4 Mind Traps That Cause Us to Cheat on Our Diets (and How to Beat Them)

Pic of brain maze
Pic of brain maze

I looked in the fridge again – 3 cupcakes left. My body was filled with anxiety; I felt like I was powerless to resist, I’d been on SCD for 5 months and didn’t want to cheat… again.

As I paced the room, I knew I should throw them away but didn’t. 30 minutes later I caved and ate them all one right after another. And 4 minutes later, when they were gone, I felt awful –  full of shame, guilt and dreading how my stomach would feel later that day.

Have you ever been there? Have you ever cheated on your diet? I’ll be honest with you; I have many times. I wanted better health but I kept sabotaging my progress. It drove me crazy and I wanted to understand why. Was it psychological? Physiological? Environmental? Habit? Over the years, I’ve gone pretty deep into this and I’m excited to share some of what I’ve learned.

The Odds Are Stacked Against New Habits

Anyone who has attempted to make a healthy habit change knows that the odds are stacked against them. We humans are built for routine and deviations from it, especially healthy ones, are notoriously hard to stick to.

There are so many ways we can fall off the wagon and fail. But there are 4 traps that seem to get most people:

  1. Forgetting the Goal
  2. The “No Progress” Syndrome
  3. The “It’s Only For Me” Complex
  4. The “I’ll Never Make it, No Fun” Loop

If you’ve ever failed at making healthy changes, I’m sure you’ll recognize the 4 traps as soon as I explain them. All four jump and grab us – sometimes every single day.

If you’re cheating and ready for something different, the following suggestions will help you eliminate these common mind traps.

I Forgot!!!

Recently, I attended a very exclusive invite-only health conference with some of the brightest minds in the world. Many are on TV daily and work with mostly olympic and professional athletes. While there, I heard something very powerful: even the highest performers in the world need to be reminded of their new habit every 20-30 minutes otherwise they’ll forget.  And these people are paid millions to remember!

The reality is our brains are wired to forget. It’s too easy for us to unconsciously fall into old patterns when we’re around family, friends and our regular environment.

Now, there are lots of ways to remind ourselves. But Jordan and I like a powerful technique we started teaching 5 years ago in our eBook, which is to write the number of days you’ve been faithful to the new habit on your hand.

I use this idea every single time I create a new habit.

Here’s how it works: every day you’re faithful to your new habit, write the day on your hand. So, if today is day 1, then write “1.” Tomorrow write “2” and the next “3”… onward to 75,100,125, etc.

All day long, you’ll look down and see your hand and be reminded that you are committed to something bigger and better.

The “No Progress” Syndrome

I’ve fallen for this one so many times it makes me cringe. The “No Progress” Syndrome is the trap that everyone hits when trying to create long and lasting habit changes.

I have probably talked to almost every single coaching client I’ve ever had about this. The maddening thing is it’s so simple to fix, but it might require a second new habit for you to start: journaling.

But not just regular journaling. We need to get strategic about it. Because what happens in this loop is this: life gets hard and we begin to rationalize why our new healthy habit isn’t working and we should probably just stop putting so many resources into it.

Now, in this logical and rational argument the mind is searching for the same kind of answer, which is why things like writing the number of days on your hand won’t work here.  There’s no proof from the number on your hand that things are changing. Instead, you need to have a logical place to check to reassure your mind that you are indeed doing the right thing.

That’s where journaling with a purpose comes in. Here’s what I want you to do: each day, I want you to record a few markers. They should vary based on your goal(s) whether it be gaining/losing weight, perfecting your poop, increasing energy, etc. The most basic template, that anyone on this site could use, goes like this:

  • How Was My Mood Today? (1-5 scale)
  • How Did I Sleep Last Night? (1-5 scale)
  • How Much Energy Do I Have? (1-5 scale)
  • And then record every bowel movement and its Bristol Score.

Do that every day and when the day comes (and it will) that you’re feeling down you can open up your journal and remember that in the last 3 weeks your diarrhea has gone away, energy is up and quality of sleep is slowly improving.

The goal here is to create a resource that shows you over time (a week, a month, a year) that what you’re doing is worth it.

The “It’s Only For Me” Complex

Sooner or later, the selfish side of us comes out to play.  And when it does the drive to cheat becomes really strong. This is not a rational trap like the “No Progress” Syndrome. This is the most common irrational feeling-based trap.

And when it’s feeling based no amount of data is going to stop it. The counter for fixing this trap must also be feeling based. Now, there’s a couple of ways this trap can happen…

– Sometimes, it’s when you’re spending time and money on yourself and something or someone causes you to perceive that you should be doing that for someone else instead. This can create feelings of guilt or shame.

– Other times, it can happen when you’re acting socially different, like asking the waitress 7 questions to make sure you get the right meal while everyone at the table waits, groans and makes faces.

– Another big one is when family or friends give you a gift, treat or compelling reason to cheat on your diet. In that moment, you have to choose yourself over their gift and it can launch your mind into an irrational argument for why you should break your habit.

So, for those who’ve felt this before, like myself, I can tell you this complex is almost impossible to stop once it starts unless you preempt it.

