The Sneaky Trap that Diets Set to Keep You Stuck (and how to break free)

There's a hidden trap in all diets'


From point tallying to low carb to 'clean eating' to the latest cleanse'


It's in all of them, waiting to ensnare you into years or decades of dieting attempts.


It's not something that the different diet gurus tell you about. They don't need to put words into your head to get ya.


It's built into the very fabric of diets themselves. And it's what keeps you going from failed, miserable attempt to failed, miserable attempt over and over again.


The trap that turns you into a victim and lifetime customer of the diet industry… is excessive outcome focus.


When you become excessively outcome focused ('I really want to lose weight and I want to lose it NOW!'), you put more faith into the promises of quick fixes and magic solutions. And you put your energy into enduring the diet hell that comes with those promises, then you become even more outcome focused.


It's normal to want to be compensated for your efforts. Let's picture 2 scenarios. In both scenarios, you are working a job on the weekend to get some extra money for going on vacations.


Scenario #1 – you're spending your weekends Alaskan crab fishing, enduring freezing rain, icy decks, and rough waters.


Scenario #2 – you're spending your weekends working in a bookstore where you get to talk to people about your favorite books.


Now let's say your boss tells you that they can't pay you for 4 weeks, but would like for you to keep working until then. In which scenario would you be most impatient ('Hey! What the hell?! Where's my money?!?!')? For the job that you endure physical hardship or the one that you enjoy?

Obviously, you're going to be more patient in the scenario where you're doing something you like. The more unpleasant something is, the less easy going you're going to be.


It's natural that if you're enduring a miserable experience that you will want to receive a handsome reward for it. And that's how the diet industry turns you into a customer for life.


When you put yourself on an extreme diet, it puts you in the position of feeling like you 'need' to lose weight ASAP.


When you tell yourself you 'need' to lose weight ASAP, it puts you in the position of feeling like you need to go an extreme diet.


The level of outcome-focus ('OMG what's my weight today?!'), not only creates the impatience and urgency that traps you into cycle-after-cycle of restrictive dieting, it's also what erodes your chances of success.


When you are focusing excessively on outcomes, you're stuck in 'reactive mode'. Instead of having a clear plan that you're going to execute no matter what, you're at the mercy of the scale.


The scale goes down a lb, you celebrate. Scale goes up a lb, and you immediately start looking to see what food you can restrict.


By definition, you're focusing on what is outside of your control (your weight is going to go up and down several lbs per month whether you like it or not) – and then you're highly prone to get frustrated, and lose motivation.


And since you're in reactive mode, you're not taking the steps that actually matter.


You could be getting better everyday at the skills and habits that will enable you to control your weight for the long term, instead you keep repeating the cycle of restricting and re-introducing the same foods over and over You keep going back to the same tricks you've always used, even though you know that they don't work.


How to avoid this trap:


  1. Stop trying to endure miserable experiences. Focus on behavior changes that actually work for your body and your life. Without having to grit your teeth and try to tolerate an aggressive diet and/or exercise regimen, you're not going to feel entitled to and be impatient for instant results.
  2. Turn your outcome focus into a performance and process focus. Instead of putting all your attention on the scale, identify in what general direction your health behaviors need to go. To borrow a concept from sports psychology, these would be our 'performance goals'. Decreasing the frequency or intensity of emotional eating episodes, eating less food per day, and hitting a total amount of servings of fruits and veggies per day would all be examples of performance goals. From there, choose a process goal (aka 'habit') to practice whole-heartedly that will relate to your performance goal.


Here are some examples of what I mean for performance and process goals for the desired outcome of weight loss:


Performance: Eat 100-120 grams of protein per day

Process: Have a primary protein source such as a lean meat with all 3-4 meals


Performance: Eat less

Process: Eat more slowly at lunch and dinner, aiming for 15-20 minutes from first bite to last bite.

Performance: Walk 10,000 steps per day

Process: Look at your FitBit every hour, and if you did not already get at least 500 steps in for that hour, go for a walk.


Performance: Decrease emotional eating intensity and/or frequency

Process: Ask yourself what specific emotion you're feeling when you're feeling compelled to eat your afternoon chocolate (not accepting 'because I want it' as an answer).

Talk soon,



Sean Flanagan is a weight loss & fitness coach who helps people burned on restrictive dieting to develop the skills and habits for lasting weight loss and health. In addition to co-founding the coaching program the Habit Project' with Amber, they've also co-written the free download '21 Habits for Lasting Fat Loss', which you can download HERE: