The Nutrition Mental Game: 5 Tips for Greater Consistency

The approaches taken when preparing for high-level sports performance, training for a lean physique, or simply looking to become a healthier and better functioning human are many and varied.  Depending on one’s goals, there are an infinite array of training methodologies and exercise options available.  Whatever training approach is used, each will have at least one defining characteristic: The Best Nutrition.

A properly designed and carefully monitored nutrition plan is of paramount importance when seeking fitness results.  In fact, without the right foods consumed at the right times and in the correct quantities, training is invariably compromised, motivation levels may plummet, body composition can be adversely affected, and frustration and despondency may ultimately set in.

Dietary diligence with a focus on finding what works best for our individual body type and specific training goals could be the most important factor when it comes to optimizing performance and building an impressively muscular physique. However, staying on track nutritionally remains a problem for many.  On the surface, adjusting to a clean eating schedule seems simplistic; however, it may prove difficult for even the most dedicated of trainees.

Why are People Sabotaging Their Training?
The reasons many people sabotage their training efforts by frequently splurging on too many of the wrong foods are countless. To start, years and years of deleterious subconscious conditioning can undermine the efforts of some by influencing them to make the wrong food choices despite a conscious awareness of how damaging such choices can be. For example, growing up in a home where food was used to comfort or reward can deeply condition a person to readily and habitually turn to such foods when certain feelings arise.  Even certain personality traits, such as impatience and an unwillingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions, can cause an otherwise well-meaning dieter to go off course.

Another reason many people go off course with eating lies in the simple fact that we are biologically programmed to seek out and consume large quantities of sweet and fatty energy-dense foods.  The body has one goal: to survive.  So there is a possibility that food will not be available for extended periods, our minds influence us to load up on calorically dense foods.  This is one reason why fast food franchises continue to flourish despite a widespread acceptance of all the harm they do.

It is also assumed that “eating clean” has to be a tasteless, monotonous chore while eating “bad foods” is more flavorful and varied.  To be the best we can be both aesthetically and functionally, our diets must be both healthy and sustainable.  While there are many ways to make clean eating less of a chore, the fact remains that the body will always respond best when the fuel we give it is clean, not contaminated.  It turns out that skinless chicken breast, brown rice, and broccoli could be the perfect bodybuilding meal after all.             

Now let’s take a closer look at some of the main reasons why people sabotage this most vital performance factor and how each may be addressed.

1. Patience
Impatience impedes progress faster than most other variables. Whatever the task, a hurried approach and an unforgiving attitude to how long a given task may take to complete can cause mistakes to be made, motivation to dwindle, and interest to be lost.  When it comes to eating clean over a long period (or, ideally, indefinitely), many lose patience if results do not come fast enough.  Depending on where a person begins, the physical transformation process can take many months, with progress in the initial weeks being especially slow. The most successful athletes know that achieving success can take much time and a great deal of sacrifice.  In this regard, to be patient one must also be emotionally diligent. To lose patience is to lose touch with our emotions and the result is a loss of control. Thus, the more patient we are, the more in control of the process we become, and the greater will be the ultimate reward.

Also, by being patient we learn to savor and enjoy the process. By fully committing over the long-term, we gain more satisfaction due to the quality of our results and by proving to ourselves that we can go the distance when it counts. The longer we persevere when times are tough, the more resilient we become and the more our integrity grows. Both resiliency and integrity are crucial when restructuring one’s diet for ongoing results.
If we have a strong desire, a sense of purpose, and a willingness to commit to our purpose, then patience is easier to practice.  You must also be willing to endure the bad along with the good.  For example, our patience may be tested when exercises that cause great physical ‘growth-inducing’ pain are introduced and during times when hunger strikes.  While difficult, if we see these difficulties as opportunities to grow and as a valuable opportunity to become more patient, then the end rewards are many.

2. Self-Responsibility
Self-responsibility serves as the very foundation for successful living.  It’s important to accept that no one can be with us 24/7 to ensure that we do not cheat on our diet. No one can force us to eat certain foods or consume each our six daily meals on time, every time. To achieve the physique and/or level of performance we desire, we must resolve to do everything that needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and with a full commitment to ensuring we give it our best shot. While a trainer or coach may provide advice and instruction, it’s not his or her responsibility to get the job done. Only we can do that.

Being responsible also means facing up to the task-at-hand and doing it whether we want to or not.  Whether it be putting off that high-calorie snack, getting up at 5:00 am to eat a pre-workout meal, or hitting a specific daily percentage for each macronutrient, we must take action and not make excuses for giving anything less than our best.  Procrastination is the enemy of responsibility.  A responsible person never postpones a task because it makes him or her feel uncomfortable, because they do not ‘have the time,’ or because of any other such excuse.  It may help to remember that like a muscle, self-responsibility becomes stronger and more impervious to stress the more we’re subjected to the correct stimulus (for example, ongoing adherence to the daily completion of a given set of tasks). Like an untrained muscle, self-responsibility may also atrophy over time – by not taking responsibility when it counts, we become less willing and able to live responsibly.         

