Peggy called me for help, deeply discouraged because her weight loss efforts had stalled. She felt at a loss as to how to get moving again toward the weight loss she wanted and needed.
She was also quite frustrated by the pattern she had developed of overeating in the evening.
When it came to progressing on her plant-based journey, Peggy clearly felt stuck.
Peggy’s not alone
Have you been moving forward with your plant-based plan – perhaps, like Peggy, to help you lose weight – only to find yourself, also like Peggy, stuck along the way?
Not surprisingly, this is one situation where many people reach out to me for help.
In the process of making the switch to plant-based living, they may have started to incorporate more plant-based meals. They have a pretty clear idea what to eat.
Yet connecting these with day-to-day living for weight loss success may have stalled, leaving them with that stuck-in-cement feeling.
Getting unstuck can simply be a matter of implementing four ‘musts’
Fortunately, when you learn how to apply four ‘musts’ to making the change you desire, change becomes much easier – more doable. These four steps are necessary for making any kind of behavior change you want to make, and that includes eating.
Let’s take a closer look at Peggy’s (not her real name) situation, a recent client, as an example of someone getting stuck along the way.
Then, we’ll explore the four ‘musts’ to implement to jump your plant-based journey forward again, should you too find yourself in a state of ‘stuck’.
Finally, we’ll circle back to Peggy to see how she mobilized these four ‘musts’ to get unstuck and got going again with her plant-based project.
Peggy’s Poundage Problem
Evening overeating was distressing to Peggy because it was clearly getting in the way of her desire to lose weight.
Peggy already knew that eating lunch was important to her afternoon productivity and vitality. Though it wasn’t apparent to her before our conversation, it didn’t take long for Peggy to see that there was a connection between her weight loss stall and evening overeating, too. Eating a good lunch, she realized, was the single biggest factor in offsetting her urge to eat – and overeat – through the evening. She knew this because on those days that she didn’t take the time to eat lunch she also had the most trouble with evening overeating .
Skipping lunch was also impacting her control over making healthier food choices – critical in leveraging her commitment to excluding the animal products and processed foods that were daily fare for the rest of the family. Hungry and tired at the end of the day, it was all she could do to avoid the other foods in the kitchen that weren’t compatible with her plan, such as fried chicken and ice cream. Sometimes it was impossible not to just go with the status quo and eat…well, whatever.
Yet here’s the real kicker
Peggy was packing a healthy and sufficient lunch every day and taking it to work with her. Typically she would pack a salad, sandwich, and fruit. She would take her healthy lunch to work and put it in the fridge.
Yet she would get so busy at work that she just wouldn’t get around to eating it.
The next day, the same thing would happen.
In Peggy’s mind, she had simply become stuck. She was having trouble sifting through the challenges to discover where to start.
Which leads us to ‘must’ number one. Establishing a specific behavior that you want to change.
What the research says
Self-control is a critical element in adopting new behavior for lifestyle change. And self-control is most likely to happen when a person focuses on a behavior goal that is specific.¹
Further, motivation and a prompt to do the new behavior must be present. You also must have the ability to do the new behavior. Together, these four: specificity, motivation, ability, and a prompt – complete the roster of four musts.
Here’s a quick overview of these four musts. I’ll include a specific example at each step so you can get a clearer mental picture of how how to apply these important ‘musts’ to the changes you may be trying to make yourself.
These four musts may seem obvious once you see them.
Yet these are the very things at which I see people falter, getting in their own way of making successful change.
See if you can name which of these ‘musts’ were missing for Peggy.
Four musts for making the switch to eating plant-based
1. Are you specific enough?
At first, you may be inspired to simply eat more whole foods. This is an important starting point. But how do you actually put ‘eat more’ into place? It boils down to specific behaviors at designated meals.
Recall the importance of this element – specificity – from the special report 4 Steps to Halt Creeping Weight Gain and Feel Better in Your Clothes Today. Failing to identify the specific choices and behaviors—the micro changes—that will move you toward achieving your goal is where you can get into trouble right out of the gate.
Take for example the goal of eating more vegetables. We’ve all been told we need to “eat more vegetables!” and probably at one point you have even said “I need to eat more vegetables!”
Those people that actually follow through on eating more vegetables are the individuals who made specific plans about how and when to eat those “more vegetables”.
To be more specific, you can, for example, decide that you are going to eat more broccoli. It’s a start, but not as specific as it could be to insure success.
From there, you can drill it down to very specific behaviors, such as “I will eat a cup of broccoli at two meals this week”. Now, there’s a microchange that is specific, measurable, and doable.
(And if you have broccoli-aversion syndrome, then simply switch in some other dark green vegetable that you like. Kale. Swiss Chard. Spinach. Bok choy.)
Let’s take a look at what we have just progressed from, starting with the vague aspiration to the specific and doable:
Eat more vegetables >>> eat more broccoli >>> eat one cup of broccoli at two meals this week>>>eat one cup of broccoli at dinner on Monday and Thursday this week.
And if you happen to miss Monday (nobody’s perfect) you put it in on Tuesday.
2. Are you motivated?
Next, you need to be genuinely motivated to eat plant-based.
