07/09/2012 02:19 pm ET | Updated Sep 08, 2012

Why Can't I Stick to a Diet? (And Other Frustrating Habits)

  • Why can't I stick to a stupid diet?
  • Why did I eat that candy? I wasn't even hungry.
  • Why did I order the burger and fries? I was going to order a salad.
  • Why did I eat that whole bucket of popcorn? The movie hasn't even started.
  • Why did I eat so much? Now I feel miserable!
  • Why did I hit my snooze alarm? I was going to get up early and go to the gym.

Sound familiar? These are symptoms of habits that keep you stuck in an eat-repent-repeat cycle. By definition, a habit is a recurrent, often unconscious pattern of behavior that is acquired through frequent repetition.

It is common for people to attempt one diet after another, trying to break these habits. But that's a habit too, because dieting is like weeding your garden with nail clippers: It's a difficult, endless, futile chore that never gets to the roots.

The problem with any habit is that it takes away your options. When you act out of habit, you continually recreate the past. Until you answer the question "Why?" no matter how motivated you are, new patterns cannot emerge from old, often unconscious, beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

The Mindful Eating Cycle

What may be missing is the necessary structure for getting to the root of the problem. Without this structure, the whys (like those in the examples above) remain a source of recurring frustration. Try as you might, the solutions remain out of reach.

I developed the Mindful Eating Cycle to provide the structure for making ineffective beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors conscious. Once they are conscious, you are able to systematically replace them with more effective beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

The Mindful Eating Cycle explores six main decision points:

  • Why do I eat?
  • When do I eat?
  • What do I eat?
  • How do I eat?
  • How much do I eat?
  • Where do I invest my energy?

The next time you find yourself asking why?, use the structure of the Mindful Eating Cycle to dig a little deeper. You may just get to the root of the problem this time!

For a complete discussion of the Mindful Eating Cycle, download chapter 1 of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat.

For more by Michelle May, M.D., click here.

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