Behavioral psychology has an explanation for your failed attempts at dieting

Cover credit: Flickr

Cover credit: Flickr

Almost everyone has struggled at least once in their life to follow a diet. Whether to lose some extra pounds, become fit or even gain a few pounds, it is no question that diets are familiar to everyone.

It might sound easy at first: deciding to follow a diet, following it and achieving what we want. But it actually takes very strong will and motivation to really get there and not give up in the middle of the process.

In fact, deciding to follow a diet is at first a decision to change, according to psychologists James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente, who introduced the transtheoretical model of change to explain the process an individual goes through when acting on a new healthier behavior. Their model’s stages of change are:

1. Pre-contemplation. During this stage, the person is not aware of the problem, and is not considering or thinking about change. Basically, when it comes to diet, they are not in any way concerned about their eating habits, or they do not see anything wrong with their bodies.

2. Contemplation. In this stage, the person is conscious of the problem and is considering change, just not in an active way yet. They can start by collecting information without really engaging in changing their routines. Admitting that a problem exists is a very important phase. But being in this stage is tricky because a lot of people get stuck here.

3. Preparation. This must be the most important stage, and skipping it will be damaging in the long term. Here, a person starts to plan new eating habits, ways to exercise and operates small changes. They take their time into thinking about the problem, realize that they are alone responsible for their body and finally convince themselves that they have an obligation to take good care of it.

4. Action. Like its name suggests, this phase is about actively engaging in the real changes: following the plan, exercising and staying motivated enough for it to last. This stage is difficult, because some people lack this motivation and might fall back in the previous stages. During this stage, it is important to be surrounded by like-minded and encouraging people.

5. Maintenance. This is when the change is not temporary anymore; the diet becomes  a lifestyle and the changes made are visible to everyone around. Good habits replace the old bad ones and the person gains their confidence and self-esteem; feelings of pride come along as well.

6. Relapse. It is very important to realize that there is always a chance of a relapse. The person might lose track and fall back into old patterns, making them adopt bad eating habits again. It might be an inside factor, like a desire to go back to the past, or an outside one, like a pressure from someone else.

This is a vicious cycle, operating in an upward spiral. Meaning that, after several relapses, the person learns how to be stronger so they do not fall into relapse again.

Through the whole change process, people should stay motivated and know how to surround themselves with the right people who push them forward and encourage them to achieve their goals.