What is a Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset in Nutrition?

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The term “mindset” is used quite often in the nutrition coaching space. While it might sound a bit “woo woo” at first, there is a lot of research to suggest that mindset plays a huge role in your ability to make nutritional changes.

Whether you believe you’re capable of change or stuck right where you are can make or break your ability to reach your goals.

How can you use a Growth Mindset to help on your nutrition journey? Great question. Let’s start at the beginning.

What is Mindset?

At the very basic level, mindset is the set of beliefs and ideas that shape how you make sense of yourself and your environment. Your mindset Influences how you think, feel and behave in a given situation.

If you ask a host of people, “What is the definition of mindset?” You’ll probably get tons of different answers like: 

  • “The thoughts I have about myself and situations I'm in”
  • “The way I think”
  • “How I observe the world and the decisions and opinions I create inside my head”
  • “How I manage those thoughts”
  • “My outlook on life”
  • “Self-confidence”
  • “Ability to devote mental/emotional energy to a task”
  • “Self-talk”

The diversity of answers makes sense when looking at where mindset comes from. Your mindset is formed by things like your physical and social environments, your unique lived experiences, education, culture, values, family, upbringing, and more.

These factors shape who you are and impact how you view yourself, the world, and those around you. So of course, mindset (and how you define it) is unique to you.

How Does Mindset Impact Nutrition?

Mindset is an important tool that impacts your daily actions, self-talk, and behaviors while reinforcing your beliefs and self-esteem. So, it’s no wonder that your mindset has a huge impact on your nutrition, fitness, habit building, and ability to achieve your goals.

Before moving on to the different kinds of mindset, keep in mind that the process of changing your mindset isn’t a quick fix.

Just like with your habits, behaviors, and routines... Change takes time!

Mindset is learned. So changing your mindset likely requires both learning and unlearning. Those shifts can take longer than you might want them to! But that process of learning and growing is part of the process of building a Growth Mindset!

The Growth vs. Fixed Mindset

So, what is a Growth Mindset and how can it help you reach your nutrition and health goals?

The “Growth vs. Fixed” framework for interpreting mindset was coined by the psychologist, Carol Dweck. She is the author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. (This is one of the many books we love here at WAG. HERE are some of our other favorites.)

Dweck shares, “The view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead and live your life.” [1].

So it makes sense that your mindset affects your health and fitness. 

Why?

Well, the way you view yourself has a huge impact on the success and sustainability of your health and lifestyle changes. As you probably know (since you’re here!), following through with your goals and commitments isn’t easy. There are constant challenges you have to face and your mindset will determine whether you push through or give up.

Whether you’re seeking weight loss, improved performance, or simply wanting to improve your health, your mindset matters!

So what’s the difference between the two mindsets?

The Growth Mindset vs. The Fixed Mindset

Changing the way you think starts with identifying the way you think. After all, you can’t change a thought pattern you’re not aware of, right? 

Learning the differences between having a Fixed Mindset and a Growth Mindset can be the difference between reaching your goals and going in circles.

Fixed Mindset 

If you have a Fixed Mindset you hold the belief that your traits and talents are innate, static, and unchangeable.

With a Fixed Mindset, you’re more likely to:

  • Avoid challenges
  • Believe your abilities & attributes are innate
  • View failure as proof of unintelligence
  • Give up easily
  • Feel threatened by the success of others

Growth Mindset

If you have a Growth Mindset, you believe that your qualities are based on your efforts and that you have the ability to change and improve with effort and time. You know that you can learn new things and develop new skills.

With a Growth Mindset, you’re more likely to:

  • Embrace challenges
  • Believe your abilities & attributes can be developed
  • View failure as a chance to grow
  • Feel inspired by the success of others

The Mindset of Self-Talk and Language

Your internal dialogue is a great place to check in and begin to identify the mindsets you carry.

