You’ve made a commitment to yourself. You are going to start eating right. You’re cutting back on sugar, keeping an eye on your portion sizes, restricting your soda habit, and you will eat all those vegetables you just spent half your paycheck on. This is it, you are finally ready to make some changes and you are starting today.
Except, Halloween was the other day and you keep stumbling over the kids’ candy stash.
And it will be Thanksgiving in a couple weeks and your mouth is already drooling with anticipation for Aunt Linda’s gooey, delicious, cheesy potatoes.
After that, we’ll be diving into Christmas with all the cookies and pies and comfort food your belly could possibly handle.
Hmm, maybe this wasn’t the best time to jump on the healthy eating wagon. Maybe you should wait for the New Year when there won’t be so many temptations and you can actually focus and make progress on your goals.
Except, that’s exactly what you said last year. And here we are, an entire year later, still falling off the healthy eating wagon and landing on the struggle bus.
It doesn’t have to be this way. You can live a healthy lifestyle and ride the healthy eating wagon all year long. All it takes is a decision and the commitment to do the work. And, if you slip up, or even give yourself permission to indulge in the goodness of the holidays or other special events, you can recognize that you haven’t fallen off the wagon, you’re simply living in the freedom of a healthy life.
If you are ready to get off the endless cycle of starting and stopping, yo-yo-ing on diets, and beating yourself up when you indulge in something delicious, the following tips can help you understand how to create a healthy lifestyle that actually lasts.
Make it a Lifestyle, not a Diet.
We all know that diets don’t work. What does work is making sustainable, realistic healthy choices on a daily basis. Stop trying to overhaul your entire kitchen. Quit restricting every last food item that you actually enjoy eating. Try new things, experiment, track your progress and results, make itty bitty tiny baby steps of change. Don’t follow the plan that your best friend follows just because it works for her.
Every body is different. If there was one “diet” that worked for everyone we would have figured it out long ago and everyone would be skinny by now. But that’s not the way it works. So, be a researcher of you. Figure out what foods you like, what foods you don’t like. Determine what foods your body does well with and what foods your body doesn’t perform well with.
Then slowly make changes. Start by incorporating more of the things you know are good for you. And then little by little use those items to replace the foods that aren’t as healthy for you. Keep the changes you are making realistic to the current season of life you are in. Don’t change something new until you adjust to the change you just made.
Not only will this slow and methodical process be easier for you to implement, but it also makes your healthy eating actually become a habit so you’re more likely to stick with it for life. Your results might be slower, but they will actually stick around.
Focus on Making Good Choices, Not Restricting Bad Ones
If you tell yourself to stop eating candy and sweets, what are you constantly thinking about?
Candy and sweets.
The brain doesn’t recognize the negative. Have you ever heard of “what you focus on, expands”? If you are constantly telling yourself not to do something, your brain won’t see the “not”, it will just see all the giant bowls of candy and gooey brownies everywhere.
So, quit thinking about all the things you can’t have. Quit reminding yourself of all the no’s and instead focus on what you want to add.
Set up a goal to eat a certain number of servings of vegetables or fruit each day. Remind yourself to drink more water instead of stressing about the soda you’re missing out on.
Find healthy alternatives to replace the unhealthy things you are trying to cut out. And then instead of worrying about avoiding the unhealthy things, just work as hard as you can at adding in the healthy options to your daily meals.
If you slip up and eat something unhealthy, don’t beat yourself up and fret about it. Just get back to focusing on the good choices you are trying to make.
Don’t Restrict All of The Things
There are a lot of diets and healthy eating plans out there that are incredibly healthy and nutritious. We all watch the people who follow these eating plans with jealousy and wonder.
You know, the people who cut out all grains, all sugar, all dairy, all fruit, and all of the good things to eat and then rave about how amazing they feel on their diet of salmon and kale.
How do they do it?
The truth is, it doesn’t really matter how they do it. It matters what you are doing. And if you try to do what they are doing and find yourself constantly failing, then stop trying to do what they are doing. It’s obviously not working for you.
Most of the time, if you find yourself constantly failing at following your healthy eating plan, it is because you are restricting too much too soon and making yourself miserable.
Go back to the drawing board and pick one reasonable thing you can change and focus on that. Once you’ve got that down, then you can add another food item to start restricting. But going cold turkey on 80% of the food you like to eat overnight is just setting yourself up for failure and misery.
Protect the House (and Office).
The holidays especially are a time when bad food choices seem to be everywhere. Do yourself a favor and keep your house and office as protected as possible.
If your kids don’t need the candy, you don’t either. Consider throwing it away or donating it. I’m sure this isn’t a popular suggestion, candy is expensive! But so is healthcare, especially when you have chronic health problems from eating too much sugar. Your choice.
Consider telling your coworkers and friends that you are making different food choices and asking them to support you in your efforts. Some people won’t care and will still bring in whatever treats they want. But you might just motivate and inspire someone to join you in your healthy eating efforts, and together you can come up with healthy ways to celebrate office successes.
It’s okay to go to parties and indulge over the holidays. Special events are exactly that, special. So let yourself off the hook and enjoy the good times, and good foods. But don’t let the special events spill into your everyday life. If you are surrounded by tempting unhealthy foods, you will eat them. So get them out of your house and out of your office as much as you possibly can.
Remember – Food is fuel.
We eat in order to provide our body with the nutrients it needs to live. Our bodies need a variety of vitamins, minerals, carbs, protein, fats, and more in order to function the way God intended them to. Food is fuel.
There are good fuels and not-so-good fuels. Pay attention to how your body feels and “performs” after eating different food items. This will help train you to identify what is good fuel for you and what foods do not fuel your body well.
Food is not, however, a reward. God didn’t design our bodies or our minds to need to eat treats just because we did a good thing. Sure, He did bless us with some really delicious foods, but that is for our pleasure and enjoyment in fueling our bodies, not to be used as a reward.
If you are in the habit of rewarding yourself (or your kids) with food, put an end to it as soon as possible. This is an incredibly unhealthy habit that can easily set us up for food challenges and health issues.
In the same vein, food is not a comforter or coping mechanism. And it should not be used as entertainment when we’re bored. If you find that you eat when you are happy, sad, anxious, mad, etc, you need to call a counselor, not the local takeout place. Seriously, therapists can help. Food cannot. Food is fuel, not an anti-depressant.
Your Next Choice is More Powerful Than Your Last Choice.
You were eating really well, making great choices and then something came up to ruin your schedule and you’ve found yourself in the fast food line.
You had eaten great all week and then you went over to your friend’s house and she served you chips and queso with giant mugs of margaritas on the side. You thoroughly enjoyed yourself until you woke up the next morning, depressed and angry with yourself for falling off the healthy eating wagon, again.
Never fear, my friend. All previous choices mean nothing when put up against the choices in your future. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past, even if it was in the past ten minutes. All that matters is what you choose to do now.
Stop waiting for Monday. Stop beating yourself up every time you eat something unhealthy.
Just make the next right choice. That is all that matters and all you truly can change.
Today’s Action Step
Make it your goal today to just make the next right choice. It might not be perfect, but start with what you have and where you are. Forget about everything you ate yesterday. Figure out what your best choice is for now and begin moving forward.
Make a plan for your future that is realistic to allow yourself to gradually make the changes you desire. And go ahead, enjoy the special events during the upcoming holidays. They are special for a reason.