In behavioral psychology, the terms used to describe unconscously learned thoughts and behavior patterns are schemas and scripts.
I think one of the reasons that weight loss has such incredibly high failure rates, is that we're actually taught ineffective and inaccurate schemas and scripts for weight loss, mostly without our ever knowing it (makes it difficult to unlearn them).
What I mean is there are so many beliefs/strategies that become ingrained, because we're taught by watching and hearing others how dieting "is done."
Why do you think most people start diets on Mondays, First of the month, First of the year, or in mid-spring in preparation for summer bathing suit season, and almost never during the holidays?
One of the most pervasive dieting practices is what I call the futility defense
- "I've blown it, so I might as well eat whatever I want (and maybe even more than I want) until my next start-over period (whether that's tomorrow, Monday, the first day or first monday of the next month, the next official weigh-in...)."
And of course, generally preceding the futility defense, is the perfection strategy.
"I will be perfect for as long as possible, until I make a mistake, and then making the mistake (no matter how minor), I will immediately implement the futility defense," and will punish myself in some way, generally including recriminations and self-lectures about what an idiot and horrible person I am."
Most of us are all-or-nothing dieters, because that's what we were taught to be. That's how dieting "is done," in this culture. Not doing so is as counter-culture (maybe even more so) as full-body tattoos and piercings. It's very difficult to swim upstream in a culture. Mostly, every minute (at least at first) has to be a conscious choice to do it the "weird" way).
I spent more than three decades attempting weight loss the "normal" way, and I met with the normal success rate (modest short-term success, and ultimate failure).
I figure that assuming the weight loss statistics are correct (95% failure rate), it's because that 95% of what we learn about weight loss isn't true. In order to be in the 5% that succeeds, you have to unlearn the 95%, and follow less than 5% of "common wisdom." The successful are those who can learn to be freaks who can choose not to follow the example of "most people."
I really think a large part of my current success, is related to forcing myself to be a freak - consciously rewriting all of the weight loss rules and traditions that I absorbed, just by being raised in a culture where diets always start on Mondays or January 1st, and a mistake means binging until the next start-over period (usually no sooner than tomorrow morning).
It's a difficult process to replace established schemas and scripts. Often, we do things because "it's the way things are done," and even when we know it's an ineffective strategy, it's difficult to follow an uncommon pattern (especially if we don't know anyone else doing it.)
For me, I find it easier to rewrite my personal weight loss scripts, by modifying existing ones to be more effective, rather than replacing them entirely. For example, I've redefined my starting-over point to be when I step on the scale, rather than the next morning. If I choose not to get on the scale this isn't very effective (I didn't say that I've got all my schemas and scripts fixed yet).
"Don't weigh yourself every day, it will only discourage and frustrate you," is a very popular dieting stereotype (stereotypes are one type of schema).
I find that weighing myself daily - and weighing myself after going off-plan, helps me stay on-track. I get that "starting fresh," feeling that I find so motivating. Of course, I had to learn NOT to feel discouraged and frustrated with weight fluctuations. I also had to unlearn the "futility defense" and the "perfection strategy.
I shouldn't say that "I had to learn" - as much as "I have to learn," because it's an ongoing process. Society and culture are boxes that are impossible to escape. My husband is often fond of saying "people are sheep," and doesn't exclude himself from that equation. It's difficult to think outside of the box, when you have to live in that box. I don't know if I will ever unlearn the desire for cake on my birthday (I've barely learned that I don't have to have cake at someone else's birthday party).