The #1 Reason for Failure to Eat Healthy and How to Avoid it Forever

Only focus on your next step towards your health goal.

Small deeds done are better than great deeds planned. Peter Marshall

I struggle with black-and-white thinking. It sometimes serves me well, as when I need to put all my efforts into something. But it can also keep me from starting on that “something” altogether.

Just take healthy eating as an example. For many years, my health suffered from my poor food habits. I clearly noticed it in my daily life (it’s hard to ignore diarrhea), and yet I struggled with changing my habits. Because quitting sugar (which I knew was one of my main issues) and starting a new diet in my mind meant a lifetime commitment.

If I’d quit, it had to be 100% and forever – or else pointless. Better then that I kept on bingeing on ice cream and chocolate while telling myself that one day soon it would definitely happen. I just had to get through all of the new Ben & Jerry’s flavors first. Ignoring the fact that there will of course always be a new flavor to try.

And no, this was not my thinking as a nine-year-old but as an adult woman. It’s somewhat comforting to know that it’s a common practice. According to the brilliant book The Slight Edge, the main reason why we fall short on our goals is that we fail to see how all of our small actions add up. The junk food we have for dinner won’t make us fat overnight, so we don’t take the meal choice seriously. When we eventually end up twice our size, we wish we’d chosen a different strategy.

Although I haven’t always been aware of the Slight Edge philosophy, when I look back at my life, I can see how it’s served me well when I’ve practiced it unintentionally. One good example is when I got locked up in a psych ward a few years ago.

Because diarrhea was a real treat compared with the other side effects from my poor eating. I also suffered from depression and mood swings so severe that I was misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder. This misdiagnosis led to heavy medication that quickly sent me downhill and as mentioned, ended up with me seeking help at the Emergency Unit and being taken in for a week.

So there I was, alone in a hospital in my home country Sweden. My life was a mess: I had just lost the life that I had built for myself for the past six years in Australia. I had been forced to quit my job, had to give up my apartment since I couldn’t afford it, I’d had to say goodbye to all of my friends. Things did not exactly seem very cheerful for me.

You can perhaps imagine in what direction my black-and-white thinking took me. I felt like the most failed person on the planet, and that that was the way it would always be for me.

But the good thing with mood swings is that sometimes, you’re on a roll. Before my admission, I’d applied for a few jobs in London. While at the hospital, I received an email from one of the companies that they wanted to interview me! I was ecstatic. I had no idea what these people saw in me – or perhaps they just had a dress code in white. It didn’t matter: I had my chance, and I was going for it.

I managed to have the phone interview while in the psych ward and I have to say that I kind of aced it. How? Because I focused all of my energy on only the next task at hand: the phone call.

If I would have considered the reality of my situation, I probably hadn’t bothered. It’s not exactly a hop, skip and a jump between being locked up on heavy medication to being a sane and fully functional person with a flourishing career in a new country.

But although this particular job fell through, I did manage to land a similar role shortly after that. And it wasn’t many months until I had indeed achieved my goal with living in London, pursuing a corporate career and living a more or less normal life. This lifestyle turned out to not be my thing, but the point is that it was possible through breaking it down into small steps and taking them one at a time!

As a coach now helping others with healthy eating, I like to ask my clients: what action can you take towards your goal during the next 24 hours? If you have twenty kilos to lose, don’t worry about the long list of things that you think you’ll have to do to achieve that. (Who knows, it might not be as hard as you think it will be!) Only focus on your next right thing to do. Then the next one, and the next…

How to Make Small Steps a Habit:
1. Decide your small step in the morning. If you need a reminder during the day, put one in your phone. If you require accountability, ask a friend to check on you.
2. Review in the evening. How did you go? If you’ve fallen short on your goal, don’t beat yourself up. What are you going to do different tomorrow?
3. Celebrate. Don’t wait until you’ve made a life achievement until you reward yourself! Sticking to small daily actions is an accomplishment, and you deserve to treat yourself. What could be a nice weekly reward for your efforts?

Examples of Small Steps to Take Today:
1. Listen to a podcast to learn something new. Bulletproof Radio hosts world-leading health pioneers who share their best hacks with you.
2. Clean out your fridge. Don’t worry about how to stick to a healthy diet the next twenty years. Start with throwing out your junk food.
3. Take a run around the block. Just a few minutes will boost your energy and metabolism and leave you so much better off than staying on the sofa.

Having my life fall to pieces and being locked up was one of the darkest periods in my life so far. But it did teach me one thing: it’s possible to start over at any point. The main thing is just to take action, one task at the time. And forget about the new Ben & Jerry’s flavors.

Alexia Bjarkan

Weight Loss Coach at The Benefactory.

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