3. Subconscious Programming
Our subconscious mind operates without conscious awareness, yet it steadily works away in the background, directing much of what we do.  In this way, all of the learned behaviors and beliefs we acquire through others and by general observation are stored for future use.  Whether these behaviors and beliefs (often ‘gained’ without conscious awareness) are helpful or harmful to how our lives unfold is of little consequence to the subconscious.  The information merely sits in the background and to a greater or lesser degree influences the choices we make and the actions we take.  The limiting nature of subconscious conditioning is a major barrier to goal attainment and the actualization of our dreams and desires.  Unfortunately for many, years of harmful subconscious conditioning can make sticking to a particular course of action extremely difficult.

A subconscious belief that healthy eating is futile, perhaps gained by observing the failed attempts of meaningful others to successfully eat well, is one such manifestation of faulty subconscious programming.  As a result, repeated patterns of healthy eating followed by days of gorging may arise without complete conscious awareness.  Indeed, much of what we do in life is done compulsively and without much thought – often via subconscious conditioning. It seems many people are forever justifying maladaptive behaviors without really knowing what is going on ‘behind the scenes.’  Overriding the subconscious is a Herculean task best achieved with expert help; however, this is not to say that with enough time and effort it cannot be done.

4. Stay Focused
Maintaining control when we are mentally at our weakest is crucial to achieving fitness success via the best nutrition, and such control requires complete unwavering focus.  Emotional instability often leads to irrational thinking and poor decision-making.  By staying focused (best achieved when we have a specific goal and the right incentive to achieve it), we are less likely to waver nutritionally.  When we are zeroing in on our target, we’ll be less adversely affected by the normal ups and downs of daily living that so often prompt a desire to seek more comforting food choices.          

Whenever thoughts, emotions, or other interruptions distract us, we invariably lose focus. Sometimes this focus is not completely recovered and task completion is compromised. For example, we may receive bad news and in order to reduce the stress associated with the bad news, we waiver from our plan.  Of course, life is such that it’s almost impossible to avoid such occurrences.  The key to staying focused, then, is to become refocused as quickly as possible.  The best way to do this is to first engage our voluntary thinking processes to reinforce our commitment to staying on track.  Second, we can take a broader view of the distraction and see how it fits into the greater context of our life.  Is the distraction so important as to sidetrack us from the bigger picture?  Finally, we can draw from past experiences to determine a way forward.  What did we do the last time this happened?  Did it work?  If not, why?  What might be the better option?  Though seemingly complex, this process can become fast and efficient the more we practice it.

5. Take the Long View
When beginning any physique transformation, it’s always best to begin with the end in mind.  To further enhance focus and to ensure motivation is not lost, a clear picture of what we intend our eventual outcome to be must first be established.  Just as a builder will always begin any project with a blueprint of what he expects the final outcome to be, so too must we begin our transformation with a clear vision and a clearly documented plan that is comprised of a series of concrete goals.  A good strategy here is to first think about our results and objectives.  Then, we can outline the methods we’ll implement to achieve them.  In this way, we’ll have a clear basis for decision-making and we’ll know exactly where we are every step of the way.  If we clearly know where we expect to end up, we can successfully modify our plan of attack at any stage, thereby bringing us closer to closer to our goals.

By implementing these five keys to upping your mental game, you will simultaneously up your ability to remain consistent with your nutritional goals.  Every bite of food will have meaning and nutrition, as a foundational element of physique transformation, will assume greater importance.  Furthermore, by having a clear vision of where you want to be long-term, you’ll be programming your subconscious mind to make this vision reality.  Because our thinking defines our reality, the more we hold a particular vision of success in mind, the more we bring about and become aware of the opportunities that, when acted upon, give us the results we desire.     

About the Author: David Robson

David Robson is a prolific health and fitness author with a particular interest in how training, nutrition, and mindset can assist bodybuilding progress, David Robson, a personal trainer and health educator, also walks the walk as a seasoned bodybuilding competitor. David, a Tae Kwon Do black belt, and second place finisher at the 1997 World Natural Bodybuilding Championships, has competed internationally in both Tae Kwon Do and bodybuilding.

In addition, David, who holds separate degrees in psychology, journalism, teaching, and sports performance, is Founder and Director of Advanced Personal Training New Zealand (ATPNZ), a company set up to educate people on how to become fitter, healthier, and better-performing in their day-to-day life, and as athletes.

Charity work forms a large part of David’s life. As Founder and President of the New Zealand Wheelchair Bodybuilding Federation (NZWBBF) and Founder and Director of Fit Futures Charitable Trust, David provides sporting and fitness training opportunities for people with physical disabilities.

David also provides online coaching for fitness and bodybuilding results.

Contacted David at:

Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice, nor is it to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician before starting or changing your diet or exercise program. Any use of this information is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the user.