Every time I try to eat healthy and lose weight I give up. Why can't I stay on track and stick to a diet?

Rachel Hosie
·7 min read
working it out banner
Samantha Lee/Business Insider
woman eating donut
Eating a donut won't prevent you losing weight. What matters is how you think about that donut. Getty
  • There are many reasons you might keep falling off-track with your diet, like demonizing certain foods.

  • It's crucial to work on your mindset when trying to make healthy habits part of your lifestyle.

  • Instead of trying to be "perfect," aim for 80% consistency.

  • Read more Working It Out here.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Dear Rachel,

I want to lose weight, and I feel like I know a lot about how to eat healthily, but I can never seem to stick to it for more than a few days or a week. I've done some specific diets and also tried counting calories to be in a deficit, but I never manage to stay on track. I've tried so many times but always end up giving in to the wine or pizza or cake, going way over my calories, and giving up. It's really frustrating and I feel like I've hit a wall and just don't know what to do because my weight keeps going up, I don't want it to negatively impact my health, and I also don't feel good in myself. Why can I never do it?

- Despairing Dieter

Dear Despairing,

Yours is a very common position to be in, but if you want to improve your health, please don't give up all hope. While fad diets don't generally lead to lasting results, it's entirely possible to make healthier habits that will become part of your lifestyle, allowing you to lose weight and keep it off.

It's a complex situation and there are so many reasons why a person might give up on a diet or keep falling off-track with their intentions to eat healthy.

Ultimately, making healthy changes that last comes down to working on your mindset, and I think not addressing your self-talk is where so many people go wrong when trying to lose weight.

You're demonizing certain foods

The wording you use to describe what tends to happen - "giving in" - suggests you, like many people, have certain foods demonized in your head.

"It's very clear that you look at having pizza or wine or cake as 'bad,' and as soon as you've done that, it's over, it's ruined," personal trainer and fat loss coach Jordan Syatt told Insider.

Don't beat yourself up for holding this mindset though, as it's incredibly common - I used to deem foods "good" or "bad" too, thinking I couldn't eat the latter if I wanted to lose weight. And the trouble is, once you label a food as "off-limits," you feel out of control around it, and you're way more likely to overeat when you just can't resist it any more.

But in reality there are no foods that stop you from losing weight - it's about how much you're consuming overall, which I've now learned.

Once you start to change the narrative in your head, it's easier to eat and enjoy your favorite foods in moderation, and no longer feel like you've "failed" every time you eat some.

It's not "giving in." It's just enjoying a piece of cake.

Syatt says your problem is likely this restrictive mindset around specific foods, rather than being too restrictive in your food quantity (which is where some people go wrong).

You've forgotten your 'why'

Dr Heather McKee, a behavior change specialist and habit coach with a PhD in weight loss psychology, recommends reminding yourself why you wanted to eat more healthily in the first place.

"When it comes to habit change, all too often we are aware of the ingredients - we know that we need to eat more vegetables and exercise more," she said. "It's not a knowledge problem. It's actually a skills and implementation problem. And the best way to help yourself get back on track is to reconnect with your 'why'."

A lot of people try to achieve their goals with outside motivation like the number on the scale, but this is fleeting. Instead, find your intrinsic motivation which comes from within, ie. goals with personal significance, like wanting to be a good role model for your children. Reminding yourself of these goals can help you make better choices.

In moments of temptation, try and think about what you want in the long-term, rather than short-term.

When I was losing weight and felt very tempted by, say, a donut, I would pause and ask myself: "What will make me proud at the end of the day?" Sometimes, the answer was to enjoy the donut, not feel guilty, and get back on track afterwards. Other times, the answer was not to have the donut.

You're trying to be 'perfect'

Syatt suspects you're trying too hard to be "perfect," and thinking there's no point bothering if you're anything other than that.

"Trying for perfection will actually lead you to failure," he said. "If you only accept perfect, then you will never actually succeed, because as soon as you aren't perfect in your eyes, you'll give up."

Cutting out all your favorite foods is entirely unsustainable, so any results you may get while doing so will be unsustainable too. Instead, aim for 80% consistency with your diet, so trying to hit your calories or stick to your nutrition goals 80% of the time, and not stressing about the 20% of days where you don't.

If you want to achieve your goals and for them to last, you need those days. Of course, that doesn't mean you gorge yourself and eat like you'll never eat again 20% of the time, it just means you can go out for brunch or to a dinner party, relax a bit, and know it hasn't ruined your progress.

Focus on consistency with your habits - whether that's eating your five-a-day, drinking a gallon of water, or hitting your protein target - and aim to hit those 80% of the time, rather than measuring your progress by the scale.

Congratulate yourself when you nail those habits too. When I lost weight, I wrote down my "daily wins" most days and it really helped me stay positive and keep going.

"It's really important to start small with bite-sized habits," McKee said. "Think about what feels most fun and easy, because they are the things that are going to go stick."

You're not self-reflecting

Self-reflection was incredibly important for me in changing my mindset around food and successfully losing weight. The one mantra which helped me a lot was, "You can't mess this up."

I was trying to overeat less, but of course I still did sometimes. However, instead of beating myself up and throwing in the towel, I reflected on why I'd overindulged and thought about what I could learn from it.

"I recommend people keep a temptation tracker over a week and look at when they give into temptation and why," McKee said. Maybe it's a certain time of day, a specific place, with particular people, when you're stressed or anxious.

"Sooner or later, you're going to see particular patterns emerge," McKee said. "And that can tell us a lot about why we keep going off track."

When we're more aware and mindful of our tendencies, we can consciously bring in healthier alternatives. You got this.

Wishing you well,

Rachel

As a senior lifestyle reporter at Insider and a self-described fitness fanatic with an Association for Nutrition-certified nutrition course under her belt, Rachel Hosie is immersed in the wellness scene and here to answer all your burning questions. Whether you're struggling to find the motivation to go for a run, confused about light versus heavy weights, or unsure whether you should be worried about how much sugar is in a mango, Rachel is here to give you the no-nonsense answers and advice you need, with strictly no fad diets in sight.

Rachel has a wealth of experience covering fitness, nutrition, and wellness, and she has the hottest experts at her fingertips. She regularly speaks to some of the world's most knowledgeable and renowned personal trainers, dietitians, and coaches, ensuring she's always up to date with the latest science-backed facts you need to know to live your happiest and healthiest life.

Have a question? Ask Rachel at workingitout@insider.com or fill out this anonymous form. All questions will be published anonymously.

Read more Working It Out:

Read the original article on Insider