As a dietitian working in weight loss, many individuals only contact me because I am their “last resort,” the “rock bottom” of their life, “the last hurrah” for their health. Many times when my clients make that decision to call me, they are down right discouraged having tried every trick in the book to achieve their nutrition goals without lasting success. As I listen to them, I hear a lot of “maybe you can help me…but I’ve tried everything already.” I hear “I have failed every diet.” I hear, through their frustration, people struggling with low self-esteem caused by their unsuccessful efforts at achieving their health goals. Why do we fail when we sincerely want to make health changes?
The answer to that question is actually easy. You must quit striving for perfection with your diet and exercise plans. There is no perfect diet. How would you define a perfect diet anyway? Is it never eating dessert again? I’m sorry, but a life without chocolate chip cookies is far from perfect for me. What is the perfect exercise plan? If you get sick and miss a day of exercise, does that mean you have failed? What happens when your boss schedules a business meeting over your lunch hour when you planned to get your walk in? Do you throw in the towel and quit because you won’t have a perfect log sheet for your workouts that week? In a world of very high expectations, you must be willing to lower the bar to a level that is achievable for you. If you are ready to do that, take a deep breath, relax, and read on to see how to positively reshape your personal expectations towards success.
- Realize motivation is fleeting. Motivation is a good thing to inspire us in the right direction, but it is too inconsistent to keep us going for the long haul. Create a tangible plan in writing that is realistic for what your life is like each day or week. A set plan will counter those moments when motivation is low.
- Allow time to make small, gradual changes to your health. If your life demands ebb and flow adjust your health goals accordingly so that they are less consuming during the busy times. This requires a little extra patience in achieving your goals, but you will see gradual success that will build your confidence. Remember, if your health goals are adding stress to your life they are too big. If you keep striving to achieve them you will eventually run out of steam and quit. Downsize and simplify your goals so that they easily fit into your life. This means slower progress, but you will succeed over time.
- Follow the 80/20 Rule when making food choices. Now that you know there is no perfect diet, rest assured that what you eat most of the time will define your health. Allowing yourself to enjoy a few indulgences once in a while decreases the temptation that these foods hold over us. Treat calories like money in the bank, and save them to truly enjoy and savor your favorite treats or indulgences guilt free. Then, turn your focus back to your goals by including a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and lean protein as the base of your diet.
- Finally, stop comparing yourself to others. We are all at different points in our journey to better health, and there is always something that could be improved in anybody’s diet. Seek support and reinforcement from those who have been on the health path longer, instead of thinking negatively about your own progress. Keep in mind as well that what is right for one person may be totally wrong for you. Find your own path at your own pace. It is helpful, and more fun, to have a buddy who is on the same path you are for support and accountability, but never compare yourself to that person. Keep focused on your own road to health.
When our self-esteem is low, everything seems more difficult. Build your confidence by not striving for perfection in your health. Remember the positive actions you take most of the time will bring you success even despite occasional setbacks. Expect setbacks, forgive yourself, and move on down your path not looking back. Every step forward will lead you to success, and those setbacks you face are really just small bumps in the road to achieving good health.