Peer Pressure, Haters, and Sticking to Your Diet
You may have read the best diet books, kept up to date with the latest nutrition studies, and even have guidance from top dieticians, trainers, and coaches, but what good are all those resources if you can't stick to a plan when you're on your own? Consistency is absolutely crucial when it comes to building your ideal physique and maintaining optimal health, and it's not something that's given nearly enough emphasis.
Assuming that you have a reasonable framework (whole-food based with a variety of vegetables, fruit, and quality animal proteins), most people's failings wont stem from the specifics of their diet plan. More likely it will come from the inability to stay consistent long enough to see results. Everyone has their own reasons for falling off the wagon, but the main issue I want to address in this article is falling victim to negative peer pressure from friends and family.
I recently had the honor of hearing the legendary bodybuilder Dorian Yates speak about his career in professional bodybuilding and life after retiring from competition. He had a lot of great stories and insights, but the one thing that really made an impact was when he said, “You're truly free when you stop giving a fuck.” It may sound funny and a bit crass, but that's the mindset that will help you maintain unwavering focus on your own plans, and to not let distractions and other people's opinions throw you off track.
We're not going to get into diet specifics at all in this article. What we'll be emphasizing is the ability to actually stick to a plan and follow through with what you set out to do, while deflecting the negative peer pressure many people are bombarded with when they are in the process of revamping their diet and transforming their physique.
Get Clear on Your Priorities
“If you don't design your own life plan, chances are you'll fall into someone else's plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.”
If you’re not 100% clear on what your priorities are and what you want to achieve with your physique, it's not likely that the choices you end up making will improve your situation. Without being committed to a plan, you'll be much more likely to procrastinate, get distracted, and just follow the crowd. Be specific with what you aim to do and how you will do it. For example, a specific body composition goal would be to gain 5lbs of muscle mass over the next 6 weeks while maintaining your body fat percentage. A specific plan of action would be to eat at least 1.5g of protein per pound of body weight per day, and ingest 300g of low-glycemic carbs on training days.
You might be changing your diet for health reasons, such as improving energy and reducing systemic inflammation. In this case, your specific plan could be to implement an elimination diet for the next 4 weeks, and then reintroduce one food per week during the “challenge” phase of the diet.
Regardless of your goal, make sure it's specific enough that you can put some numbers on it and track your progress. If your goal is too general, something like “I want to get bigger,” then you won’t be able to make a specific plan of action around that.
Jump-Start Your Momentum
When you first embark on a new eating plan, let's assume that you have no willpower. Why? We want to minimize your chances of slipping up. Live like a hermit the first few weeks while you get yourself on track. As much as possible, avoid any situations where you could fall victim to temptations or peer pressure. This might mean skipping out on after-work events, happy hours, and dinner outings.
This might sound a bit extreme, but it's also the fastest way to get results. If you want to get momentum going and start making progress, it is my preferred way to avoid slipping up in those first few weeks that you're on a new program. I'm sure you'll have friends and family who think you're crazy for doing this, but the ones who truly care about you will understand that you're pursuing a positive change in your life, even if they do give you a hard time. Besides, this phase should only be temporary. The point is to build up some consistency in your habits.
If you're lucky, you might be able to recruit a friend that has the same health or physique goals as you, which will make the process much easier. Surrounding yourself with people of the same mindset, or who have already achieved what you are striving for, is a great way to increase motivation and adherence to your plan, and you'll have a support group you can go to to ask questions and bounce ideas around.
Learn How to Eat in Public
Focusing on yourself those first few weeks of starting a new diet plan is a great way to build good habits and get your metabolism shifting in the right direction. But I'm not suggesting that you become a permanent social outcast just so that you can stick to your diet. The last thing I want is for your diet to become a burden that interferes with you enjoying your life.
Maintaining your diet while eating with friends and family will definitely be a challenge. Everyone has friends or family that couldn't care less about eating healthy, especially during the holidays or at social gatherings, and they always want to drag you along in their overindulgence. When you're planning to go out, here are a few strategies you can implement to help minimize the chances of getting off track:
- Eat before you go! If you know you're going out to a place that doesn't have a lot of great options that fit with your diet, have a good meal an hour before you go. That way you can avoid having to choose between sitting there being hungry and miserable, and ordering something that will set you back a few days. Maybe you can find an appetizer or side that fits with your dietary requirements. If you eat a good meal beforehand, you will also be in a better mood, and won’t make rash decisions due to hunger.
