Making diet changes can be difficult and get overwhelming quickly. For most of us though, improving our diet is one of the best ways to improve our health and simply feel good on a regular basis. That’s why I wanted to share some of my top tips for making changes to your current diet that will increase the chances that those changes will stick.
1. Get it out of the house
This is a simple one, yet it can be a struggle for a lot of us. However, if we want to have any success, we need to set ourselves up for it by reducing our ability to give in at the first sign of a craving. So before you get started on your diet changes, clean out the cupboards and the fridge. Throw it away, give it away, or donate it. If it isn’t part of the lifestyle you want to create for yourself, it shouldn’t be on your shelves.
Yes, this includes your secret stash of chocolate, candy, or soda. Get rid of it.
When you keep it in the house, you are just tempting yourself. Even if you keep it hidden, your brain knows it is there. When it is midnight and your sugar cravings hit, you will be way less likely to leave the house, drive to the store, and pick more up than you will be to simply walk to the kitchen and grab whatever it is that your brain is telling you to eat. Again, do this before starting your changes so that you can set yourself up to make the right choices.
2. Keep it simple
When you are making diet changes it can be easy to get caught up reading recipe after recipe online. Before long you find yourself with a stack of bookmarks dedicated to gourmet dinners, fancy lunches, and decadent desserts that contain foods you have never heard of before, much less actually eaten. Then there are the new kitchen tools and gadgets you need to actually make these recipes and have them look anything close to the pictures online. Before you even start making the recipe, you already feel overwhelmed and unsure of yourself.
Instead of this scenario, just keep it simple. Consider starting with recipes you have made before that fit your new criteria, or maybe make a few tweaks to some of your favorite recipes to make them work for you. If you do start looking for new recipes online, go slow. Look for simple recipes that contain only ingredients you know how to pronounce and that don’t take a master chef to pull together. Remember, we are working to create long-term changes. You will have plenty of time to try your hand at those other recipes later. First, let’s just focus on making our changes last.
3. Reduce your stress
This one can be a big hurdle to your overall success. When you are stressed, your body is in a sympathetic nervous state. This means that all of your bodily functions are in survival mode. In our modern world today, so many of us live, breathe, and die in a state of chronic stress. We never give our bodies a chance to rest and digest, which are regulated during the parasympathetic nervous state.
When we are stressed, our brain function is impaired. Our bodies become so concerned with our survival that we can’t dedicate the brain space to properly making decisions that are not immediately life-threatening, such as do I eat this piece of cake or do I eat this salad. Furthermore, since digestion is defective in a stressed state as well, we have to eat more food more often in order to supply our bodies with the glucose needed to maintain that state. Your body is thinking fight or flight. It needs to maintain heightened blood sugar levels because glucose is an easy fuel source for your body. Chronic stress tells your body that you need more sugar now on a long-term basis. Unless your diet changes focus on incorporating more sugar into your meals (and if it does, I highly suggest re-evaluating your new plan), then getting rid of stress is a must for your changes to last.
4. Forgive yourself
Hi, my name is Olivia, and I am not perfect. I am okay with that. We are all human, and making mistakes is part of the learning process. When you commit to making diet changes, you will likely have moments, days, or even weeks where you wish you could just re-do everything you ate. While I don’t know anyone with a time machine, I do know that beating yourself up over your shortcomings is not doing you any favors. If you fall off your plan, forgive yourself, then move on. Harboring anger toward yourself or getting stressed out about it is only going to make things harder.
Making mistakes every once in a while can be a great learning tool as well. When your body is used to eating a healthy diet, you feel good. Paying attention to the way you feel after you eat something you shouldn’t have can help motivate you to not do it again when you realize that eating junk food makes you feel like junk.
5. Meal Plan, Meal Plan, Meal Plan
Oh, and in case I forgot…meal plan! This is a huge factor in making your changes work for you. Yes, it takes a little time and effort, but the time and stress it saves you in the long run is worth it in every way. When it is dinner time, the kids are hungry, your stomach is growling, and are looking in the fridge for the fifth time trying to decide what to make, it becomes so much easier to grab convenient junk food and call it a night.
Instead, take some time before your grocery trip to plan out your meals for the week. Doing this will give you a list of healthy meals to pick from when you start thinking about making dinner. Plus, you will know you have all of the ingredients needed for each recipe, and if you think ahead a little bit you can even make sure everything is thawed, chopped, or prepped in any way to make throwing together dinner a breeze. This is something I do every single week, and it has made a giant difference.
6. Know your reason why, and think of it often
Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why you even want to make changes to your diet? Why do you care? Why not just continue eating the standard American diet (the SAD diet)? Is it because you want to model healthy choices for your children? Is it because you are tired of feeling sick? Are you facing some health challenge? Once you get in touch with the reason why this is important to you, you can and should use that to your advantage. When you are feeling compelled to eat something you don’t really want to, pause for a moment and think about your why. Is this tub of ice cream going to help my body ward off disease and be able to chase my son?
7. Build a support team
Last, but not least, make sure you have support. As humans, we are social creatures. We function better when we are not in isolation. Getting others on board with your diet changes will help make you more accountable and make the lifestyle changes a lot less stressful. Making your spouse or partner, best friend, parent, child, or anyone else important in your life a part of the change will make it easier to stick with. You can lean on each other, ask for help, and support one another through the ups and the downs. Adding a nutrition specialist to your team can bring an added level of guidance and encouragement to make your diet changes sustainable.
One step at a time, one foot in front of the other, you can make this happen. You can do this!