Do you ever catch yourself using limiting self-talk? Here are a few examples of how this sounds with Fixed Mindset thinking:

  • I’ll never be able to...
  • It’s just not in my DNA
  • I’ve always been this way; this is just who I am
  • I don’t have the time to...

On the flip side, with a Growth Mindset you might say things like:

  • I’m going to need to practice...
  • I’d like to learn how to…
  • This is really challenging right now
  • It will take a lot of effort
  • I’ll have to put in some hard work

Fixed and Growth Mindsets in Nutrition

The way you think about nutrition, fitness, and healthy habit building can also take on a Fixed Mindset or a Growth Mindset. 

Here is how this may sound:

Fixed Mindset: “I’m not strong enough to be any good at lifting.”
Growth Mindset: “Most beginners aren’t strong, but if I put in the work, I will get better.”

Fixed Mindset: “I can’t hit my macros on the weekends.”
Growth Mindset: “Hitting my macros on the weekends is challenging, but I’m working on it.”

Fixed Mindset: “I’m not very good at meal prep.”
Growth Mindset: “Meal prep feels hard right now, but I’m getting better.”

In each of these examples, someone with a growth mindset recognizes that with time, effort, and dedicated practice, they can improve their abilities and learn new skills.

Here is another example that highlights how you can use a growth mindset to work through obstacles:

Fixed Mindset: “I didn’t hit my macros yesterday, so I’m not going to bother trying today.”
Growth Mindset: “I didn’t hit my macros yesterday, but I’m going to try again today.”

Having a growth mindset doesn’t mean that you won’t face setbacks, obstacles or experience failure. Obstacles are inevitable! But the way you frame those obstacles will be the difference between giving up and trying again; success and failure.

If you view your perceived “failures” as an opportunity to learn, they will be worth it and you will be better equipped in a similar situation next time around.

Mindset is Domain-Dependent

Your mindset is domain-dependent; you can have different mindsets in different areas of your life. In other words, you can have a growth mindset in one area, and a fixed mindset in another.

For example, you might have a growth mindset when it comes to fitness and training. In this case, your self-talk may sound something like:

“I know that when I work hard and put in the effort, I can build muscle and get stronger.”

On the flip side, you might have a Fixed Mindset when it comes to your nutrition.

“I just can’t hit my macros.”

The cool thing is, you can use Growth Mindset habits and self-talk that work in one area and begin to apply them to other, trickier domains. In the example above, this means applying your mindset around your fitness to your mindset around your nutrition. This would sound like:

“Hitting my macros feels hard right now. But if I work hard and put in the effort, it will start to feel easier”

How Do I Develop a Growth Mindset?

Now that you know the difference between the Growth Mindset and the Fixed Mindset, it’s more obvious why the way you speak to yourself has implications for your success, right?

The next step is learning how to cultivate a Growth Mindset in your own health journey.

So… How do you move from a Fixed Mindset to a Growth Mindset? Here are some things to start practicing.

Create Awareness Around Your Mindset

Like most behavior changes, the first step is awareness. You can’t change what you’re not conscious of so get familiar with your mindsets in different areas of your life.

Since mindset is domain-dependent, do some journaling or pay attention to how you talk to yourself and view your abilities in different areas of your life.

Do you have a Growth Mindset when it comes to your health?
Do you notice anything indicating you might have a Fixed Mindset?

Your brain has the ability to grow and rewire thought patterns. The more you consciously shift to more Growth Mindset thinking, the faster that will happen naturally. Pretty soon, you’ll be thinking with more positivity without having to consciously do so.

Leverage your Growth Mindset to Achieve Your Goals

You can have a growth mindset about your growth mindset.

Read it again. 

You can have a growth mindset about your growth mindset.

If you have trouble believing that, think back to high school or junior high. Do you have the same knowledge, skills, and abilities now?

You’ve probably grown a lot since then!

Maybe you ventured onto college and learned about new topics and mastered new concepts and skills. Or perhaps you started a career and developed new abilities in a new area.

If you’re an athlete, think back to when you first started your sport. You’re likely stronger and more capable now than you were as a beginner, right?

