It’s National Nutrition Month and today, March 9, is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day!
I’m very excited to offer you a wonderful guest post by Dr. Ellen Albertson, PhD, RDN, CD about how to motivate yourself to eat right. Dr. Ellen is the founder of SmashYourScale.com and the author of The Diabetic and The Dietitian: How to Help Your Husband Defeat Diabetes…Without Losing Your Mind or Marriage! which will be published later this spring. Watch this space for an announcement when the book becomes available.
Motivate Yourself to Eat Right – part one
by Dr. Ellen Albertson, PhD, RDN, CD
Eating right is challenging. I know. I’m a food psychologist. I’ve heard every excuse imaginable: “I don’t buy produce because it spoils,” “Healthy food is expensive,” “I can’t stop snacking at night,” “My spouse is a junk food junkie,” “I have to keep chips in the house… for the kids.” Hmm, if you say so…
In 20 years of practice, I’ve discovered the key to eating right and defeating the unhealthy obstacles in your path is increasing your motivation. Boosting your motivation will empower you to ditch the excuse mindset and develop healthy new habits.
Motivation — the desire to act in a purposeful manner to achieve specific desires — is what you need to succeed. From getting in shape and losing weight, to swapping the 500 calorie Mocha Frappuccino for a healthy green smoothie, motivation is the driving force needed to attain goals. Fortunately, while the amount of motivation we have varies by person and situation, research shows that you can influence and increase your level of motivation.
First it’s important to understand the two broad types of motivation: extrinsic (external) and intrinsic (internal). Extrinsic motivation comes from outside and refers to doing an activity to earn a reward or avoid punishment. It’s the “carrot and stick” mentality that we typically associate with motivation.
In contrast, intrinsic motivation comes from within. It’s driven by interest and enjoyment, performing an activity for its own sake rather than for some external outcome or reward. With intrinsic motivation, you’re not improving your diet because you have to, others are making you do it or you feel bad about yourself. You’re eating right because it’s important to you and you value being healthy.
Here’s the surprising truth about motivation. While we tend to think the “carrot and stick” approach is better at influencing behavior, engaging in an activity because it interests, challenges and actualizes you is a much more powerful motivator. Fearing punishment may motivate you to see a nutritionist after the doctor threatens, “Lower your cholesterol or else!” It may even compel you to purchase a gym membership or give up ice cream to look good on the beach. But alas, research clearly shows that being motivated by external factors doesn’t last for long.
According to Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, the three elements that truly motivate us are autonomy, mastery and purpose. What will inspire you to forgo the fast food drive through and choose healthy eating consistently is the desire to direct your life (autonomy), the drive to get better and better at what matters to you (mastery) and the longing to be in service of something larger than yourself (purpose).
Focus on inner motivation and building autonomy, mastery and purpose and before you know it you’ll have forgotten your past struggles with food and will be able to stick with a healthy diet because it’s not a diet anymore… it’s how you, a healthy and happy person, want to eat. Eating right is no longer a goal… it’s who you are.
In part two of this series, I’ll provide three specific powerful, yet simple things you can do to increase your motivation to eat right.
Dr. Ellen Albertson, PhD, RDN, CD is a Psychologist, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Wellcoach. Dr. Ellen is the founder of SmashYourScale.com and the author of The Diabetic and The Dietitian: How to Help Your Husband Defeat Diabetes…Without Losing Your Mind or Marriage! scheduled for release later this spring.