- Think about how a bad meal affects your progress and how you will feel the subsequent days. If you are someone who is has struggled with keeping your body fat down and are just now starting to make progress, one high-calorie meal loaded with carbs will absolutely set you back. You don't yet have the metabolism or insulin sensitivity to be able to handle that without losing progress. On top of that, after you deviate from the plan once, it is much easier to keep cheating and fall off the wagon altogether. On the other hand, being able to string together several weeks of good eating will increase your motivation to keep your progress going.
In my case, my motivation for sticking to a diet doesn't have anything to do with losing body fat, but instead with keeping food sensitivities out of my diet so as to not set off inflammation in the gut and throughout the body. My main triggers are wheat and cow dairy, so I know that avoiding them is key to me feeling good and keeping my system running at 100%. If I were to have several slices of pizza, I know that for the next 3-4 days I will feel achy in my joints, bloated, constipated, and my skin will break out. Enjoying one meal is not worth all that, especially when there are equally as delicious alternatives to choose from.
- When people bring up how you used to eat differently and you “turned out okay,” what they don't realize is that you were not satisfied with just being “okay.” Let them know that while that may be true, now you're trying to better your situation. Being overweight/underweight/low energy wasn't ok with you anymore.
- Put your needs first. At the end of the day, you'll either be closer to your goal or further away from it, and there's no one to blame for that but yourself. Do you really care that much if people think the way you eat is funny, or that you are wasting your effort trying to improve yourself? Don't take people so seriously! Seeking validation from others won't do anything for your long-term success and happiness. Besides, when those people are alone at home, do you really think they're sitting around contemplating your diet? They couldn't care less!
Not Everyone Wants to See You Succeed
Whether you're just starting to make positive changes in your diet and exercise routine, or you have been at it for a while now, you will inevitably come in contact with haters, naysayers, and people who want to put you down. Despite the fact that you are minding your business and not bothering these people in any way, they will still go out of their way comment on your life choices. Understanding the reasons why they do this will allow you to ignore them and to stay focused on what's important to you.
Many people have tried and failed to accomplish what you are trying to do. For those people, seeing you fail will make them feel better about themselves, because it allows them to rationalize their own failures. Instead of trying to identify what they could improve upon in themselves, they would rather have the satisfaction of knowing that someone else couldn't do it either. Accept the fact that you will have people rooting for you to fail, but realize that they are doing it because of their own shortcomings. For them, it's much easier to justify in their mind that something just can't be done, instead of admitting that it's a lack of drive, determination, planning, or organization that led to their failure.
Other people will hate on you just because you have a different diet philosophy than they do. They'll feel challenged by the fact that you are going about it in a different way, and will want to waste time arguing with you or trying to convince you that their beliefs are better. I'm sure you've encountered shouting matches (in person or virtual) about the merits of paleo vs. vegan vs. IIFYM vs Atkins, etc., that inevitably end in an exchange of insults. And at the end, not one person will leave with a new perspective. Galileo Galilei once said, “You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him to find it within himself.” Realize that you're not going to change anyone's mind by engaging in these fruitless pissing matches, and on top of that, you'll waste a lot of time and energy that could be devoted to being productive.
Some people will hate on you simply because they are insecure, which is closely related to the last point. People who are insecure are generally afraid of change, even if that change doesn't directly affect them. For an insecure person, someone doing better for themselves will make them feel worse about their own situation, so they'll do whatever they can to discourage you and kill your spirit. We're all insecure or envious at times, but dwelling on what other people are doing is a total waste of time and energy. Instead, learn from the habits of other people who have been successful in what you're trying to accomplish, and focus on applying those habits to your own life.
Focus on Your Goals, Not Your Excuses
At the end of the day, it's up to you. Hold yourself accountable for the physique and health goals you want to accomplish. You'll encounter a lot of people who want to put in their two cents, but no one has the ability to distract you from your goals unless you let them. Now you have no excuses, it's time to put in the work!
Don't overthink your plan: