Three Ways to Overcome Mental Hurdles to Making Real Dietary Change

Bungee Jumper

My job is awesome: to help people improve their diets and their lives – and not just in October. People resist dietary changes (whether unprocessed, healthier, vegetarian, gluten-free, etc.) for many reasons, so I wanted to bring up common ones I see in my work. You also get action steps to move past these roadblocks and stay on your path to health and happiness.

These may not apply to you, but even so, they may help you understand where someone else is coming from. You have to start from where you are, not where you want to be.

Hurdle #1: Deprivation

Food isn’t just fuel for our bodies – it’s our culture, tradition, and reward structure.

Thoughts that keep you stuck: Many people approach dietary changes thinking: “I can’t.” Whether it’s holiday food, happy hour with friends, or dessert, when faced with that prospect, it’s no wonder so many people say they’ll start tomorrow.

A diet is simply the way you eat. When you think of it as a temporary way of eating to lose weight you set up restrictive limits that make eating a battle of willpower versus taste.

Re-frame: You CAN eat anything you want, but you CHOOSE not to eat things that don’t make you feel good.

Instead try “crowding out” by adding in more nutrient-dense foods. Set goals like eating fresh fruit every day, having a salad with lunch, or adding one more vegetable to dinner each night. By filling up on healthful options, you’ll have less room for non-nutritious choices.

What’s the very first step you can take to add healthier food to your diet?

Hurdle #2: Time Management

Thoughts that keep you stuck: “Cooking takes too much time.” We’re so conditioned (and told by advertisements) that spending more than 20 minutes in the kitchen is a waste, so people happily toss a salt-bomb in the microwave and are proud for saving time.

Re-frame: View time spent preparing healthful food as an investment in your health and happiness.

Think of ways to prep elements ahead of time. When I make breakfast I often throw a big pot of grains or beans on the stove to simmer away while I eat and shower. They cool as I get ready, and are ready to reheat for lunch or dinner. The rest are split between fridge and freezer to use later.

Menu-planning can also be really helpful. Set aside 20-30 minutes in your calendar (“If it’s not scheduled, it’s not real.” – Marie Forleo) once a week to save you time and decision-making energy each day.

What is your biggest struggle with food and time management? In a perfect world, how would your meal planning look?

Hurdle #3: Fear of Failure

This is the most common fear I see, and it’s the most complex.

If you never start, you can’t fail! It’s safer and more comfortable to sit on the couch and eat bonbons than to try something and risk failure. It sounds melodramatic and silly, but it’s often true.

Thoughts that keep you stuck: What if I don’t lose weight? What if I’m hungry? What if it’s too hard? What if my friends make fun of me? What if people find out I don’t actually have it all together? (Where my perfectionists at? Holla!)

What to do instead: Approach a lifestyle change with curiosity, not judgment. Like Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed, I have merely found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

Answer these three questions:

  1. Why do you want to make a change?
  2. What’s keeping you from doing it?
  3. How is it serving you to stay where you are?

For #3, I often hear, “It isn’t.” That’s not true, however. Not changing is also a choice. Eating the same way, even if it makes you feel unwell, is comfortable and familiar. Perhaps it allows you to avoid an imagined confrontation with your partner or kids about making dietary changes. Or maybe it lets you eat bonbons instead of facing the fact that you’re not dealing with your stress level or emotions very well right now.

Again, approach this exercise with curiosity, not judgment. You can’t make a change if you don’t know where you’re starting from.

Have you confronted any of these roadblocks yourself? Have you overcome them? What is your biggest obstacle to making healthy changes, whether going unprocessed or otherwise?

Switzerland/Extreme Bungee Jump” © 2007 Carla MacNeil, used under creative commons license.

About the Author

Stacy Spensley is a healthy life coach who supports overwhelmed men and women to integrate sustainable, step-by-step diet, mindset, and lifestyle changes so they can feel awesome and kick ass at life. She is professionally bossy and an ardent supporter of the Oxford comma, and you’ll easily find her on Twitter and Facebook. She co-wrote the Official Guide to October Unprocessed, and if this post resonates with you, try Stacy’s free 5-day jumpstart e-course.

A photo of Andrew Wilder leaning into the frame and smiling, hovering over mixing bowls in the kitchen.

Welcome to Eating Rules!

Hi! My name is Andrew Wilder, and I think healthy eating doesn’t have to suck. With just three simple eating rules, we'll kickstart your journey into the delicious and vibrant world of unprocessed food.

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October 19, 2012 6:04 pm

One of the most helpful things I’ve ever done has been to be very goal oriented. My goal is to get really strong and I want to achieve that goal so bad! So whenever it’s time to eat I ask myself if this food is gonna help me get to that goal.

I also like what you had to say about adding things in.

October 19, 2012 7:55 am

These are great tips, Stacey! For me, I always failed as soon as I saw a little bit of success. It was as though I was afraid of succeeding. It was a psychological hurdle I had to overcome before being able to move on and make significant changes.

October 18, 2012 2:07 pm

My re-frame for myself when I chose to ditch a lot of the unhealthy foods (refined and processed) was I am making a change for health. If I told myself I was going on a diet to lose weight, I knew it wouldn’t work. “Diet” has such a negative connotation in our society because we associate it with deprivation when really a diet is just what we eat. Once I got this in my head, making good choices followed in line. Losing a few pounds in the process was just a bonus. 😀

October 18, 2012 6:22 am

Stacy, over the years we have given up (or made concience decisions to retain) certain foods that do not pass the kitchen test. We are pretty torn on a particular chocolate hazelnut spread. A while ago we noticed that the 2nd ingredient was palm oil and declared it a non food and luckly found a good substitute at Trader joes. They have since discontinued that product and “N” has made its way back into our cupboard. I hate that we love it so much that we disreguard our standards for its velvety chocolate spreadability yummness. Help my family by suggesting a replacement or recipe for a simular condiment.

October 17, 2012 6:56 pm

Biggest time challenge: putting something in the “food bank” as it were for when *I’m* out of commission. What do you do when all you can make (and not very well at that) is green jello?

Reply to  Stacy Spensley
October 18, 2012 7:02 pm

Too sick! And unfortunately, there’s too much that I *have* to do right now. At least today, it was different highly-processed to get through the day. 🙁