Senior Clinical Psychologist
St. James’s Hospital
Overcoming Barriers to Change
PLANNING YOUR FUTURE
What has stopped you from changing your
eating habits in the past?
What do you think might stop you in the
Identifying these barriers and having a
plan to help you get past them will help
you change bad habits into good habits.
CHANGING BAD HABITS INTO GOOD HABITS
requires several steps, from setting your
goals to getting support.
One of the important steps is figuring out what
your barriers are.
When you hit a barrier, get support—from
your family, friends, or doctor.
Slip-ups are normal. Expect them, and have a
plan for how to get back on track.
WHAT ARE BARRIERS?
A barrier is anything that causes you to slip up in your
goals to make lifestyle changes, such as changing your
Figuring out what those barriers are and how you can
get around them can help you reach your healthy eating
Even when you know about the benefits of healthy
eating, you may find it very hard to change your eating
habits until you deal with the reasons you give yourself
for not eating healthy.
Barriers to healthy eating include the valid reasons why
you don't make healthy food choices (for example, food
allergies) as well as the excuses you make to avoid
doing something you dislike.
WHY BARRIERS ARE SO IMPORTANT?
Figuring out what your barriers are and how you
can get past them will help you reach your
healthy eating goals.
When you know what things can get in your way,
you can plan what you will do to get around
Knowing what you can do when you come up
against a barrier is part of the overall planning
you need to do to be successful at changing any
PLANNING TO HAVE SUCCESS
Making lifestyle changes is hard, but you're
more likely to have success if you:
Know your reasons for wanting to make a
Set your long-term and short-term goals.
Identify your barriers.
Get support, and plan to reward yourself.
With these things in mind, writing down a
personal action plan may help you in your
effort to make a lifestyle change.
HOW TO OVERCOME BARRIERS?
The best way to overcome barriers is to identify
them ahead of time and have a backup plan to
deal with them. Some barriers are the kind that
keep you from even trying to change a habit.
Other barriers pop up later.
When you hit a barrier—and most people do—
get support. Talk to your family members and
friends to see if someone wants to be active
with you or cheer you on. If you have concerns
about your health, talk to your doctor to make
sure you're doing your activities safely.
“I'LL NEVER BE ABLE TO CHANGE HOW I EAT”
Not believing you can do something is often really just a fear of
failure. People put off making changes in their lives because of
this fear. This kind of barrier can keep you from even starting to
make a lifestyle change. But it can also crop up on days when
you feel discouraged.
Carefully define ―success‖ and ―failure‖. If your goal is simply
to improve your food choices or lose a modest amount of
weight, you will probably be successful. A goal to lose an
unrealistic amount of weight, ―cure‖ a disease, or eat
―perfectly‖, is just not realistic and may very well lead to
Set small, measurable goals. Eating two pieces of fruit a day
is a pretty easy goal to reach. Giving up your favorite food is
much harder, and you will be more likely to not even try.
“I DON'T HAVE TIME TO MAKE CHANGES”
This is a very common reason not to change. It can take the form of
"My life is too busy," or "I'm always feeling rushed," or "I have more
important things to do."
– Learn ways to manage your time better. Find time-management
techniques that work for you.
– Ask others how they manage to fit good nutrition into their lives.
– Don't try to make too many changes at once. Small changes take
less time, but they add up.
– Ask your family and friends for help as you change your eating
behavior. This may involve having them help you to free up your
– Cook quick meals. Many people believe that to eat well, you need
a lot of time to cook. But there are many cookbooks on how to
prepare quick, healthy meals.
“I DON'T LIKE HEALTH FOODS”
Many people use this reason or variations of it such as "I don't
like vegetables," "I don't like low-fat foods," or "I really crave
sweets and high-fat foods. I'll miss them." Often a fear of the
unknown is behind these reasons.
Give it time. Food preferences are slow to change, but they do change
over time. Making a new behavior a habit usually takes 3 months or
more. Decide to withhold your judgments about what you like and dislike
in foods until you have given the new foods a chance.
Take it slow. You don't have to give up favorite foods completely, but you
may have to change how often you eat them. Make your changes small,
and give yourself time to adjust.
Recognize how others influence your food preferences. Carrots aren't
nearly as tempting (or as profitable for the sellers) as cheesecake. And
advertisers know it and play upon people's preferences. Recognize
advertising ploys as a way of manipulating your tastes. Also, if you think
"rabbit food" when you eat carrots or salad, try to replace these negative
messages with more positive messages about these foods.
“HEALTH FOODS COST TOO MUCH”
It's true that things like fresh produce, whole-grain breads, and other
healthy food items can cost more than fast foods and junk foods.
Sometimes it seems like your budget would do better if you just ate
cheap fast food every day.
