Whether you have tried every diet in the book to lose weight or just want to modify your food choices to improve your health, making change isn’t always easy. Experts say it can take 3-4 weeks for a new behavior to become a habit and I have seen clients benefiting from up to three months of consistent effort in order to experience successful a change that has staying power.
Here are 10 easy ways to make your new food habits part of a lifestyle that will last.
Start slowly and be realistic
The reality is that old habits die hard. So don’t try to do too much too quickly. Make one or two changes at first, solidify those new habits, and then when you feel ready, take the next step. It’s better to make a few healthier choices—not drinking sugary sodas or switching from fast food to home-prepared food—than to completely change the way you have been eating all at once.
Find a nutrition buddy! Friends, family members and colleagues are great for accountability and can make your journey more fun. It can be easier to make changes when you declare your intention to others out loud. Once you do, select a few supporters to lean on during those times when you feel yourself wavering. Team up with a friend. Ask a sibling or spouse to cheer you on. Get the support of your social circle for when you go to parties or get-togethers.
Clean out your kitchen
You can’t eat those potato chips if they aren’t there! Working with your Registered Dietitian Nutritionist or healthcare professional, decide what a “healthy” pantry looks like to meet your specific needs. Then clean out your cupboards and restock them with the healthier alternatives. Grocery stores are ever-changing to meet the growing consumer demand for healthier foods, especially snack choices, so look beyond the brands you are accustomed to buying on automatic pilot and reach for the kale or rice chips the next time you’re in the mood for a crunchy snack with your salsa or dip.
Dare your taste buds
Most people eat the same foods over and over again, and tend not to venture too far into the culinary world of vast flavors and textures. Seek out tasty new recipes that use the foods you are substituting into your new meal pattern. Dare yourself to be adventurous in your palate. Love burgers? Try a portobello mushroom burger instead or opt for a lettuce wrap in lieu on the bun. Always wondered what a kiwi tastes like? Now is the time to find out!
Temptation tends to strike when we are away from home and can’t control our food choices. So if you are planning to go out to dinner, go online first and see if the restaurant posts the menu on their website. That way you can determine if the options available support your new dietary preferences. When it comes to work, traveling and on-the-go activities, prepare some healthy snacks and pack them to take with you.
Deal with cravings
When the craving for something sweet strikes, have a healthy alternative available. Better yet, drink some water or wait out the craving by busying yourself. You will be surprised how quickly a craving passes when you occupy yourself with something else. If you truly can’t stop thinking about the candy dish on your colleague’s desk, permit yourself to enjoy the one piece you are most interested in and savor the flavor eating it mindfully. This will prevent feelings of deprivation or guilt.
Go easy on yourself
No one is perfect. If you occasionally slip with your new dietary habits, that’s okay. Let go of any guilt or shame and move on. Renew your commitment to the new, healthier you with the next meal or snack you choose. It’s easier than you think to get back on track when you can let go of the past and focus on your goals.
Work with your Registered Dietitian Nutritionist or healthcare provider to set realistic goals. Then write them down! By having clear, identifiable goals and tracking your progress, it will be easier to celebrate your successes, which keeps you motivated, and could alert you to any potential problem areas in order to make adjustments in your plan and find solutions.
Accentuate the positive
Continually remind yourself why you have made the dietary changes you have. Post positive affirmations around your home and workplace, even in your car. The more you remind yourself of the benefits of healthy eating, the more motivated you will be.
Changing a habit isn’t easy, so celebrate your decision to do so. Give yourself regular pats on the back and come up with creative non-food related ways to reward your efforts, like a spa day, concert tickets or a fun family activity. If you have a support person or group, celebrate milestones with them. Doing so on a weekly, or even daily, basis not only will help you stay motivated, but will also encourage you to feel good about yourself and your progress.
Regina Saxton is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in intuitive eating behaviors helping women develop a healthy relationship with food and their bodies while managing weight and disease for optimum health. She has a private practice out of Georgia and offers virtual nutrition coaching nationally. Visit her website for more information, reginasaxton.com