironman athlete and occasionally I need more calories to keep my weight normal and to have sufficient energy to train properly. I'll eat a whole Lindt 90% dark chocolate bar around 600 calories for an extra fix. This bar is low in sugar and gives me around 55 grams of saturated fat which I just learned is not the devil. Works great for me and I'm good for 3 or 4 days and things are normal. My diet it is high in good saturated fats and monounsaturated fats and almost non existent in the polyunsaturated fats. My ratios are around 60% fat 25% carbs and 15% protien. I just hope no articles come out in the future to tell me saturated fats are now bad because this is the easiest diet to stick to. Except when it comes to dark chocolate.

  7. kem says:

    I couldn't complete the survey. There were a couple of fields I couldn't tick the box. I needed a box that said, no problem. Maybe I'm old and boring (well, I am) but I don't seem to "fall off the wagon"… I shouldn't care to and SHE wouldn't let me.

    I've lost my desire to fall asleep in the afternoon with an empty can of coke in one hand and a half eaten biscuit (read "cookie") in the other.

  8. Robert Wadhams says:

    Ben, this post really touched a nerve. without going into TMI, basically my stats are this. I used to weight 385, now weigh 270. Have completed several half marathons, a full marathon, and have fallen in love with Triathlon. it took me 3 years to lose 115 lbs and have done great maintaining due to participation in above activities.

    My weight loss was done over a long period of time and was not following any particular plan, simply eating what I knew to be correct, veggies, leaner meats, less crap etc…

    My weight loss progress died the day I trained for a full marathon a year ago and have only lost about 10 lbs since by going into an Atkins type induction. My work is chaotic and planning is difficult. however, the shoot from the hip method is not working anymore. gone are the good ol days of weight falling off with little effort. Now it seems like I have accepted living at 270 but I know I will never reach my dream of being an Ironman or even a 70.3 finisher unless I lose around 40 pounds.

    My general fitness is pretty decent for a big guy. Bike 56 miles PR 3hrs 30 min, Run HM in 3 hrs, swim 1 mile in 45 min. Those times may not be stellar to most but considerng the weight, they are pretty good IMHO.

    I am frustrated beyond belief. I would understand the plateau of I took the weight off quickly but it has been a slow process over 3 years.

    Need help.

    Thanks for all the great info

    1. This program will definitely help you Robert!

      1. Robert Wadhams says:

        Hey Ben, BTW, since I have commented, I purchased the Low Carb For Triathletes, your video on the principles of weight loss, 100 ways to boost your metabolism etc… I seriously believe this is cutting edge stuff. i have been adjusting over the last few days and can already feel a difference and am motivated.

        thank you Ben for all you do…. Dude, you are REAL.

  9. _Fi says:

    Good post. Done the survey too. For me, I know exactly what to do and am very clear in my nutritional setup/eating habits, but sometimes fall off the wagon like you. Maybe once every 10 days I go crazy, usually on something like peanut or coconut butter, and eat till I fee a bit sick. It would be great to have the willpower not to do it, but at the end of the day it's not that bad. I don't really enjoy low-quality junkfood (chocolate bars, McD's etc.) so I just have a bit of a binge on good quality fats – not really that bad in the general scheme of things, apart from the calories.

  10. @murrayrjr says:

    I'v been doing "ok" for the last 8 months. I've lost about 41 pounds and went from a 40 pant size to a 34, but the cravings get me. Five Guys fries are like a gateway drug. Once I give in and get some that whole day is usually shot. Holidays are also bad. I tend to allow myself to go nuts during holidays. I justify it in my mind as a reward.

  11. Stella says:

    A "diet" is just what you eat. So, I do hope everyone enjoys what they consume to fuel their lives. I too am a fan of coconut ice cream, which really isn't bad in moderation..my problem is not overdoing it! Can't seem to just have a little so, I don't at all…most of the time. It seems to be if I become injured or overtrained, forcing me to rest, is when I turn to that comfort food. It's challenging with my schedule, I work fulltime in fitness + training for a Marathon and Kettlebell Sport Championships, to the point where getting to my yoga practice can be stressful…I have started using Tian Chi which I find is working wonders, THANK YOU! Any tips for staying on track when feeling a little sorry for myself because I can't train?

    1. Stella, we'll work on some tips like that as we create a program for sure!

  12. Willem says:

    The hardest part of sticking to the plan is improvising when you're in a situation you don't have control over. Like an unexpected diner out, or an extended flight delay…

    Apart from that sticking to the plan is pretty easy, but then again I have a kick-ass plan to begin with. Losing weight AND eat ice cream twice a week … beat that silly dieters ;)

  13. Andy says:

    My weakness is the fact that I'm constantly hungry. Before I changed my diet, or rather adopted a healthy lifestyle, I was much hungrier. Now I always eat real food. I'm an avid listener. Now I'm strict and I have plenty of willpower.
    But I'm still hungry, like all the time. I can only eat so much vegetables and protien without feeling broke and I'm a super easy gainer.

