Motivation for Nutrition: How to Stick to a Healthy Diet

SBM: motivation-for-nutrition-how-to-stick-to-a-healthy-diet

Pamela J. Wright PhD, MS, MEd, RN, CEN – University of South Carolina; Leah M. Schumacher PhD – Temple University; Alyssa Button PhD – Pennington Biomedical Research Center; Madeline Konsor PhD – Rush University Medical Center; Gina Tripicchio PhD,MSEd – Temple University


Have you recently decided to eat healthier, but now you’re having difficulty following the new plan? You are not alone!

Many people set new health and diet goals when they perceive a need for a new beginning, such as at New Year, for a birthday, during a health challenge, or during the summer months. This is called the Fresh Start Effect .

However, research tells us that most people stop eating healthier before the new behavior has had time to become a habit. In fact, results from a Forbes Health Poll revealed that the average resolution lasts about 3.74 months. This is not enough time for the benefits of a healthy diet to take effect. . So, where does the motivation go as the weeks progress?

Motivation is the desire and energy to change a behavior. Motivation predicts our commitment and the likelihood of sticking with a goal. Many times, the desire is there, but the energy to meet the goal escapes us.

Common Reasons for Losing Track of Healthy Eating Goals

Lack of Readiness

Sometimes we set a goal before we’re ready to change. Resolutions are a great example. They’re usually set because of tradition, not because a person’s in the right place to change their habits. It’s a common thing to do and talk about around the New Year. However, that does not mean we are ready for the change or even need to change at that time.

Wrong Focus and Goal Setting

Many people set a lofty goal with no clear path for meeting that goal. For example, you might set the goal of losing weight. But how will you accomplish this? Lofty goals are focused on the result (the destination), not the behaviors that will lead you there (the journey). Motivation continues when our focus is on the journey rather than the destination.

All-or-Nothing Thinking

This is thinking in extreme opposites, such as good or bad, succeed or fail. All-or-nothing thinking will cause people to quit trying after one mishap, no matter how small. All-or-nothing thinking also encourages unreasonable expectations of ourselves, such as perfectly following a certain diet that is completely different from our norm.

Lack of Self-Monitoring

Studies show that people who self-monitor or track their goals will be twice as likely to achieve them. Self-monitoring with a pen-and-paper nutritional log or digital technology like an app on your phone helps create accountability and a clear record of your eating habits.

Staying Motivated to Eat Healthy

1. Assess your readiness to change. Make sure the time is right for you.

  • A helpful tool for assessing your readiness to change includes the readiness-to-change questions and ruler (Readiness to Change Tools)

2. Set a SMART goal.

  • Specific: The goal is simple, and clearly defined, including who, what, where, when, and why.
  • Measurable: Define the amount of change. Think about how much, how many, and how you will know when you have achieved the goal. Think small and short-term.
  • Attainable: Identify what’s important to you and slightly challenging, yet doable. If it’s impossible, you might not even try.
  • Realistic/Relevant: Your goal must be something you are willing and able to work towards.
  • Time-Bound: Set a deadline that is appropriate for keeping focus without allowing room for procrastination.

3. Focus on progress, not perfection.

  • Don’t be afraid to assess your progress and adjust your goals as needed.

4. Accept the challenging process of change by being kind to yourself.

  • Reward yourself for achieving smaller, short-term goals that will ultimately lead to achieving the long-term goal. Rewards can help you to stay motivated and on-track, even when the bigger goal seems far away.

5. Track your progress.

  • Incorporate tools such as a nutritional log or diary, a nutritional app, and/or a tracking device.

6. Create a support system and accountability with others.

  • Examples of a support system can include an accountability buddy, an encouraging friend, and/or an online support group.

7. Visualize achieving your goal.

  • Help yourself stay motivated by closing your eyes and picturing yourself accomplishing your goal and imagining how it will feel to make progress.

Remember, taking any action toward a goal will fuel your motivation. Do not overwhelm yourself with a long-term or overly lofty goal. Set SMART goals to create an incremental, impactful, and sustainable journey toward the long-term goal. Maintain a clear vision of your purpose for healthier eating and stay the course.

Don’t watch the clock; do what it does. Keep going. - Sam Levenson

It takes a positive mindset to pursue healthy eating goals, and it takes healthy nutrition to maintain that positive mindset.

More Articles

SBM: 3 Common Weight Loss Pitfalls

3 Common Weight Loss Pitfalls

Having trouble losing or maintaining your weight? Learn the common weight loss pitfalls and tips on how to keep your weight management plan on track.

SBM: Five Healthy Eating Tips for Avoiding Holiday Weight Gain

Five Healthy Eating Tips for Avoiding Holiday Weight Gain

It’s common for adults to gain about 1-2 pounds between mid-November and January, but health researchers have identified several holiday eating habits that can help you get ahead of your New Year’s resolution.

SBM: Weight Loss: Meet Your Goals with a Support Network

Weight Loss: Meet Your Goals with a Support Network

Find out how to reach your weight loss goals this year through a support network. Get the support you need for long term weight loss and healthy living.

« Back to Healthy Living