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Overcoming Barriers to Changing Eating Behavior

There are many reasons why you may not want to try to change your eating habits. Here are some frequent barriers and solutions to them.

"I'll never be able to do this." Not believing you can do something is often rooted in fear of failure. People put off making changes in their lives because of this fear. Solutions include:

  • Carefully defining "success" and "failure." If your goal is simply to improve your food choices or lose a modest amount of weight, you will probably be successful. If your goal is to lose an unrealistic amount of weight, "cure" a disease, or eat "perfectly," then the fear of failure is likely to hold you back.
  • Setting small, measurable goals. Eating two pieces of fruit a day can be easily done; giving up your favorite food is much harder, and you will be more apt not to try.

"I don't have time to make changes." This reason not to change is very common. It can take the form of "My life is too busy," "I'm always feeling rushed," or "I have more important things to do." Solutions include:

  • Learning ways to manage your time better. Find time management techniques that work for you.
  • Asking others how they manage to fit good nutrition into their lives.
  • Not trying to make too many changes at once. Small changes take less time, but they add up.
  • Asking your family and friends for help as you change your eating behavior. This may involve having them help you to free up your time.
  • Cooking quick meals. Many people believe that to eat well, you need a lot of time to cook. This is not necessarily true. There are many cookbooks on how to prepare quick, healthy meals.

"I don't like health foods." Many people use this reason or variations of it such as "I don't like vegetables," "I don't like low-fat foods," or "I really crave sweets and high-fat foods. I'll miss them." Solutions include:

  • Committing to change. Food preferences are slow to change, but they do change over time. Making a new behavior a habit usually takes 3 months or more. Decide to withhold your judgments about what you like and dislike in foods until you have given the new foods a chance.
  • Taking it slowly. You usually do not have to give up favorite foods completely, but you may have to change how often you eat them. Make your changes small and give yourself time to adjust.
  • Recognizing how others influence your food preferences. Carrots aren't nearly as tempting (or as profitable for the sellers) as cheesecake, and advertisers know it and play upon these preferences. Recognize advertising ploys as a way of manipulating your tastes. Also, if you think "rabbit food" when you eat carrots or salad, try to replace these negative messages with more positive messages about these foods.

"My family or friends won't support my new eating habits." Many people are held back from changing their eating habits because of how they think it will be supported by others. Solutions include:

  • Letting your family and friends know why changing your eating habits is important to you.
  • Finding others who want to change. Take a class on cooking healthy meals, find a Web-based community, or involve your family. Many people are working on nutrition issues.
  • Finding places to eat where you are comfortable.
  • Ordering "special foods" (meat broiled instead of fried, salad dressing on the side) casually and with minimal fuss. Ordering in this way is common, and both the cooking and wait staff are likely to be quite familiar with your requests.

"I am not good at making changes." This reason may take the form of "I'm too old (or fat, or set in my ways) to make changes." This kind of thinking is based on a fear of change. Often low self-esteem makes it difficult to change. Solutions include:

  • Making small and measurable changes. They are easier to make and usually cause less fear because there is less at risk. For example, try eating one more piece of fruit a day than you usually do.
  • Working on self-esteem, if this is an issue. Counseling can help with issues of self-esteem. The success you feel from improving your eating habits may improve your self-esteem as well. Gradually you may begin to change the way you view yourself and your ability to change.

To help you identify your own barriers to changing your eating habits, recall the last few times you thought about changing your eating behavior but didn't follow through with it. What held you back? Write down your reasons. Then for each of your reasons, write a response that helps you reconsider your choice. Look at this list of reasons and responses whenever you are about to make a choice about what to eat.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerAnne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerRhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
Last RevisedOctober 21, 2011

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: October 21, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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