Answering these five questions can help you understand why you can't stick to a diet.
1. Are you making poor food choices during moments when your willpower tank is low?
Suggestion: Think of your willpower as like a gas tank. Making lots of decisons drains willpower, as does using willpower for things like getting your children to do their chores and homework.
Prepare for times when you are likely to need to make eating decisions in the presence of low willpower. Set up your environment to support making good decisions, such as having an appropriate portion of a healthy snack available to eat (e.g., a pottle of yogurt). Make sure it's something you will look forward to eating. Do as close to mindful eating as you can manage (Mindful eating just means paying attention to the experience of eating while you're doing it).
2. Did you binge because you got too hungry?
Your willpower will also be low when you get excessively hungry.
Suggestion: Pick times when you will eat each day. If your schedule is irregular do this the night before or in the morning. Make sure the times are not more than four hours apart. Focus on only eating at these times, even if food is offered at other times. Make sure you have good food choices easily available at these scheduled times.
Make sustaining snack choices e.g., an apple may not be sustaining enough to get you through to your next scheduled eating time.
If you are stuck in a cycle of bingeing and restricting, try getting back to normal eating after bingeing rather than trying to restrict to compensate.
3. Is having "forbidden foods" causing you to binge?
Two types of restricting lead to bingeing: physiological restricting (restricting calories) and psychological restruction (forbidding certain foods).
A classic example from eating disorders treatment is to imagine that if you were only allowed to eat orange foods. You would soon develop intense cravings for foods that aren't orange.
Suggestion: Practice eating moderate quantities of foods that make you anxious when you are not feeling at risk of overeating. This will help you learn that you can eat those foods without over eating. Try going around the supermarket aisles and make a list of all the foods you like but feel anxious about eating (e.g., pizza, ice cream, crossaints, or whatever it is for you).
4. Are you planning future alternative coping following episodes of overeating?
After you have had an incident of overeating, try to understand the situational/physiological mechanisms of why you over ate. For example, did you overeat because you ordered a high calorie meal at a restaurant? Or, because you were eating directly out of the bag?
Suggestion: Use strategies like practicing leaving food on your plate, or looking up the restaurant's menu in advance so you don't get overwhelmed by the options when you get there.
When you have overeaten, don't just try to forget about it without planning alternative coping for future situations.
Consider the following: whether your willpower tank was low, whether you got too hungry, whether you felt social pressure to eat, whether you were disinhibited due to alcohol, whether high calorie food was presented to you and good quality food was not, whether you were tired, or whether exlcuding foods is causing you to have the urge to binge.
5. Are you criticizing yourself after overeating?
Try to minimize the harm when you notice you've broken an eating rule. But ... be kind to yourself rather than criticizing yourself. You'll overeat less if you do this. Once you notice you've started overeating, talk to yourself in a kind and understanding way about how you feel bad about having made a mistake, but that everybody makes mistakes. Fill your tank will self-kindness and then take problem solving action like putting the bag of chips away.
This strategy is not designed just to make you feel better, it's designed to make you more likely to do the type of problem solving identified above.
If you liked this article
If you liked this article, you'll probably like this one on 50 Common Cognitive Distortions.
Subscribe to Dr Alice Boyes's articles
You can get an email alert whenever Dr Alice Boyes writes a new blog article - Subscribe.
You can read my prior articles for Psychology Today here.
Photo credit: Prevent Yo-Yo Dieting by o5com.