In the previous post I said “no excuses”/tough love (might) work for those already motivated to change. Now I want to talk with those struggling to get started or to stay consistent with a their eating plan. People who are actively working hard to eat healthy can review this for grins or use as a reference for others.*
Almost everyone just starting out with a behavior change feels ambivalent. Yes, we do. There are many reasons why we want to change and there are reasons why we have not changed (the pros and cons). Early on before we are ready to change our way of eating or are just thinking about changing (the precontemplation and contemplation stages of change) the cons of change outweigh the pros. Folks really do consider the importance to change in a logical manner, even if it isn’t explicit.
For example, we consider the impact eating better will have:
- on ourselves (my health, appearance, and mobility will improve)
- the benefits to others (my kids will have their mom around longer; my friends can take me more places; my health bills will go down)
- on approval from others (my partner, family, doctor want me to eat healthier and be thinner)
- and our own self-approval (I would feel so much better about myself if I ate healthy and lost weight)
We balance the pros with the cons of changing our eating behavior:
- on us (I will have to give up foods like, I eat to relieve stress; I couldn’t go out to eat with my friends at our favorite restaurant)
- on significant others (all my friends eat this way and won’t like to see me eat different from them; my spouse is a feeder)
- on disapproval from others for changing (my partner is fat and wouldn’t want me to get skinny)
- on self-disapproval (I cannot see me as thin; I’m not strong enough to change how I eat; I will just fail again).
Across many types of voluntary behavior change, from dieting to quitting smoking to teens using contraception, a standard pattern of pros and cons of changing looks like this:
Until the Pros of adopting a new way of eating are greater than Cons of continuing to eat as usual, we will stay stuck.
So what? For those in the early stages (not planning to change your eating in the next month) and for those who are having trouble staying with a diet plan, you can motivate yourself by listing your unique pros and cons, think about them, revisit & revise as needed. Take a few days. When you feel comfortable with your list, put it where you can see it to remind yourself why you want to eat healthy and why you don’t want to change. Will something magical happen? NO. But, this will help you clarify your ambivalence; where there are discrepancies between how you see yourself and where you are now. The process alone can get you motivated to start making a plan that works for you. Only you know what is getting in the way of your change. Only you understand if you have depression that needs addressed (most of us do not). Only you know if your spouse is going to be a support or hindrance (usually some of both). Only you can make this list!
To summarize, if you still haven’t changed your way of eating or are struggling to maintain it, try the pros and cons activity listed above. Begin to appreciate your normal ambivalence about a new diet and what your benefits and barriers are to change. Share your list and the feelings generated only with someone who is willing to be supportive. Once you are in the midst of change and working hard, put the list away. You won’t need it. You will require something else to keep going. That something is called self-efficacy, meaning your belief to succeed under various situations. This is where I am now. I’m in the action stage and focusing on building my self-efficacy. More in the next post (if I haven’t lost you in the wall of words).
*My comments are based on: Motivational Interviewing; the Transtheoretical Model; my own experiences as a diet and exercise yo-yo’er; and as a physician who worked with many patients – some who needed/wanted to lose weight, quit smoking, adhere with medications, stop abusing substances. This is a scientific approach backed up with human research and years of clinical and personal experience, which is what evidence-based practice is all about.