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Overcoming Cognitive Obstacles to Sticking to a Healthy Diet

Nourishing Your Body Sustainably

Obstacles To A Healthy Diet

Maintaining a healthy diet is crucial for overall well-being, yet the obstacles to a health diet are great, and many people find it challenging to stick to their nutritional goals. Cognitive obstacles often play a significant role in this struggle. In this blog post, we’ll explore these obstacles and provide strategies to help you overcome them, making it easier to achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

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The Knowing-Doing Gap Of Healthy Eating

The knowing-doing gap refers to the disparity between knowing what you need to do to be healthy and actually doing it. Many of us are aware of the steps required to improve our health—such as eating more vegetables, reducing sugar intake, and exercising regularly—but find it difficult to implement these changes. Common barriers include lack of time, motivation, and support.

Strategies To Overcome Obstacles To A Healthy Diet

  1. Setting Realistic and Achievable Goals: Start by setting small, manageable goals that you can gradually build upon. This makes the process less overwhelming and more attainable. 
  2. Building a Support System: Surround yourself with supportive friends, family, or a community that encourages your healthy habits and will keep you accountable.
  3. Creating a Structured Plan with Actionable Steps: Develop a clear plan with specific actions you can take daily, weekly, and monthly to move towards your health goals.

Goal Setting Strategies

  • Writing Daily, Monthly, and Yearly Goals: Break down your health goals into manageable timeframes, and identify barriers to each goal (i.e., partner, kids, busy job, financial)
  • Prioritizing Daily Tasks According to Goals: Focus on the most critical tasks that align with your goals (i.e., if your goal is to get more sleep, set your bedtime reminder for 1 hour earlier, or if your goal is to eat more greens, add a big tub of spinach to your grocery list, and meal prep/freeze individual smoothie bags on the weekend for the upcoming busy week).
  • Tracking Progress and Adjusting Goals: Regularly review and adjust your goals to stay on track.

Inversion Theory For Eating Healthy

Inversion involves looking at a problem or decision from the opposite point of view so, for example, rather than focusing on achieving success, Inversion encourages you to consider how to avoid failure. It emphasizes identifying and avoiding obstacles that can prevent success. This perspective shift helps in making more informed decisions and increases the likelihood of reaching your goals by preemptively addressing challenges (12).

How Inversion Theory Can Help You Achieve Your Health Goals

Goal: Lose 10 pounds in three months
Inversion: What would prevent me from losing 10 pounds in three months?
Identified Obstacles:
  • Skipping Workouts: Lack of consistency in exercise routine
  • Unhealthy Eating Habits: Consuming too much junk food and sugary drinks
  • Emotional Eating: Eating in response to stress or boredom
  • Poor Sleep: Not getting enough quality sleep
  • Lack of Planning: Not meal prepping or planning meals


Strategies to Overcome Obstacles:
  • Skipping Workouts: Schedule workouts in advance and set reminders. Find a workout buddy for accountability.
  • Unhealthy Eating Habits: Keep unhealthy snacks out of the house and prepare healthy meals in advance.
  • Emotional Eating: Identify emotional triggers and find alternative coping mechanisms such as journaling or talking to a friend, your nutritionist or naturopath.
  • Poor Sleep: Establish a regular sleep schedule and create a bedtime routine to improve sleep quality.
  • Lack of Planning: Dedicate time each week to plan meals and workouts, ensuring you have the resources and time to follow through.

The Gut-Brain Connection

Explanation of the Gut-Brain Axis

The gut-brain axis is the communication network that links your gut and brain. A diet that does not support gut health can lead to cravings for unhealthy foods. For example, sugar-loving microbes in the gut can cause you to crave more sugar (1). Perhaps the knowing-doing gap starts with the health of your gut – change your diet, close the gap!