The difference between you in the past and where you are now is proof that you CAN and WILL change.

After you can recognize this, you can leverage that into success and growth in other areas.

When you reflect back on the ways that you’ve grown, ask yourself:

  • What made it possible to keep going despite obstacles?
  • How did I overcome hard times or setbacks?
  • What did my mindset and thought patterns sound like in these situations?

Then, start to apply those same strategies and mindsets to your current situation.

Focus on Effort Instead of Talent

Developing a Growth Mindset requires you to look past your natural abilities and focus on your hard work and effort.

When you emphasize your work ethic and dedication to your practice you will become more in tune with the process vs. the outcome

This creates more intrinsic motivation and helps you continue moving forward despite struggles and setbacks. 

When you enjoy the process and build confidence through continued effort, you’re more likely to keep showing up, even when things feel hard.

Reframe Challenges as Opportunities to Learn

This one’s easier said than done, but if you can move to a place where you are able to view challenges as lessons, you’ll learn from your mistakes and improve the next time you try.

Next time you face an obstacle or setback, identify things you can do differently in the future. What can you learn from your experience to make your next efforts easier, more efficient, or more successful?

Expect to Make Mistakes

The more you accept that mistakes are part of the growth process, the better prepared you will be when they inevitably come about. 

No one is perfect and you can’t completely avoid mistakes - they can and will happen.

What you can do is align your expectations, learn from previous mistakes, do better and get through obstacles more quickly in the future… aka GROW!

When you see mistakes coming (and reframe them as an opportunity to learn!), you’re less likely to feel thrown off when they inevitably happen.

Learn from Others

It is easy to look up to someone - whether it’s your favorite CrossFit athlete, coach, or friend - and idolize them for their success.

But rather than idolizing their talent or their genetics, recognize that they put in tons of effort and likely had to sacrifice in other areas to perfect their craft. What can you learn from their efforts and implement them in your own life?

On the flip side, sometimes you might feel jealous or intimidated by others' success. But instead of feeling threatened, it can be helpful to learn from them instead.

Ask yourself:

  • What have they done to get where they are?
  • How can you learn from them?
  • Am I feeling this way because I know what I want requires more action and intention than I’m committing right now?

Do the “Tough Stuff”

Admire yourself for doing the tough stuff that not many others are willing to do. Become your own hype person!

Whether it’s your dedication to waking up early to hit the gym, taking time out each week to meal prep, or tracking your macros, you can gain a lot of confidence knowing that you are making the effort to progress forward in areas that other people might not be willing. Embrace that effort and leverage it to success.

Remember that “doing the tough stuff” is a choice you’re making. It is common to fall into victim-mentality thinking (ex: “I have to eat this healthy meal instead of ordering fast food, poor me!”) but the reality is, if you want to feel strong and healthy, the choices you need to make to get there are still just that: choices.

Here is a helpful mantra: “You don’t have to do nutrition. You get to do nutrition.”

Feeling the way you want to feel requires you to do the things you have to do. And remembering that it is something you have chosen helps it feel easier.

Mindset goes far beyond “woo woo” and might just be the missing piece to your success. And while the process of developing a growth mindset takes patience and effort, remember that...

You have the ability to grow!

Get a Taste of WAG

The WAG Crash Course is opens for enrollment on January 25th. This 30-day course teaches you the ins and outs of macro tracking, building healthy lifestyle habits and sustaining results without restricting the foods you love. Get personalized macros from a WAG Coach, join the members-only Facebook Group and participate in quarterly Live Q&A sessions with WAG Coaches.

[1]. Dweck, C. (2007). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Ballantine Books.

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Posted by Nicola Spencer
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Nicola is a coach & co-owner of Paradigm Nutrition & Performance. She focuses on helping women redefine their own health & fitness, understand the ebbs & flows of their cycle and optimize their training & nutrition to perform their best - in the gym & in their relationships! Snacks & silliness always welcome.

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