But you can stay within your budget by putting in some extra time
planning, shopping, and cooking. And the more time you invest, the
more money you'll save.
Save money by learning and planning. Plan a week's worth of meals at
a time so that you're not as likely to go out to eat on the spur of the
moment. Plan menus so that you have leftovers for future meals.
At the grocery store, save money by buying store brands instead of
name brands and by shopping in the bulk foods aisle.
Buy day-old, whole-grain bread at a discount at a local bakery outlet.
If you're not used to cooking, start learning. It's not hard to cook simple,
inexpensive, healthy meals.
“I'LL BE CRITICIZED OR MADE FUN OF
IF I EAT HEALTH FOOD”
Many people are held back from changing their eating
habits because of how they think it will look to others.
It can be hard to stick with a healthy eating plan when
family and friends don't want to join you.
Find others who want to change. Take a class on cooking
healthy meals, find a Web-based community, or involve
your family. Many people are working on nutrition issues,
and they can give you support.
Find places to eat where you are comfortable.
Order special foods (such as meat broiled instead of fried
or salad dressing on the side) casually and with minimal
fuss. Ordering in this way is common, and both the
cooking and wait staff are likely to be quite familiar with
“I'M NOT GOOD AT MAKING CHANGES”
This reason may take the form of "I'm too old (or fat,
or set in my ways) to make changes." Often, low selfesteem makes it hard to change.
Make small and measurable changes. They are easier to
make and usually cause less fear because there is less
at risk. For example, try eating one more piece of fruit a
day than you usually do.
Work on self-esteem, if this is an issue. Counseling can
help with issues of self-esteem. The success you feel
from improving your eating habits may improve your selfesteem as well. Bit by bit, you may begin to change the
way you view yourself and your ability to change.
START MAKING HEALTHY CHANGES
To help you identify your own barriers to changing your
eating habits, think about the last few times you
thought about changing your eating behavior but didn't
follow through with it.
What held you back?
Write down your reasons.
Then for each of your reasons, write a response that helps
you reconsider your choice.
Look at your list of reasons and responses whenever you
are about to make a choice about what to eat.
Where to go from here
Now that you have read this information, you are ready to
start making those healthy changes in your eating habits.
GOOD EATING HABITS
Drink water, little and often throughout the day.
Eat something in the morning – it does not have to be first thing as you jump out of bed, but eating
something when you get up will replenish your blood glucose levels and fuel your brain and your body.
Eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day – they’re great as snacks and if you have at least 1
serving per meal, you’ll easily make this target.
Go for colour. Check you are eating a variety of colourful fruit and vegetables – think yellow, red, green
Eat as wide a variety of foods as possible. If you can count up the number of different foods you eat on
your 10 fingers, you need to add more kinds to your diet. This will help you get a greater choice of
nutrients and fibre sources.
Avoid long periods without eating. This will help stabilise your blood glucose levels and make you less
likely to over-eat, or grab an unhealthy snack, later.
Rate your food hunger. On a scale of 1–5 (1= starving, 5= stuffed). Aim to eat before you reach ―1‖ and
stop eating before you reach ―5‖.
Take time to eat. It sounds obvious, but it will help you eat more balanced diet and avoid excess calorie
intake. Studies show that individuals eat up to 15% more calories when they are in rush at meal times.
Chew your food. Proper chewing can aid your digestion, and has been shown to reduce symptoms off
irritable bowel syndrome.
Avoid fad diets. There are no miracle foods – good health requires you to eat a variety of quality food in
Jepson, R. G., Harris, F. M., Platt, S., & Tannahill, C. (2010). The effectiveness of
interventions to change six health behaviours: a review of reviews. BMC Public Health,
Lehrer, J. (2011). Why Do People Eat Too Much? Wired Science Blogs / Frontal Cortex.
Retrieved November 5, 2013, from http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/11/why-dopeople-eat-too-much
Michie, S., van Stralen, M. M., & West, R. (2011). The behaviour change wheel: A new
method for characterising and designing behaviour change interventions. Implementation
Science, 6(42), 1–11.
Ogden, J. (2011). The Psychology of Eating: From Healthy to Disordered Behavior. John
Wiley & Sons.
Romito, K. M., & O’Brien, R. M., RD, CDE. (2013). Healthy Eating: Overcoming Barriers to
Change | Cigna. Cigna. Retrieved November 5, 2013, from
Trinity College Dublin. (2013). Good eating habits, The University of Dublin, Ireland.
College Health Week. Retrieved November 5, 2013, from
Williams, S. L., & French, D. P. (2011). What are the most effective intervention techniques
for changing physical activity self-efficacy and physical activity behaviour—and are they
the same? Health Education Research, 26(2), 308–322. doi:10.1093/her/cyr005