Objectively speaking, a healthy diet is simple. We should consume a variety of produce, whole grains and lean sources of protein in adequate portions while balancing intake with physical activity. Many people I speak with understand these tenets and can identify discrepancies between their current and ideal diet. The problem, which is also the reason I am enamored with nutrition, is practical application. Translation of knowledge into practice requires experimentation with different strategies to find what personally works best. In the spirit of National Nutrition Month, the following are effective tips to positively and sustainably change your way of eating.
Start small. To build the bridge toward healthier eating, you must lay the foundational bricks with great attention and care. Adopting too many big diet changes at once usually leads us to feel overwhelmed and more prone to give up. Conversely, setting fewer and more reasonable goals allows us to be intentional and focused. It might feel slow, but successful small changes yield better results over time than short-term overhauls. For example, permanently giving up one soda a week is better than giving up all soda for only a couple days.
Be specific. The better you can picture yourself eating differently, the easier it is for you to accomplish. When someone tells me their goal is to eat more salad, I inquisitively prod them to paint a more vivid picture. Do you have a recipe in mind? What groceries will you need to buy? How often and what days of the week will you eat this salad? Questions like these provide blueprints to behavior change and allow you to easily assess if you have succeeded.
Learn from lapses. Slip-ups are inevitable, though we tend to view them as personal failures and reason to give up. Instead of entertaining negative thoughts, identify the cause and work to avoid it in the future. If a mid-afternoon hunger strike caused you to overeat, perhaps planning a snack after lunch would fix the problem.
Keep faith. Whether you are changing your diet to lose weight, feel more energetic, improve athletic performance or otherwise, there will always be a delay between effort and results. This delay hurts our ability to associate behavior and outcome, similar to giving your dog a treat for a trick they did the month before. To prevent discouragement, focus on the reason you are making a change and use it to fuel your exhausted inspiration.
My final advice is to enjoy your journey. As we struggle and thrive through the peaks and valleys of life, it is worthwhile to take a second to breathe and look around. Compare where you were to how far you have come and celebrate your victories. Cultivating this appreciation will help you recognize which strategies have worked best. No matter what you find that works for you, work at it wholeheartedly and keep faith that you are making progress toward a healthier self.
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Jake Volponi guest authored this week’s Eating Smart. Mary Koch is a registered dietitian at Banner Churchill Community Hospital and the VA Lahontan Valley Outpatient Clinic. Send your nutrition questions to Koch at firstname.lastname@example.org.