You might know in your core that you need to make changes in your diet, and feel very strongly about it. But knowing and feeling do not necessarily translate into action. When I counsel people who want to make changes in their eating habits, I focus on the factors that have inhibited the change. Then we work together to find small, daily changes that you can begin to make.
You might find motivation inside you as you see some changes working. Many women and men, however, have felt defeated by their weight and have tried multiple diets that have resulted in weight fluctuations. If you have felt this way, you are not alone. Think about what you’ve accomplished so far and learn to celebrate your own positive changes. Try focusing on the health benefits of exercise and nutrition versus the numbers on the scale.
Change takes time. Some of us will start making changes within days. Others may take a year or more to realize unhealthy habits, name them and change these to healthier ones. It’s common to go back and forth before you find your forward motion. Most people (overweight or not) have moments during the year where they have to adjust their eating back to healthy again, especially after the holidays.
Here are some proven tips that can help you create forward momentum in your life:
- Understand the “functions” of your eating habits, even if they are unhealthy. Are you eating extra food because you’re upset with the day or with a life event? Are you eating to manage stress? Then, focus on one small change that is realistic for where your life is right now.
- Use positive reinforcement when talking to yourself. This has been shown in research to be more lasting across time and create overall better results. Lift yourself up and praise your efforts constantly!
- Reduce versus deprive. If you really like a certain treat that is not healthy for you, reduce the amount of that particular food in a way that doesn’t make you feel deprived. Eating less of a food item is easier to adjust to than telling yourself you can never eat it again.
- Start with one small change first. It could be eating smaller portion sizes, making a point of eating breakfast, reducing alcohol or any other new habit — just tackle them one at a time.
- Write out one positive phrase that you will say daily in a mirror. For example: “I’m focused on becoming healthy.” This is a statement that is empowering and within your control. Remember to praise any effort you make in the direction of your positive phrase – no matter how small.
- Remove the words “should” and “must” from your vocabulary. These words just make you feel guilty. For instance, instead of, “I should eat a salad today,” you could reframe it to “I could eat a salad today,” so that the choice is back with you.
- If you happen to slip up, don’t beat yourself up about it. Focus on the positive changes you’ve made so far. Think about how to tailor a realistic change to your life in this moment.
- Look at your present effort as a lifelong change and not a temporary diet. Again, start with small things that don’t overwhelm you and, with calm persistence, you will see that you can make room for a new you. Always remember: You can do this!
The Good News
Eating a healthier diet might be intimidating at first, but once you see that you really can make changes, and you begin to experience how good healthy foods actually taste, your preferences will begin to change.