Tired of yo-yo dieting? Learn how to finally break the cycle

Are you tired of the dieting rollercoaster? It’s no secret that losing weight and keeping it off is a challenge. The standard message of eating less and moving more in order to lose weight, means that many of us have tried countless diets, and exercise plans, sometimes starting as many as 4 or 5 every year, only to find ourselves back where we started within a matter of weeks. What if I told you that the missing piece isn't another fad diet, but understanding the powerful role your mind plays in this journey?


We often think weight loss is a matter of eating less and moving more, but it's far more complex, When I lost about half of my body weight in my 20s, this left me wondering what the key ingredients to success were, so that I could help other people lose weight and keep it off. Since then I have researched and written about eating and weight loss, and trained as a coaching psychologist.

The critical aspect that is often overlooked is the power of our mind in determining our success at weight loss. As an executive coach and expert in eating behaviour and weight management, I’ve seen firsthand how addressing the psychological aspects of weight management can lead to lasting transformations.

Here are a few of the many psychological factors at play, and tips for how to integrate these into your weight loss journey.

Why ‘going all out' doesn’t work in the long term

Our brains resist drastic change. Crash diets and extreme workouts often fail because our minds rebel, pulling us back to old habits. To succeed, we need to outsmart our minds by making gradual, sustainable changes.

Focus on one small change: Promise yourself to try just ONE thing this week. Monitor it, master it, and then move on to the next small change.

Where to start making changes

Our brains love autopilot, but this can create unhelpful food habits. Notice where you automatically reach for snacks — at your desk, in the car, or when cooking dinner? Awareness is the first step to change.

How to raise awareness:

Keep a journal for a few days to track your eating habits. Notice when, where, and why you are eating on autopilot. Track at least one day at a weekend and a couple of days in the week to capture different places, routines, and feelings.


What time of day do you find yourself reaching automatically for snacks?


Look at your environment, is there a particular place that you sit that you associate with snacking? Where are you eating the unplanned snacks?


Look at your emotions: We often turn to food for comfort, stress relief, or reward. Do you have any emotional triggers? They can be pleasant or unpleasant emotions and sometimes people neglect to notice the pleasant triggers.

Journalling in this way can help you pinpoint one small change that will make a huge difference. One of my previous clients noticed she had a habit of eating in a certain place, which was in front of the fridge whilst she was preparing meals. She decided to place a plate next to the fridge and when she was drawn to snacking on autopilot, she put the food onto the plate, rather than eating it. This helped her notice the quantity of food that she was eating in this automatic way. At dinner time, she made a choice whether to keep the food on her plate alongside her dinner or put it back in the fridge for another day.

Tackling the changes in small steps was helpful and she built up on this over time. She said “It is easy to do. Bite-size pieces. A week is long enough to practice each step and build on it.”

Instead of overhauling your entire lifestyle, pick one small habit from your journal. Small wins build confidence and momentum. Write down your plan. Writing things down is a very important step. I encourage all of my clients to keep a notebook and write down their goals and habits. Keeping notes on a phone is fine if that is practical for you, and it’s a useful step, but there is real power in writing things down the old-fashioned way.

Be precise about your goal - Write down whether it is a particular place, time of day or in response to a feeling that you are targeting. Is it a particular snack that you want to change? How many days a week are you going to try and do this? If you feel tempted to eat what will you do instead?

How to stop spiralling when it all goes off plan

Now that we've discussed building new habits, let's talk about what happens when things don't go as planned. Many people can easily describe the times they started diets and what motivated them to start, but very few can pinpoint an exact moment when the diet ‘ended’.

Often the end can happen when someone feels like they have ‘failed’ by eating a forbidden food, or having a ‘treat’ meal or snack. The sense of failure is usually accompanied by feelings of guilt, and many people find they talk to themselves in an unkind way. Feeling bad about yourself, and having difficult emotions can lead to emotional eating, and so this can lead to further guilt and a bit of a spiral.

How to disrupt this spiral: Everyone slips up. Instead of feeling guilty, have a plan for how you'll get back on track. Spend five minutes planning this out in advance. Consider how you would talk to a friend in this situation. What would you say to them? Would you acknowledge that this is a very difficult thing to do and remind them that it’s just one small bump in the road? Write down the advice you’d give to a friend.

Now fold it up, put it somewhere safe and use these words to help you be kind to yourself in the same way you would a friend. If the diet doesn’t work out for one hour, one day or even a week, you can still turn it around. Being kind to yourself is the first step to breaking the cycle.

How to stay motivated

You’ve identified a change you want to make, and set the plan in motion, but how do you keep it going in the longer term? There are many factors at play here; for now, let’s focus on celebrating the small wins and the advantages that bring for boosting motivation.

Achieving goals feels great, doesn't it? That sense of accomplishment is fuelled by your brain's reward system. Dopamine and serotonin, your brain's feel-good chemicals, surge when you hit a target, boosting your motivation, happiness, and focus.

While you can't directly control your brain chemistry, you can absolutely control the goals you set. And that's where the magic happens. Setting small, achievable goals provides a steady stream of wins, keeping those feel-good chemicals flowing and your motivation high.

Think about it: aiming for a large, distant goal like significant weight loss can be daunting. It's easy to lose steam when results seem far off. Plus, small changes might not always show up on the scale, leading to frustration and potentially triggering emotional eating patterns.

How to chart the small wins:

Celebrate each victory along the way. If we move beyond charting numbers on the scale as our measure of success and instead track our use of new psychological strategies, then we can enjoy lasting motivation and success. Try and track positives that you are interested in changing and stick to tracking one or two things a week until you get into the swing of things. Keep things manageable.

Here are some examples of behaviour that clients who work with me might track:

  • Ate lunch at the park instead of at the desk
  • Walked to work
  • Cooked a balanced dinner
  • Drank two litres of water
  • Used self-compassion exercise
  • Had a long bath (as a reward instead of snacking)
  • Paused before having a snack to check in with hunger and fullness

Tracking these new habits is as simple as jotting down an easy ‘yes’ or ‘no’ each day. Over time you can see how the new habits are building up, and this is putting the foundational work into your habit change for the long term.

After a while, these habits will feel like second nature. Your tracker is there to remind you of the work that you are putting in, and to reinforce your sense of achievement over time. If you are noticing a habit that you are not checking off regularly, you can ask yourself what is getting in the way, whether this habit is important to keep, and what else you might need to help you get it going. Getting some help to review your tracker and troubleshoot in this way is a valuable activity to do with your coach.

How a coach can be your secret weapon

Your coach provides personalised guidance, tools, and support to help you navigate the psychological challenges of weight loss. We'll celebrate your wins, help you troubleshoot setbacks, and keep you motivated for the long haul. Client testimonials speak to the significant advantages to be had from considering the psychology of eating when you embark on a weight loss journey: “Now I can make healthier choices and not feel deprived because it has become a habit. I am feeling the benefits in that I have lost weight, which in itself has become the reason I choose my health over a quick fix”.

If you're ready to embark on a transformative journey, consider partnering with me; Together, we can create a plan that addresses both your mind and body, setting you up for success.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Telford, TF3
Written by Dr Wendy Nicholls, BSc, PhD, PG Cert, C. Psychol, FHEA, ILM.
Telford, TF3

I am a chartered coaching psychologist specialising in weight management. I help people understand what is holding them back from weight loss goals, and create practical and sustainable habits to cultivate a healthy, natural relationship with food.

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