The 5 Most Common Psychological Reasons Individuals Fail to Stick to a Fitness or Nutrition Program
The two biggest psychological barriers to following a fitness or nutritional program are lack of motivation & lack of discipline. If you have found yourself unable to stick to a program in the past, you are not alone. 95% of people will struggle with these two obstacles at some point during their fitness journey.
Engaging in self-sabotaging behaviours such as binge eating & skipping workouts are a natural part of being human. We see this is alcohol addiction, drug addiction, & food addiction is no different. The guilt of having the late night binge & claiming that your emotions, impulses or cravings took over is no different than how someone trying to quit smoking feels. Food addiction is a real struggle just like any other addiction.
So how do we mentally prepare for overcoming these obstacles so we can finally get results? Why do we give up so easily on goals, and how do we get this under control?
Several factors are involved, however here are the 5 most common factors that prevent you from committing to a fitness or nutrition program.
1. Stress: Nothing undermines willpower more than stress. All of the research supports this & the reason is, stress induces a fight or flight response. When your nervous system is flooded with neurotransmitters, the natural response is to want to illuminate that feeling. Food does this automatically because when we eat, the body goes into a relaxed state. This is why you feel so good after you eat, it triggers the reward sensors in your brain… Consequently, either subconsciously or consciously, we learn that food relaxes us, this makes us seek food for relaxation every time we feel stressed. Unfortunately, we don’t reach for the low calorie, nutritionally dense foods, we reach for high carbohydrate, high fat, high calorie foods. I won’t get into the effects of insulin spike & crashes; I’ll address that in a different article.
2. Sleep: This shouldn’t be news to you, we hear it all the time about how important sleep is for weight loss & physical well-being. But why? It’s very simple, you will be much more susceptible to stress, and you won’t have the energy reserves to perform your workouts with proper intensity. In terms of self-control, lack of sleep will make you forgetful, distracted, & impulsive. The likelihood of overeating is very high as your willpower becomes diminished under these circumstances.
3. Delay Discounting: This is a term psychologists use to explain the reasons why we will always choose immediate gratification over the long-term reward. In other words, devouring the entire bag of chips is much more appealing than waiting for the reward of the 10 lb weight loss. We are human, we want the reward NOW, and we continue to do this over & over, never reaching that long-term goal. So when you’re facing a willpower challenge, reminding yourself of the future reward can help you say NO to the immediate gratification. Like anything else, this won’t happen overnight, but the continuous practice of reminding yourself of the long term benefits will!
4. Social Proof: Extensive research shows that what others do will influence what you do as well, even better, we will do what we “think” others are doing! Crazy right? Have you ever justified a piece of pie because someone else was having one? Have you ever missed a workout because your partner skipped theirs today? I’m guessing that 9/10 who read this have definitely altered their behaviours based on what those around them were doing, or what they thought others were doing. We’ve been doing this since we were infants, everything we do is the result of modelling those around you. So take a moment to think about who you are surrounded by on a daily basis. Co-workers, your partner, your social network. What are their eating behaviours like? Do they skip workouts? Chances are, you follow suit to what they’re doing, it’s natural…
5. Moral licensing: This is when we use the “good” to justify the “bad”. First off, labelling yourself as “good” or “bad” is the first mistake. This is how we absolutely ruin our relationship with food & start to feel guilty for every bite of food we put in our mouths. Even more, when we label ourselves as “good” for completing 3 workouts this week, we then reward our behaviour with a “treat” meal or even a treat day. We feel like we’re playing the balancing game, but in turn we’re actually sabotaging ourselves because the reward is often more calories consumed than the initial calories burned.
So the take home here is that there are so many variables that interfere with one’s ability to stick to a fitness or nutrition program. I have only touched the surface with these 5. The next time you feel like beating yourself up over falling off your plan once again, STOP for a moment & celebrate all the workouts you DID complete, all the times you said NO to the desert, and all of the other micro accomplishments you’ve made over your journey.
I see so many women give up because they are not happy with the 5 lbs they’ve lost, they continuously focus on the weight they haven’t lost. How is this supposed to keep you motivated to keep going? Weight loss comes down to making major changes in your mindset, that is why the clients I work with achieve different results than on other programs.
They not only have a personalized program, we have a step by step plan to achieve their goals, we constantly work on their mindset & behaviours, and I keep them accountable for following through. At times they struggle… but I’m always right there with them to adjust the sails, reconnect them to their why, and get them right back to being focussed.
I truly believe it takes more than just a prescription to overcome your fitness & eating habits, it takes a whole new mindset as well.