Posted 05/05/2020 in Category 1

Mental Contrasting for Better Diets and Fitness Habits

Mental Contrasting for Better Diets and Fitness Habits

Mental contrasting is a strategy to regulate yourself (i.e., your thoughts, feelings and actions) by imagining a desired future (e.g., looking fit and strong) through the present reality (e.g., I need to lose 2 stone and begin exercising) and mobilising your energy to achieve your goal. Most people set out to improve their health by losing weight through healthy eating and exercise. This strategy is perhaps the most sensible of all strategies in the diet and fitness industry. The major challenge for most people wishing to change their diet and fitness is not that they can’t imagine their desired future but their attempts to change behaviour often fail because they do not take present reality (e.g., I need to lose weight and I don’t seem to have time to exercise three times a week) into consideration. These hopeful dieters and exercisers see the finish line through the images they see on Instagram and build their hopes to emulate those people they see on Instagram. While this desired outcome is helpful it does not help the dieter or exerciser map the route along the way to success or account for the roadblocks. What’s needed is some helpful thinking and planning to turn the stumbling blocks into stepping stones. 


Before anyone begins a diet and exercise regime, it would serve them well to map out the timeframe and changes in behaviour they wish to see. They might outline 6-weeks of exercise and health eating. Each week can contain some exercise classes or activities that seem reasonable but challenging for the exerciser. Meal plans can be organised for each week too. The role of mental contrasting comes next. Now that we have set out our plans for the next six weeks, we need to prepare for what might go wrong along the way. The more realistic we are about what happens along the way the better we straddle the challenge when it arrives. 


Here are some common challenges on a diet and exercise plan:

  • You are eating a specific diet but your friend’s birthday party is a week on Saturday
  • You like to run outside but the evenings are getting a little darker
  • You struggle to eat your breakfast after your morning run and it makes you hungry in the evenings 
  • You normally run with your friend but she’s had an injury and cannot run
  • You get ‘shin-splints’ after your first week of running and you need to rest for two weeks to recover.


These are normal events for most people; however, they seem like immovable road blocks when they first appear. What’s needed now is a plan to overcome the challenge. When we are realistic about the challenges along the way, we feel more energised and confident that we can weather these minor storms and keep moving towards our goals.

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