80% of people who start a weight loss program never make it to their goal. And a large percentage of people who do reach their goal end up regaining most if not all of their weight back. So then, what do you need to do to make sure you stay on your diet?
First, let’s define diet in this instance. In this article the word diet will simply mean a way of eating. It does not mean a temporary change in eating habits with the idea you will be returning to old ways of eating once you reach your goal. Those “diets” are doomed from the start.
What Influences Your Ability to Stay On a Diet?
Willpower (n) – control deliberately exerted to do something or to restrain one’s own impulses
Your ability to conserve and use willpower resources will be strongly correlated to your success.
We have a giant pool of willpower and everything we do shares the resources from that shared pool. It’s a limited resource that needs to be recharged on a daily basis through sleep, rest, and relaxation.
Making decisions uses willpower. Resisting temptations uses willpower. In reality, everything you do, say, and think affects willpower, which will affect your ability to stay on your diet.
But when it comes to fitness there are a handful of factors that will drain willpower reserves very quickly. I’ve seen people make these same mistakes over and over again. And if they could just focus their attention on getting this small set of things right, their adherence would go through the roof.
Calories Too Low
Not eating enough calories is the #1 killer of willpower and adherence. No one can sustain an extremely large calorie deficit for a long period of time. When calories are too low you are constantly dipping into willpower reserves trying to resist the urge to eat.
Make sure your calories are in the 10-12 times body weight range when you start your diet. And if you need a more exact number you can use my calorie calculator.
Not Enough Diet Flexibility
The second biggest influence of staying on your diet is the amount of flexibility you allow in it. Cut out all those fun foods and you will be resisting cravings, which taps into willpower reserves.
Keep at least 10-20% of your calories reserved for eating the foods you really like. So long as you maintain a calorie deficit you will still lose weight, and the other 80-90% of your calories will ensure you’re getting all your required nutrients.
Bad Exercise Planning
Forcing yourself to move your body takes an extreme amount of willpower and energy – willpower that could be reserved for maintaining diet adherence.
When you exercise too much or you don’t enjoy the exercise you’re doing you are creating a double whammy of willpower drain.
Choose an exercise frequency that is sustainable. Three to four moderate to intense workouts per week is plenty to lose weight and maintain and grow fitness levels. Mix that in with daily activity such as walking or counting steps and you have all you need.
In addition, make sure you pick an exercise activity you enjoy. If you pick right your willpower reserves will actually recharge. But choose wrong and force yourself to do exercise you hate and you will see willpower zapped in no time. If you’ve ever wondered why people exercise for weeks at a time and then stop, this is a big reason.
The Relationship Between Willpower & Adherence
What you’ll notice is that at the beginning of the day willpower is high and the risk of falling off plan is quite low. But that changes as the day goes on.
With every passing hour willpower gets eaten away at by lifestyle factors. When this happens the risk to adherence increases. It looks something like this:
Ever wonder why most people can follow their diet for most of the day and then eat “all the things” at night? Now you know.
You can change the curve of the above graph by structuring your life in a way that is less stressful. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep and do your best to not let those little things get to you all the time.
Once you get better at dealing with situations so that they don’t take as much of your willpower resources, you will have more to devote to staying on your diet.
And if you plan out your weight loss program so that your calorie intake is sustainable, the foods you love are included, and you’re doing exercise you enjoy with a frequency that is sustainable, you will be able to stay on your diet long enough so that your new eating behaviors can be formed into lifetime habits.