Hey everyone, and welcome back to my blog! I’m going to be really honest with you in this post. Like, really, brutally honest. Many of these things are what I needed to hear at the beginning of my keto journey, but I’ve been forced to learn them the hard way. If you want to know how to get motivated when you just don’t feel like it, this post is for you. So buckle up and be prepared for it.

If you’re new to the keto game, you should know that you won’t always be motivated to do the right thing, to make the right food choices, or to have the right attitude about what you’re doing. In fact, if you’ve done any sort of challenge before (e.g. fitness, reading, drinking water… you name it) then you probably know that these things are meant to, well, challenge you. Keto will challenge you. By design, these things push your boundaries and will so that you will (ideally) become “better.” It’s not supposed to be easy, and if it is, you’re wasting your time. You aren’t growing if you aren’t being pushed.

Think about a muscle. What grows a muscle is not 300 reps at a low weight. Sure, that may train you to have more longevity in your workout and to be stronger at that particular movement; but what physically expands your muscle is constantly pushing the limits of what it can move via progressive overload. Rest is important, but so is discomfort.

If you’ve thought about going off-plan, let’s talk about that. And, while we’re at it, let’s agree that this is the terminology we’ll use. “Cheat” is a diet culture word that I don’t love. If your plan is keto, but you adjust your plan to include something non-keto, that’s still your plan. I know it can feel shameful, but this is a judgment-free zone (unlike Planet Fitness, I’m serious about that). Look deeply at the root of your urge to go off-plan. Are you bored with the foods you’re eating? Are you frustrated because you “can’t have” the foods you’re really wanting? I’m going to tell you something really important about becoming motivated. Are you ready to hear it?

You don’t have to do anything. You’re doing keto because you want to do it, right? You probably want to change something about your routine, and you’ve decided keto is the thing that will help you change that thing. If that’s true, then it cannot also be true that you have to do keto. Because you’ve decided you want to do it, and that is a choice. At any time, you can do something different. If you’re trying to lose weight, you could try Whole 30, you could try Paleo, you could try simple CICO/macro-targeted weight loss. But you’ve chosen keto. So you need to get excited about it and stop treating it like it’s a chore.

Like, I said, brutally honest.

I experienced the same thing in my college education. I was treating it like a chore, which led to skipping classes, sleeping in, and generally not caring if I received a crap grade in general education courses. And that’s so not me. At some point, I had to step back and ask myself why I was selling myself short. And what I was losing by trying to learn. The answer was, I wasn’t losing anything. I just wasn’t really trying to win. So I vowed to do some work on my motivation and take a deeper look at my convictions. And that work involves examining your motivators and asking yourself some more questions. This is how I did it.

Extrinsic motivators

A few examples of extrinsic motivators are motivational quotes (like on Pinterest and Instagram), online fitness and nutrition communities, 30-day “challenges,” self-help books, etc. These are all devices that you can purchase or otherwise acquire, consume, and be persuaded to take action because of their effect on your convictions. Extrinsic motivators, by definition, come from outside sources. But at the end of the day, who is to blame when something isn’t done in your life? It’s you right?

In one of my favorite TV shows, Workin’ Moms, one of the main characters tells his wife when she’s faced with an issue at her company, “nobody’s coming.” This happened because she fired her VP and was now stuck dealing with a crisis as the only leader of the company. And while the advice that “nobody’s coming” seems horrible at first read (and let me just say, the character who said it [Nathan] is an absolute fuck) it’s the honest truth! Nobody owes you anything and the best growth comes from your own efforts. Sure, you may have help along the way. But nobody climbed Everest without putting their own feet on the ground and taking necessary steps to do so.

Intrinsic motivators

Your intrinsic motivators are mostly emotional but are also sometimes physical. They come from within. This piece of motivation is complicated because as humans, our emotions are all over the place. While you may feel a strong push from your brain and your body to run a mile today, you may lose that urge the moment you put on your running shoes and step out of the door. Emotions are tricky and fleeting (especially if you have some extra hormones on some weeks…) This is why we have to train habits and routines FIRST because emotions are the trickiest things to train.

The cool thing about starting a new thing before your emotions are in the “right place” is that you’ll be able to see a little bit of progress by the time you’re ready to address emotional motivation. For example, my current goal is to work out more. Well, to be honest, my emotions want me to just lay on the couch every day. I don’t want to get up early to do this stuff at all. I’m going very far in the opposite direction of my emotions here, but after training habits first I will be able to see a little bit of progress, which is encouraging for my emotions.

