Fad diets and quick fixes make for advertising gold. “Beach body in 30 days!” “Purge your body with a juice detox!” “Get chiseled abs in 3 weeks!” Sounds pretty good to me! But we know that those promises often come up empty and we end up unchanged and even more discouraged than when we started.
“My friend has lost 20 pounds on a diet challenge; I think I’m going to try it!”
It’s not the first time I’ve had a client get excited about a quick fix solution. I get it, I’m impatient too (very), and who wouldn’t want fast results? But the excitement Rob was feeling when he burst in for his session left me a little worried.
Diet cycles are tough to watch my clients slog through. It always begins with such excitement, something new, the promise of results. Then a period of very restrictive eating, whether it’s 30 days or 12 weeks. If the client can make it through, they enjoy some short-lived success, but quickly return to their old habits and right back where they started.
This cycle can be painful, and it’s easy to fall into over and over. In this article I’ll show you 5 ways to turn your challenge diet into fuel for sustainable change.
#1 Enjoy the high
A challenge can be useful to gain a boost in motivation, and help you get excited about eating healthy and making positive food choices. It tells you that you’re ready to make a change and can help give you some insights into what can work for you in the long-term. If you’re feeling stuck in a rut, starting a challenge can be a good kickstart, just remember to approach it like a scientist. Take notes on what works for you during the challenge and what doesn’t so you can apply it when that challenge ‘high’ starts to wear off.
#2 Understand your drive
Given their short time frame, a challenge can help you understand your health and fitness goals, your frustrations, and the true driving factors behind your desire to change.
Ask yourself: “How have diet challenges worked for me in the past?” That can help you set realistic expectations for the challenge and post-challenge period.
Next, ask yourself:
“Why do you want to do this challenge?”
“What do you hope to get out of it?”
“Why is that important to you?”
“And why is that important to you?”
Now you have a better understanding of your pain points and your true motivation. That will help you be more successful during the challenge, and after it ends, too.
#3 Create a plan
With any short-term challenge, you’re going to make a bunch of changes all at once. A lot of these changes aren’t meant to last, no one is going to stay on a juice cleanse for the rest of their life.
Identify some healthy habits that you can incorporate during your challenge that will help you stay successful and have a better chance of carrying on once the challenge is complete.
Use behavior focused habits that align with your challenge.
If you’re only eating whole foods for 30 days, a good habit might be to practice packing your lunch every morning to help you stay on track.
Maybe it’s a “no sweets” challenge. Good habits could be eating slowly and incorporating healthy proteins and fats into your meals to help you feel more satisfied after eating.
By then end of the challenge you not only have some success to build on, but a foundation of habits to help you carry on.
#4 Feedback not failure
Challenges are tough. They involve some sort of restrictive behavior, and it’s not uncommon to have some slip ups along the way. Reframe your thinking to explore what went wrong when you "fail" and come up with solutions for the future.
Imagine you’re doing a 14-day juice cleanse and on day 4 you have an office meeting and can’t resist the bagels and cream cheese. You feel like a failure.
Instead, try a three-pronged approach of curiosity, compassion, and honesty.
Curiosity: Think about what led to your decision to eat the bagels. Maybe you’re stressed about the meeting or missed your morning juice.
Compassion: Don’t beat yourself up about one bagel. Encourage yourself on the solid 3 days of the challenge so far!
Honesty: Be completely honest with what your were feeling at the time of the bagel “failure”. Maybe you were feeling:
Stressed about work or life
Deprived of foods you enjoy
Like you “deserved” a bagel for your success so far
That you didn’t want to stand out for not eating
Now see the upside. Maybe the bagel provides feedback on the need to destress or hints that eliminating foods you enjoy isn’t the best approach. Now you can minimize your guilt and set yourself up for success during the next office meeting.
#5 Explore your results
After finishing a challenge, you're likely to have some positive results. Awesome job! Those results can be tough to maintain. It’s hard to swallow changing your lifestyle habits for good, but a few weeks isn’t so bad.
The problem is an all or nothing approach to being healthy. You’re either all in on an extreme diet or doing nothing at all. But somewhere in between, the always something approach, is where you begin to make lasting change. You don’t have to keep all the habits or changes from your challenge, just the ones that worked for you, then adapt them to fit your life.
Maybe you felt great no drinking alcohol every night, but you miss having drinks with your partner and friends. Try drinking only one or two nights a week.
Perhaps you loved going to the gym frequently but hated cooking all your meals. Keep going to the gym but prepare only 3 or 4 meals a week.
The key is to find what’s doable for you and start there.
Instead of trying to follow through 100 percent of the time like you did during your challenge, how about 80 percent? Or 60? In my experience, people can make progress by being consistent even less than 50 percent of the time.
Just because you went all in on a challenge doesn’t mean you have to shut off once it’s done. Adjust the dial accordingly and keep taking positive actions.
Challenges, short-term diets, and cleanses aren’t going anywhere. There will also be a new one popping up offering you a quick fix to a tough problem. Are they the best solution for that problem? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean they still aren’t enticing. Short-term challenges don’t have to be completely useless or leave you in a cycle or repetitive success and failure. Adjust your mindset and your support at the start, and you just might be able to use your “summer slim down” as a launchpad for lasting change.
Want help becoming the healthiest, fittest, strongest version of you?
Most of us know that eating well, regular activity, and managing our sleep and stress levels are important for a healthy life. Still, we struggle to apply that information into our already busy lives. That's why the Profectus Fitness coaching programs help you create a strategy to lose fat, get stronger and improve your health, all in the context of your own life. We know that's the only way to keep these changes for good, no matter what situation you're in.