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Don't Get Burned by Diet Burnout

How to stay psyched for the long term

Examine Your Motivation

Sticking to a weight loss program is, obviously, a matter of motivation, and the key is to be motivated for the right reasons, says Paul P. Baard, PhD, an organizational and sports psychologist at Fordham University.

Intrinsic motivation -- which comes from inside us -- creates the energy to succeed because we want to do it, Baard says. But extrinsic motivation -- say, losing weight because your partner or physician wants you to -- is hard to maintain because it comes from outside.

So how do you gain (and maintain) intrinsic motivation? Baard has created the acronym ACRE to explain it:

"If a peanut butter sandwich for lunch every day works for you...fine."

  • A is for autonomy. "When you're losing weight for yourself, you feel excited," says Baard, "You're not feeling pressured from the outside."
  • C is for competence. "Setting your own, achievable goals gives you competence, and confidence, that you are able to do this," Baard says.
  • R is for relatedness. Choose an "accountability partner" so you're not alone in your efforts. "This person isn't a taskmaster, but someone who genuinely cares for you and who can help you establish realistic goals," he says.
  • E is for environment. "Create an environment that motivates you," Baard says. That also means realizing that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work: "Take elements of different programs and use what works for you."

Get Creative

For Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland, the antidote for diet burnout is menu creativity.

"When you think you're going to hurt someone if you see one more asparagus spear, it's time to shake it on up," says Peeke, the medical advisor for Discovery Health Channel's National Body Challenge.

Instead of spending mental energy beating yourself up over your lack of motivation, put that energy into thinking differently about your diet.

"Experiment with different foods," Peeke suggests. "Don't get stuck in the rut of the same foods over and over again." Try a fruit or vegetable you've never had, or prepare a favorite food in a new way.

But if a peanut butter sandwich for lunch every day works for you, that's fine, says Peeke. Choose dinnertime or weekends to be adventuresome.

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