It's Thursday night. You're at dinner with friends, and you've eaten something you'll later regret.
You've been perfect all week, but the wheels have come off. With the weekend coming, why not wait until Monday for a fresh start?
A long stretch of suboptimal eating follows. Looking back, you realize you spend half your life waiting to start over.
If this sounds familiar, keep reading. There is a way out.
Why Do People Start Diets on Monday?
Monday is the first day of the traditional workweek. Consequently, people associate it with a clean slate.
Consider gym traffic. Your favorite machine–easily snagged on the weekend—is guaranteed to be swarming with sweaty knuckle draggers on Monday.
Dieting is similar. Monday is for "getting back on the wagon" after a weekend of overindulgence.
Since many people operate this way, you get some social support. There's a grim solidarity in the Monday reset.
The Monday reset is a microcosm of a New Year's resolution. It's a promise to yourself that you'll do better this time around.
But a promise is useless without a system to keep it. And continually starting on Monday is a poor system.
Why You Shouldn't Start a Diet on Monday
The Monday reset cycle looks like this:
- Resolve on Monday to eat healthy
- Depart from healthy eating on any subsequent day of the week
- Spend the rest of the week thinking, "I'll get back on track Monday," as you continue to break your dietary rules
- Resolve on Monday to eat healthy
- And so on
This is not a system for success. You're spending big blocks of life eating in ways you'll later rue.
These big blocks reinforce the habit of weekend debauchery. You start to think of yourself as a weekend cheater.
You want your identity to be "healthy eater." No caveats.
Yes, you can occasionally indulge. But since indulgence is a departure from your core identity, you'll snap back to nutritious eating like a rubber band.
The rest of this article will give you tools to solidify that identity. Then you can stop with this Monday nonsense.
6 Better Ways To Think About Healthy Eating
To achieve your health goals, you need sustainable dietary habits. These strategies will help.
#1: Think Daily Systems
Don't think about habits on a weekly scale. You build the most robust habits through daily repetition.
Daily repetition trains your brain to run behaviors on autopilot. These behaviors are independent of time, context, or incentives.
Daily systems are also more resilient than weekly systems. You're time-to-recovery is faster.
When your weekly system fails on Thursday, you're three days from the next refresh. But when your daily system fails on Thursday, you'll snap back by Friday at the latest.
#2: Measure and Manage
Track your progress daily to ensure compliance with your system. What gets measured gets managed.
Your weight loss system might involve restricting carbs and calories. Keep track of these metrics in the Carb Manager app.
#3: Reframe Your Relationship With Food
The way you think about food influences your behavior at mealtime. Let's consider two approaches.
If you regard all calories as "food," muffins and avocados are on equal footing. That's not a useful transmission to your brain.
A better approach is to split food into two categories: energy and pleasure. You need healthy food for energy, but do you need that extra pleasure from junk food?
You don't. You can get the pleasure elsewhere—from exercise, a massage, a good book or film, time with family, or even the taste of healthy food once your eating pattern is habitual.
#4: Control Your Environment
Most people think healthy eating is a matter of willpower. But you don't need willpower when you have good habits.
Forming good habits requires a good environment. It's hard to quit sweets if you linger within smelling range of a Cinnabon.
The trick is to control every possible aspect of your environment. Here are some ideas:
- Keep junk food out of the house
- Choose restaurants with healthier fare
- Create meal plans and meal prep healthy foods for the week
- Make the Carb Manager icon easily accessible on your phone
- Covertly dispose of the office donuts
Okay, maybe don't chuck the boss's donuts, but you get the idea. Do what you can.
#5: Consider Your Future Self
Run all health decisions through the filter: "Will this benefit my future self?" Your answer will usually steer you right.
Remember that your daily systems exist to improve your future. Small actions produce big results over time.
As a bonus, you'll be living with a clean conscience. You'll regret it on Monday if you spend Saturday doing backstroke in a pool of jellybeans.
#6: Forgive Yourself If You Slip
Nonetheless, you're bound to eat or drink something you'll regret. Instead of wallowing in guilt, forgive yourself and return to your daily system.
Sure, a pang of regret can be helpful. It's emotional feedback that you've done something counterproductive.
But too much regret can be overwhelming—so overwhelming that you throw up your hands and quit your diet. At least until Monday.
Don't fall into this pattern. Everybody makes mistakes. The important thing is how you respond to your mistakes.
So ditch the Monday mindset. Every moment is a good moment to forgive yourself and begin again.