The way to beat this loop is to know it’s coming and create other feeling-based reasons for you to stay on your diet.

Here are a couple feeling-based techniques I’ve used in the past…

– Create a social contract like the one in our eBook that says you guarantee to your friend, loved one or mentor that you will commit the following habit for x number of days.

– Write a check to a friend or loved one who can cash it and spend all the money if you cheat.  I once did this with Jordan when I was going through a rough time. Make sure the amount of money is something that would really hurt if you lost it. I had to do $1,000 because I knew even $500, while it would have sucked, didn’t really scare me.

– Use social media to announce to your following that you’re going to be doing this new diet, for instance. Then, post pictures or recaps of what you did on a daily basis. Be sure to tell them if ever you don’t post you want them to ask, poke and publicly shame you for cheating..

You don’t need to do all three of these of course, but depending on your personality one will likely resonate with you. The way to avoid this trap is to make sure you have an equal or greater than fear-based feeling to always stay true to your diet.

Over time, you’ll realize for success, you’ll have to choose yourself and your new habit above all else.  But in the meantime, to avoid falling off the wagon use these strategies.

The “I’ll Never Make It, No Fun” Loop

The other mind traps I’ve mentioned are more common but less serious than this trap.  It is by far the most devastating.  People who get off the wagon for days, weeks and months (and never get back on it) are stuck in this loop.

The “I’ll Never Make it, No Fun” Loop can and many times will destroy the chance of you ever even trying for your goal again.

This loop has 2 distinct parts that are closely related. They feed each other forming a circular pattern. The crazy thing is, the trap seems to be something it’s not; it seems to be one of loss and fear. While this may be true on the surface, what it’s really about is lack of solid support and affirmation. But not self-support or self-affirmation – to break the loop these must come from sources outside ourselves.

The first part of the loop, “I’ll Never Make it,” sounds pretty reasonable. But if this really were the case, then your progress journal would stop it dead. In this specific mind trap, you’ll read your journal but perhaps nothing has changed. You’ll then create new stories in your head about why you won’t achieve your goal and how you’re not making progress (fast enough usually), so you might as well quit now and cheat.

The second part of the loop is about deprivation. You look around and see your friends and loved ones eating and doing things you used to, and all you can focus on is how you’re losing out and not having any fun.

When you’re lost in this loop in your head, it’s almost impossible to stop (which is why outside support is so key). Having a support group and/or your whole family do the same diet at the same time are both ways to help get out of this loop. But, I actually think they aren’t as effective as having expert-level reaffirmation of your new habit. This is where reading stuff we write, having therapists or coaches, and using other tools like hypnosis really comes into play.

The problem with this loop is that you never know when it’s going to be triggered. So, unless you see your coach or support group daily, you can easily lose this battle. This is why technology is so cool; there are now cheaper and more reliable solutions for this loop.

A Strange Tool For Beating the “No Fun” Loop

The next tool might sound crazy or weird, but I like to judge things based on results rather than preconceived notions.

The tool I’m referring to is called medical hypnosis, and in our experience one specific medical hypnosis program has been proven to help people break through this loop… even when nothing else works.

More specifically, when my clients just can’t seem to psychologically get back on track… this program seems to provide a “reset” of sorts.

The result is they’re able to jump back on the program and usually with a sense of enjoyment that I rarely see in people not using it.

Okay, so I’m going to address the elephant in the room; this hypnosis program is NOT the kind you see at stage shows where people are clucking like chickens… and it isn’t new age or spiritual.

This is a medical hypnosis program put together by Dr. Roberta Temes (who is the editor of Medical Hypnosis, which is a textbook used in many medical schools to teach hypnosis).

It could just be that Dr. Temes has so much experience, but I’ve never found a tool as effective for helping people get over the psychological barriers of following a program… even other hypnosis programs on the market.

While originally built for those trying to lose weight (it’s called “Enjoying Weight Loss”), I have found this program to be powerfully effective for following ANY PLAN. This is because the same mental traps exist for those trying to lose or gain weight, adhere to a diet or make any healthy change for that matter.

So don’t let the name fool you! This tool works.

We need to feed our subconscious mind reassuring messages – ones that tell us we’re doing the right thing, that it’s worth it and that it can be fun.

Without this outside influence, we can easily become stuck in our own heads and lose the battle. I know I sure have… over and over, which is why I like Dr. Teme’s program. In simply 15-18 minutes a day, you can preempt this trap.

If you don’t already have a solid support group and/or the weekly one-on-one help of a trained expert, then I really hope you’ll give this program a try.

Winning the Healthy Habits Game is About Avoiding Traps

If you’re sick of cheating and ready to win the new diet habit game, then begin by avoiding the known traps that are coming your way. The 4 I’ve outlined today WILL happen to you at one point or another.

Jordan and I have talked with tens of thousands of people who’ve attempted to change their diet, and while we’re all different I can say that we’re also 99% the same.

These traps are coming for you and it is my hope that the outlined suggestions above will help you take the proper actions to avoid them.

– Steve

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