Training emotions

Ok, so the idea of “training emotions” probably sounds like a crock of ?, right? I promise it’s not! Our brains create these things called neural pathways when we do something with repetition. You are, quite literally, habit-forming when you repeatedly do something. It’s not limited to making coffee at 7 am every day or brushing your teeth before bed or even practicing scales when you warm up your instrument. This also includes those messages you send yourself when you look in the mirror. This includes the way we feel when we eat comfort foods. This includes the warm feeling we get when we wear our favorite outfits. Every action has a reaction, and we reinforce those pathways when we feed our emotions with the same reactions every single time.

The trick to training your emotions is to a) get uncomfortable, b) become intentional, and c) be kind to yourself.

To get uncomfortable, you need to write down those moments where you feel negative about yourself or about something you’re doing and figure out why you feel that way. Is it because the thing you’re doing is misaligned with your goals? Is it because you know you can do better? Or is it because you’re unfairly judging yourself? Write down those things that you find, even if they’re ugly, even if they’re hard to read. Read them out loud. We’re going to figure out how to change those things.

After you’ve made this list, you need to outline steps you can take to be more intentional about changing your behaviors. If you’re telling yourself mean things when you look in the mirror, then you need to stop that practice and do the opposite. Every time you look in the mirror, tell yourself that you look great. Say it out loud. And think of one thing you love about yourself. Say that out loud, too. Be very intentional about your actions because some of these passive behaviors can poison very big parts of your heart if you don’t tend to the issues.

I guess the above paragraph falls into this instruction, too, but it’s so important to be nice to yourself. I find a lot of people get frustrated with keto because they’ve heard someone on a magazine say they lost 76lbs in 43 mins by just eating a pound of cheese. Newsflash, that crap is on the front so you’ll buy the magazine and read it. Headlines are dumb and you shouldn’t strive to be one. Instead, focus on doing things that make sense long-term. Keto, for me, is a long-term way of eating that helps me feel better. Yes, weight loss was a benefit. That came with months and months of consistent effort. It came with failures and successes and the learning curve was not pretty. Many people quit this sort of “lifestyle change” (not keto in particular, but working to be better in general) after putting in a lot of effort. I notice (mostly from their accounts of what happened afterward) that this is usually because they didn’t (or weren’t ready to) do the hard work that comes with the territory. For me, that hard work included learning to be kind to myself. I say that as a reminder for me but also as a lesson for others who need to hear it.

The big question

At the end of the day, I ask myself a single question when I debate doing something different than I planned; Is the other option better?

It’s a simple cost/benefit analysis and it’s something that everybody does when making a decision about anything. What will you gain from this action or inaction, and is it better than the alternative? For my college education, the option of skipping a class may provide me with an hour of sleep or time to grab a long lunch. But, if I’m missing a test or valuable information that I will have to expend more effort to learn covered material outside of the classroom later, then was the trade-off really worth it?

When I started keto, admittedly, I did not plan to do it long-term. I started because I was running out of options to “fix” my digestive and pain issues before seeing a specialist. Keto fixed my problems. I don’t tout it as a miracle way of eating for everyone, because it’s not. But it’s worked (and continues to work) for me. That’s why I love it, and the way I feel when I’m in ketosis is a huge motivator to keep going. The other option, to stray from ketosis, just makes me feel bad. So when I go off-plan, I’ve got to weigh the pros and cons.

Is the food something I don’t regularly have access to? This is a big one I experience on cruises! And usually, if it’s something new and exciting on an island I’ve never been to, I take the plunge and try it (if you find yourself in Barbados, try the conch fritters). At Thanksgiving, I’m usually presented with a bunch of foods I have regular access to, so I don’t indulge in those things. But one tradition we do is eat a slice of our wedding cake every year (that’s right, it’s hella freezer burnt) and that’s something I’m not going to get elsewhere. It’s special and it’s the one time of year I eat cake.

Do I really want that food or just something like it? This is a big one! When you have a specific craving (pizza, fried chicken, mashed potatoes), I always suggest making a keto-friendly version first to see if that satisfies your urge. 9/10 times, it does it for me. You’ll have to play around with recipes to find certain ones you like, but I promise this helps. Always keep an arsenal of keto-friendly craving recipes on hand.

Is it worth the alternative? Being knocked out of ketosis results in a load of joint pain, migraines, and painful water retention for me. When people say, “you’ll just have to indulge a little today,” I do a cost/benefit analysis in my head to decide if that sugary ice cream is worth that sort of pain. If not, then nope! I’ll search for a keto-friendly version.

Wrapping it all up

If you find yourself stuck and not sure what to do next, the best advice I can give you, is you just gotta keep going. Even if it’s a messy process or your emotions are all over the place or you’ve been really hard on yourself; you’ve got to keep going. You are resilient and you are capable and you are worthy of doing great things. I hope this list was helpful to you and gives you a glimpse into the changes I had to make to better myself. And just remember: it can, and will, be done.

Until next time, 

<3 RKF