What is initiating your desire to change what’s on your plate?
Is health driving the switch? Do you want to lose weight? Or is it concern for the environmental impact of your diet? The lot of animals? Possibly all three?
Getting clarity on your ‘why’ is more important than you might think.
It’s not enough to try to please someone else, or follow your doctor’s orders to get healthy – unless you sincerely care about it.
You have to want it for yourself, for reasons that matter to you personally. Something intrinsic must be driving your interest in eating more whole plant foods and less of everything else.
It is the part of the picture that will help you move forward when resolve threatens to momentarily dissolve, or simply get a little bit fuzzy.
3. Are you able to do it?
Third, the change you want to make must be doable.
The easier it is to do the specific task to which you aspire, the more likely it is that you will follow through. Ease of follow-through is critical to your success, especially if motivation is questionable in intensity.
Let’s use the broccoli scenario. Keeping with our example of making the specific goal of eating one cup of broccoli at two meals this week, make a realistic assessment of how easy – or how hard – it is for you to accomplish this task.
Broccoli comes fresh on the stalk, as crowns only, as flowerettes in bags, and frozen. It might even come in a can, though I would need to check on that one. You can also get it prepared in the deli as broccoli salad, or served as a side or topper in a restaurant. And how about shredded in a bag? Come to think of it, I’ve bought that on occasion. Oh, and baby broccoli! Lots of options.
Which preparation will make it most likely that you will eat the planned servings of broccoli?
Personally, I’ve discovered that the broccoli on the big stalk, while being a bargain choice because you can cut of the crowns for steaming and chop up the stems for use in soup, was not near as convenient for me as buying the crowns.
As much as I aspired to the ideal of making my own soup stock from broccoli stalks, more often than not the stalks would just accumulate in the crisper, the edges would turn to slime, and I’d end up throwing them onto the compost heap.
On occasion I’ve bought bags of broccolli floweretes, but the flavor was bland – absent, more accurately – that I abandoned the bags and opted back into the crowns. But maybe the bags will be the best option for you.
Sure, you can get distracted with the debate about how much nutrition there is in flowerettes vs. stalks vs. frozen. And if you are like most of us you’ll just end up ditching the broccoli idea altogether. This is one of the biggest obstacles to making the plant-based switch: fear of not getting it ‘right’ – a conversation we started in Which Plant-Based Food Plant is Right For You? Find the vegetables you like, and find specific ways to eat more of those. You can always get fancy later on.
4. Are you going to remember to do it?
Finally, there needs to be a prompt or instigator for you to make the desired change. Otherwise you might just forget about doing it.
This is where knowing yourself comes into play. What about marking “broccoli tonight!” on your calendar Sending a timed message to yourself? Setting the alarm on your phone?
Beautiful picture of broccoli in the fridge that you’ll see during the course of the week?
Is there a brocolli app?
The point is, don’t leave it to chance. Remember, you are trying to build a new practice. That means you are going to need to remind yourself to follow through.
Sometimes it’s the simplest things that hamper progress, creating obstacles that you may not see.
When working with a client on transition to plant-based living and lifestyle change, usually these holdups are not hard to spot. Once I start walking them through their plans for change, these obstacles stand out clearly.
Sins of omission, yet easy to fix.
It all comes down to making a clear plan that respects the big four ‘musts’ for getting unstuck if that’s where you find yourself on the plant-based journey.
Which of the four musts was missing for Peggy?
Think back to Peggy’s story. What was working for Peggy and what wasn’t? What exactly was causing her sticking point?
Which of these four musts were missing?
The specific target behavior was clear: pack and eat a healthy lunch.
Was it motivation that needed a boost?
The fact that she was clearly prepared with good food on a regular basis makes it less likely that motivation was a problem.
She clearly had the ability to make a healthy lunch. Peggy was an all star when it came to packing and taking a lunch.
Yet when it came to eating it? Now that was a different story.
For Peggy, it was taking the time to eat her lunch that was the biggest obstacle.
The prompt to do the desired behavior was missing. She needed a reminder.
Peggy devised a plan whereby each day at lunchtime – prompted by an alarm on her phone – she would close her office door, get her lunch out, turn away from work responsibilities, and simply eat her lunch.
This resulted in getting Peggy back on track with eating her well-planned lunch. It also resulted in giving her a boost in afternoon energy levels, and effectively curtailed her evening overeating problem. It even inspired her to take a quick, brisk walk after lunch before getting back to work. Bonus!
Even if the instructions seem obvious – in Peggy’s case, to eat lunch – making a specific plan to make it happen makes it possible for you to bridge the gap between your intentions and your actions.
For Peggy, that means putting attention on how to actually make sure she took the time to eat lunch.
Is it possible one of these ‘musts’ is missing in your plan, keeping you ‘stuck’ along the way? Please share your thoughts – or questions – about these four ‘musts’ in comments below.
And as always, enjoy what you eat!
Loke, E., Bryan, J. and L. Kendall, “Goals and Intentions as Mediators of the Effects of Monetary Incentives on Behavior.” Journal of Applied Psychology 52.2 (1968)
Kanfer, T. and A. Goldstein. Helping People Change. New York. Pergamon Press, 1975.