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Why Does Your Diet Fail?: A Collection of Facts and Strategies to Achieve Long Term Diet Success

Updated on December 6, 2019
Steve Marteski profile image

I am a lifelong diet and fitness student. I have been writing fitness and nutrition articles and coaching for over 15 years.

What is motivation? How important is it? Quite simply, motivation is everything. It is the reason we do everything we do. On one extreme, we eat because if we don’t, we will experience extreme discomfort and ultimately starve to death. We jump out of the way of traffic to avoid getting hit and seriously injured, that’s some serious motivation. Those are two forms of prevention motivation. On the other end of the spectrum is promotion motivation, which is the reason someone would spend four years in college and rack up thousands in debt in order to earn a degree and education and the promise of a brighter future, or the reason two people would get married.

While those are extreme examples, most tasks fall somewhere in the middle. They are not do or die, and they are not extreme life-altering events. Our physical fitness and dieting is one of these. In 99% of cases they are more on the “nice to have” side of things. While it would be great to lose 15 pounds or achieve that beach body, we can function perfectly well if we don’t.

Therein lies the issue. How can we get and stay motivated to do something over the long term that is not absolutely vital to our existence, but would improve our lives? Most of us have no problem starting out uber-motivated, but once we shed 5 or 10 pounds, the motivation drastically diminishes as we have already improved our circumstances, so there is in effect less need at this point. To quote motivation expert Daniel Pink “once a reasonable standard of living is achieved, rewards and punishment not only don’t motivate us to do more, better or faster, they often demotivate us.” Essentially, once the problem or possible upside, as we see it, is reduced, as so goes the reason to improve, and things we once saw as motivation are now seen as unjust pressure.

So what can we do to stay motivated to not just lose 5 or 10 pounds and look OK, but to get the actual body and level of health that we originally desired? Below are a series of scientific facts about what gets us and keeps us motivated and how they relate to our fitness journey:

According to scientific researchers, Stick and carrot management works well for compliance, but if you want real engagement, self-direction works better.

This says a lot. In a fitness context, this means that just reading and following a pre-loaded program or diet will indeed work, but for full engagement, we need to do more than be a mindless factory worker of fitness. Take what you learn and really watch and learn what is happening with your body. Be comfortable making adjustments to customize the plan to your specific needs. There is no singular way to get in shape, and there’s a 100% chance that trial and error are going to yield more, and more exciting results.

Scientific studies have shown that we are motivated by things we are good at and that we enjoy.

For fitness, find your strength and your passion. You may hate walking on a treadmill for an hour every day. If you do, then do something else. Your goal is not to complete an hour on a treadmill, your goal is to burn calories and lose weight, and there are many different ways to do that, so find one you like, even if that changes daily or weekly.

For complex tasks, people are driven by autonomy, mastery and purpose

What does this mean? Essentially it means that if the results come from you, and YOU get good at it, AND you have a solid reason for getting in shape, you will succeed. For instance, having your house cleaned by a maid is great, as you now have a clean house, but it’s not rewarding as much as if you had done the cleaning yourself. Similarly, losing weight is a great goal, but in and of itself is not a sustainable, long term motivator. As mentioned previously, once we lose some weight, the motivation diminishes. Which is why 95+% of people who lose weight put it right back on in a few months. But what if your motivation is to feel better, or better yet to motivate, inspire and help others do the same? That is real motivation that lasts a lifetime.

Scientific research has demonstrated that our motivations change as we get closer to a goal

While we may start exercising due to a diagnosis of high blood pressure, or criticism from our spouse or some other “do or die” type scenario, this will not last. Once the immediate danger is gone, so too is our reason to continue. At this point, it’s vital to shift our motivation from prevention to promotion. Yes, you have restored your health or your healthy body half way through, so now redirect your thinking to what you can be. Not only can you be in good shape, you can be in great shape. Think of the emotional and self-esteem boosting reward that comes with not just looking OK, but having a body that people admire and aspire to have. This is the real opportunity to make an impact on your life and the lives of others

Measuring improvement and achieving “benchmarks” on the way to a higher goal is proven to maintain our motivation.

Essentially, it’s difficult to stay motivated without incremental payoff. How many of us would accept a job that paid its entire salary once per year? This would feel like we are working for nothing. The trick is to find things, many things, that we are achieving and focus on them. For instance, in our quest to lose 50 pounds, there will invariably be weeks that go by in which we don’t lose any weight at all. But does that mean the week was wasted? Absolutely not, this is a normal fluctuation that occurs on the road to a long term goal. Somedays a salesman will make no sales, some days a fisherman will catch no fish, and some days a dieter will lose no weight. Think of what else you achieved this week. Maybe you lifted a weight you hadn’t lifted before? Maybe you noticed your pants fitting better? Maybe you made it to the gym five days this week for the 12th straight week, which you had never done before? All these are accomplishments on the way to a higher goal and are something to be proud of.

Make learning your primary goal instead of the end result.

Refer to the saying “give a person a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a person to fish, they eat for a lifetime.” While we can get in great shape by following instructions of a trainer or just going through motions. If we want to have real lasting success, we need to learn why we are doing what we are doing and how it is working. Attaching a reasoning to something effects the mind much more than just knowing that something “is”. Take for instance telling a kid to not run in the street..he may not run in the street, but if he gets hit by a car, he definitely won’t run in the street, as now he fully grasps why not.

Motivation is the root cause of everything we do. Maintaining motivation with a diet or with fitness can be daunting, as we don’t always see the results that we want, and it’s also not always a comfortable process. Science has done numerous studies over the years that help define what and why we are motivated. I hope this information is useful to help you achieve your ultimate fitness goal.


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