Have you started trying to change your diet, just to find that you fall off the wagon? Are you wondering what the problem may be? Eating a healthy diet shouldn’t be torturous, impossible or tedious. Eating healthfully can, with the right mindset, tools and information, be enjoyable, exciting and varied. That’s why I asked registered dietitians for their suggestions to stick with that diet plan, and here are their responses. I would encourage you to read their suggestions and how to apply them, and then take a few minutes after to sketch out how you will apply them starting this week. Remember, success comes from information plus action!
Build your confidence and motivation
One way to stick with a healthy diet is to make one small change at a time. For example, you want to increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, so you replace one meal per week with a fish entree. Being successful with small steps leads to confidence and motivation to take the next step. As you succeed each change will become a habit, and habits “stick.”
My thoughts on how to apply this tip: Keep a very simple “feelings” journal. How we feel and react to dietary changes plays an important and often-neglected role in our choices. Starting to become aware of our associations and connections with food can allow you to approach your food more mindfully, increasing satisfaction and healthy choices. This journal can be as simple as rating your confidence, motivation and satisfaction daily with smiley faces! This takes practically no time but will bring much greater awareness to your mind and body.
One small change can make a difference
I recommend making only one or two small changes at a time. Choose something that will set you up for success! Once you’ve mastered that change and incorporated it into a habit, it’s much easier to add another habit and be able to stick to it. Small, incremental improvements over time will get you so far!
My thoughts on how to apply this tip: Choose one way you want to get started eating more healthfully, and implement it. To ensure success, make sure you have the right ingredients, have carved out a window in your schedule and have put a reminder somewhere (this can be a virtual calendar reminder or a sticky note on your fridge).
I suggest having each macronutrient at mealtimes. Carbs for energy, protein to fill you up, and fat to keep you full (plus a fruit or veggie for extra credit!) This can ensure a balance and help prevent cravings.
My thoughts on how to apply this tip: Don’t wait until mealtime to apply this! I like to say, the battle is won by planning, not impulse. Planning doesn’t have to take a lot of time: just make sure you stock your fridge and pantry each week with the staples you need. Then, if you want to go one step further to guarantee your success, sketch out what each meal would consist of (don’t worry if you don’t follow this exactly; the point is to have a plan and deviation is completely fine).
Progress, not perfection
Make one or two changes and make sure these changes work for you. If you set too many “rules” around food, you feel like you’re walking a tightrope and that won’t last. Focus on progress, not perfection.
My thoughts on how to apply this tip: Don’t get into thinking too rigidly about food. Remember that a healthy diet can have many different ‘looks,’ as is demonstrated by the wide variety of cultures on Earth who have eaten healthful diets composed of very different elements. And, as Sarah suggests, always check with yourself about a change and how you feel about it.
Stock your pantry for success
Don’t buy foods that you don’t want to eat. Keeping tempting food in your home is asking for trouble and making things harder than they have to be. The flip side to that of course is to keep well stocked on the foods you do want to eat.
Also, If you live with other people be very clear about what exactly you need from them to support you. Sometimes what you need and what others think you need is not in sync and someone’s good intentions could derail you.
My thoughts on how to apply this tip: Take a few minutes on the weekend or in the evening to do a pantry clean: remove any items that no longer fit your dietary choices, and go to the grocery with a list of items you need. Also take a few moments to reflect and identify on who you may need to talk to in your life regarding the changes you’d like to make (this might be a close family member, your partner, friends).
Samira Jones, PhD, MPH, RD
Have an accountability partner to ensure you stay motivated to achieve your weight loss goal.
Daily check-ins and weekly self non-food rewards also work (in other words, rewarding oneself for reaching the goal).
My thoughts on how to apply this tip: Locate an accountability partner, and then write into your calendar a scheduled time to connect with your partner (can be really quick and simple: a text message or email). Don’t forget to also write in your goals and rewards in your calendar!
Slowly reprogram your brain
Increase the friction to get the unhealthy item. Human nature can not rely solely on will power – it’s ok to help yourself out. Don’t tempt yourself. We need to make small, lateral, habit shifts until it is cemented as new activity in the brain.
My thoughts on how to apply this tip: Keep your pantry stocked with foods that are healthy and nourishing. This means that when you have a craving for a food that is quite unhealthy, you not only won’t have that item in your pantry, you’ll also have better options to choose instead.
Appreciate your food
It’s important to focus on food not just as fuel, but also as a source of nourishment, connection and pleasure. Take your time to shop for and prepare meals at home, sit down and eat with loved ones, and try new recipes with ingredients you already enjoy. Eating healthy is not just about making certain food choices, but also about enjoying food and eating intuitively.
My thoughts on how to apply this tip: Food appreciation is an important part of reshaping your relationship with food. As you cook, make an effort to be in touch with your senses and enjoy the aromas, sounds and tactile elements of the food you’re using. Another great way to increase your appreciation for your food is to buy it direct from the farmers when possible, as it’s fresh and you can give thanks to the person who grew your food.
Making small changes was mentioned several times. This is such an important point, as changes made should be sustainable and made with your current diet and preferences in mind. Also love the ideas of making sure you have the right foods on hand, social support, as well as balance your diet appropriately with regards to key nutrients.
My own advice that I’d like to add to this round-up? Don’t be afraid of “failure.” Reframe failure as experimentation, and keep tweaking your mindset and actions around your diet until you’ve found what works for you. Use the suggestions above, follow your instincts and keep moving forward, one small change at a time.
Lastly, I’d encourage you to remember that each small healthful shift can have a ripple effect over time on your health, risk for disease, energy levels and weight maintenance or loss. That’s why, even if you “fail” on two meals out of three in a day, you can recognize that you put one meal towards your health and build on that going forward.