Tips for Improving Gut Health

  1. Incorporating Probiotics and Prebiotics: These support the growth of healthy gut bacteria (2, 3)
  2. Reducing Sugar and Processed Food Intake: Excessive sugar and processed foods can disrupt the balance of gut bacteria.
  3. Eating a Diverse, Fiber-Rich Diet: A variety of fiber-rich foods promotes a healthy gut microbiome (4).

Small Changes Equal Big Results

Starting Small

Sometimes the knowing-doing gap is related to feeling overwhelmed with too many big changes. Incremental changes can lead to significant improvements in health over time. Small, manageable changes are easier to maintain and can build momentum for larger shifts.

Building Healthy Habits Gradually

  • Adding Leafy Greens to Meals: Start by incorporating greens into your breakfast (omelettes, frittatas, smoothies), lunch (salads) and dinner (roasting veggies like broccoli, cabbage, asparagus, zucchini, etc.). 
  • Incorporating Protein into Breakfast: This helps keep your blood sugar stable, which keeps you feeling satisfied after meals, reduces cravings for sugar & carbs and provides stable energy throughout the day (5,6).
  • Adding Healthy Essential Fatty Acids: Include salmon, avocado, olive oil, walnuts, or pumpkin seeds in your meals for numerous health benefits – supporting brain function, nervous system, regulating inflammation, hormone balance and promoting heart health (7,8,9).

Expanding Healthy Practices

  • Gradually Improving Sleep Habits: Aim for an additional hour of sleep each night with your goal being 7-8 hours per night (10).
  • Incorporating Physical Activity: Start with 20-30 minutes of walking daily, then add strength training, 2-4 times per week, and yoga or stretching.
  • Using Hand Portions for Serving Sizes: This helps control portions without the need for measuring – palm-size protein, fist-size carbs, thumb-size healthy fat, and half plate veggies.
  • Increasing the Variety of Fruits and Vegetables: Aim to try a new fruit or vegetable each week until you regularly consume 20-30 different varieties (11).

Mindset Around Body Image

Understanding Body Image Influences

Whether we are aware of it or not, many of our beliefs about body image come from family, friends, and societal messages. These can impact our relationship with food and our bodies, and can contribute to the gap between knowing and doing when it comes to creating new healthy habits.

Developing a Positive Mindset
  • Approaching Your Body with Compassion and Understanding: Treat yourself with kindness and avoid harsh self-judgment.
  • Recognizing and Combating Shame, Judgement, and Guilt: Identify negative emotions and replace them with positive affirmations.
Healthy Coping Mechanisms
  • Physical Movement, Deep Breathing, Calling a Friend, Journaling: Find healthy ways to cope with stress and emotions.
  • Emotional Outlets: Activities like crying, listening to music, and watching a funny show can be therapeutic.
  • Celebrating Small Wins: Acknowledge and celebrate small achievements, such as drinking water, eating veggies, making home-cooked meals, walking, not skipping meals, stopping when full, and getting enough sleep.

Navigating Confusing Health Information

Challenges with Conflicting Information

The vast amount of health advice available can be overwhelming and conflicting, making it hard to know where to start.

Seeking Professional Guidance

At Sequence Wellness, our team of naturopaths and holistic nutritionists can help you navigate the information and create a personalized program tailored to your unique health goals.

Lauren Follett

Lauren Follett | Registered Holistic Nutritionist

Overcoming obstacles to maintaining a healthy diet is possible with the right strategies and support. Start small, build healthy habits gradually, and seek professional guidance when needed. If you’re ready to take the first step towards a healthier you, contact Sequence Wellness for personalized support and guidance.

Lauren Follett graduated in June 2005 with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Western Ontario, and earned her Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN) designation from the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition in December 2012. Lauren completed her Yoga Teacher Training in 2018 and is an active yoga teacher in her community.

As an RHN, Lauren’s goal is to help clients feel and look their best. She offers one-on-one and group nutrition counselling to help women with weight loss and digestion issues. She doesn’t believe in diets or quick fixes; she believes in teaching her clients how to live a healthy, balanced lifestyle.

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