Learning to Accept Diet Mistakes

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If you have ever tried to lose weight, you know how easy it is to make the occasional dieting mistake. From consuming too many calories to not exercising enough, simple errors can make it frustrating and difficult to stick to your weight loss plan. Of course, if losing weight was easy, Americans wouldn't be spending an estimated 20 billion dollars each year on weight loss products and services.

Dieting mistakes can lead to loss of motivation, and in some cases that can cause people to simply give up.

So what can you do to avoid some of the common psychological pitfalls of dieting and stay on the right track? By learning how to accept dieting mistakes, you can look for healthier ways to approach your weight loss goals and pick up healthier habits at the same time.

Reframe the Situation

So you gave in and ate a cookie (or three). Or maybe you skipped your workout a couple days in a row. While it might seem like you have messed up badly and thrown your whole diet into a tailspin, it is important to take a realistic look at not only your behavior but your emotional responses. Negative self-talk is a recipe for a diet disaster. If you start berating yourself, it won't take long before you actually start to believe that you don't have what it takes to stick to your weight loss goals.

One way to prevent this from happening is to reframe the situation in a way that allows you to see the good in what happened.

You might have given in to a craving, for example, but maybe you gained a little bit of insight that might help you stick to your diet in the future. Now you know that you are likely to be hungry at a certain time of day so you can plan to have a healthier snack on hand next time.

Research has found that positive reframing can be one of the most effective coping strategies when dealing with small setbacks and failures.

Positive reframing, or trying to see the good in a situation, was found to help people end their days on a more positive note. People who used positive reframing were left with greater feelings of satisfaction at the end of each day.

Rather than catastrophizing small errors, focus on practicing a little self-compassion. Realistically, moderate indulgences are not going to derail your diet and treating yourself once in a while may actually help you stick to your eating plan in the long term.

In particular, keep a positive attitude toward your efforts and your ability to succeed. If you have the confidence in yourself and the motivation to continue, you will be much more likely to achieve your goals.

Understand Your Vulnerabilities

Part of learning to accept dieting mistakes is recognizing that everyone has their vulnerabilities. Rather than denying your weaknesses and mistakes, acknowledging the areas where you struggle can be a much more effective solution. By noting your weak spots, whether it’s a tendency to shortchange your workouts or indulge in an afternoon snack session, you'll be better able to come up with an effective plan to deal with these issues.

While you might make the occasional dieting mistake, successful planning can help minimize the damage to your weight loss, fitness, or health goals.

If you know that a craving for carbs is your vulnerable area, for example, you can plan ways to incorporate moderate amounts of high-carbohydrate foods into your diet, but balance these indulgences with healthy choices that include lots of fiber-rich vegetables and lean proteins. Rather than simply denying or ignoring your faults, accepting your dieting weaknesses makes it easier to plan your approach to food choices and exercise.

Focus on Changing One Habit at a Time

Effective weight management is all about adopting healthy habits, but replacing old patterns of behavior with new ones is not always so simple.

Making too many changes at once is an all too common dieting mistake that can make it that much more difficult to stick to your weight loss plans.

Many of the things you do each day are simply a matter of habit, including actions that impact your health, weight, and fitness. Studies suggest that about 40 percent of your daily activities involve habits, many of which are formed as a result of associative learning. When you perform something that produces a desirable result, you become more likely to repeat that action in the future.

But these habits take time to form, so new dieting habits also require time to take hold. This can be frustrating when trying to lose weight, which is why people sometimes give up before newer, healthier habits have time to form.

Instead of trying to make an overnight change, focus on changing one small habit at a time. You might, for example, try tackling one challenge each week. The first week might involve replacing regular soda with sparkling or plain water. The next week you might try going for a short walk each afternoon instead of watching television when you get home from work. Another week you might set a goal to cook at home rather than eat take-out.

While these might seem like relatively small changes, even tiny shifts in your daily routine can have a snowball effect on your health. Over time, these behaviors will become more habitual and help make maintaining your weight loss that much easier.

Practice Self-Acceptance

It's a familiar cycle to many habitual dieters—you make one small dieting mistake and find yourself throwing in the towel for the day, overeating while you simultaneously berate yourself. Even worse, you might engage in destructive behaviors such as binge eating that serve to further derail you from accomplishing your dieting goals.

Having one cookie might not be a dieting mistake, but getting upset and then eating an entire plate of cookies can cause problems, particularly if it’s a behavior that occurs on a regular basis.

One study found that practicing self-acceptance was not only one of the best ways to improve feelings of self-worth; it could also lead to a reduction in self-sabotaging behaviors. In a series of five different experiments, people who practiced self-acceptance were less likely to engage in destructive behaviors and more likely to focus on improving areas that needed work.

When it comes to dieting, learning how to accept yourself, mistakes and all, might help you overcome the tendency to sabotage your efforts. Instead of berating yourself and falling back into bad habits, you can instead accept your mistakes and work toward overcoming such difficulties when they arise in the future.

A Word From Verywell

Losing weight can be difficult, but beating yourself up over shortfalls can make the process that much more of a struggle. Learning how to accept dieting mistakes may take time, but practicing self-acceptance and looking for new ways to build healthy habits may just be the key to long-term weight loss.

Sources:

Kim, S, & Gal, D. From compensatory consumption to adaptive consumption: The role of self-acceptance in resolving self-deficits. Journal of Consumer Research. 2014;41(2);526-542. doi:10.1086/676681

Neal, DT, Wood, W, Wu, M, & Kurlander, D. The pull of the past: When do habits persist despite conflict with motives? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 2011;37(11):1428. doi: 10.1177/0146167211419863

Stoeber, J & Janssen, DP. Perfectionism and coping with daily failures: Positive reframing helps achieve satisfaction at the end of the day. Anxiety, Stress, & Coping. 2011;24(5):477-497. doi:10.1080/10615806.2011.562977

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