  14. Megan says:

    It is definitely the finite willpower issue for me. I am at my worst nutritionally at the end of a long day when I feel like I have "served others" … and I sit down at my computer to look at my to-do list, get completely overwhelmed, and tell myself I can do something to "serve myself" instead of others. Then I get into eating way too much (often healthy foods, just more than I need/ want, or sometimes crap foods). Easy solution would be just not sitting in front of the computer/ to-do list at the end of the day, but it just doesn't seem feasible …

  15. Ron says:

    Nice timing on the post…

    I follow a pretty strict diet and usually have lots of will power. Ice cream is a weak spot for me. Last night at 7:30, I caved and went to the grocery store to get a pint of ice cream I had seen when I was there earlier in the day. I was walking to the cash register and decided to turn around and go back to get a second pint because I was unsure which one I really wanted at the time. I took them both home, sampled them and then decided which one I wanted to gorge on, putting the other back in the freezer.

    Today, I thought about that leftover pint all day long. Couldn't wait to get home. As soon as I ate dinner, I killed that second pint of ice cream. Disgusting.

    Moral of the story….Do NOT buy the second pint or you will eat it. Keep it out of the house.

    Mandatory 12 miler first thing in the morning.

  16. Don Funke says:

    The book "The Willpower Instinct" was a major revelation to me and many of my patients. It explains in easy to understand science how we make decisions. It has helped me look deeper into why I blow the willpower challenge at times. Everyone has willpower challenges, just be thankful most of them are not as dangerous as some of them!

  17. No doubt about it, my biggest weakness is sweets. It's in my genes!

    For the most part, I eat (and crave!) healthy foods only, and have no desire to binge on french fries or chips, but when it comes to sweets, I just can't pass them up!

    I try and control my cravings by telling myself I can have something sweet at night (I have more of a sweet tooth at night, anyway), but eat clean during the day. It works pretty well—I don't feel deprived, but I don't end up binging like crazy either.

  18. Dave says:

    I think the only thing I have ever stuck to, is trying my best to live a long and healthy life. other than 4 cookies at the buffet on Friday nights, and 2 desserts in new orleans recently I stick to my eating regimen,6 day exercise at the gym and daily supplements of what I believe is necessary, every day.

    Thanks for your emails

  19. Angie says:

    Great article and i’ve completed the survey! Pretty much everything rang true with me… (except c & d re my response to change). This is perfect timing as i am in a similar position to most people which is that I have a whole heap of knowledge (thanks to you and my personal trainer/nutritionist) but my brain is constantly making the whole thing alot harder than i think it needs to be! Unfortunately the only thing it seems to respond to is feeling sick (my body’s amazing response to way too much chocolate/sugar!) and the threat of other people’s opinion of me! I was thinking that hypnotherapy might be an option and just wondered what yours and Chris’s thoughts on this were? Is there much research in this area? I am happy to do anything to whip my brain into shape! Look forward to working with you in the future… Keep up the fantastic work! :o) (BTW my day to day meals are mostly very low carb and unprocessed which i feel great on… until my brain takes over!)

  20. Deb says:

    So Ben, what was it that made you binge this time? Did you just run out of will-power? Or a combo of these 3 things.

    I have found that since going lower-carb, I don't 'binge' per se, but occasionally I'll overdo the nuts- and honestly, the roasted ones are far more dangerous than just plain (boring) raw, unsalted lol!

    1. It tasted good. And I made the mistake of leaving the container on the counter rather than putting it back into freezer and "out of sight", so I just kept seeing it, thinking about it, and "refilling my bowl".

  21. jackie says:

    my weakness is red wine. or good beers. sometimes i partake too excessively. :-(

  22. Carlos says:

    Social life… :/

  23. Joe Snyder says:

    Thanks for your work and interesting topics. I thunk there is a definate mindset to sticking to any “diet”. That is why I liked The 4 hour body because I am allowed 1 day to eat whatever. I have foind that if i stick to the VLC diet the rest if the week I have not gained weight.

    1. Yes, this can work Joe, but even on those "whatever" days, it's important to remember that some items can cause gut inflammation for 10-12 days, such as wheat…so you still need to be somewhat "picky choosy" when eating whatever…

  24. Leslie says:

    For some reason, travelling is the time I lose my will power. I have no desire to work out, and like it won’t matter or no ones watching, I love the processed airplane food. When I touch down I usually go bananas. In my daily life I’m healthy but when I travel I lose it. Completely. Also I think I’m so exhausted I over eat for false energy..

    1. I try to go high fat when I'm traveling, Leslie, (travel with things like pemmican, avocados, etc.) and it can help out quite a bit. That, or very nutrient dense powders, like LivingFuel SuperGreens, which can keep me satiated on an airplane for a very long time!

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