Few efforts can transform your health more than improving your diet. We’ve all heard the food as fuel comparison, but do we think about how diet really impacts our everyday lives? A healthy diet yields vitality.
Nourishing food choices offer consistent, steady energy throughout the day and help maintain a balanced mood and focus. A healthy diet can help reduce our risk for diseases like cancer and heart disease as well as chronic conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes and diverticulosis. When we transform our diet, we literally change our lives. We reclaim vigor in our daily experience and ultimately reroute the trajectory of our long term health.
Making this transformation, however, is often easier said than done. When it comes to changing your diet, how can you maximize your chance for success?
- § Visualize your purpose.
Although our rational minds know the scientific facts of why we should prioritize healthy eating, daily stresses lead us to make less than rational decisions. Expand your sense of purpose beyond the theoretical. Make it personal. Are you pursuing this change because of a recent health scare or a family history of heart disease? Are your children and grandchildren at the heart of your commitment? Make your motivation manifest with an actual visual representation, and slap it on the fridge. What would be the most dramatic or meaningful reminder for you? A photo? A lab test result?
- § Define–and track– your goals.
Consider what you are hoping to accomplish and define the healthy eating changes you want to make. Do you want to cut out processed foods and add more fruits and vegetables? Do you need to reduce your sugar intake? Talk with your doctor about how dietary changes can impact any current health conditions. Set specific, quantifiable and realistic goals, 1-2 at a time, and track your progress toward meeting them in writing. Focus on behavior changes that you can control and monitor (like eating 2 pieces of fruit per day, or exercising for 30 minutes 50 days per week), rather than outcomes (like losing 2 pounds per week) which are more difficult to hold yourself accountable for. Start small, and don’t take on more new goals until you’ve comfortably turned the previous ones into habits.
- § Review your relationship to food.
Our eating habits often reflect deeper motivations than simple taste preferences. Food becomes loaded with emotional associations and cultural values. Be prepared to do the emotional work of uncovering these layers. Talk to a professional if you feel it would be beneficial.
- § Lay out specifics
While the changes you envision may seem straightforward enough, best intentions can quickly become casualties in the busy reality of daily life. Consider what potential obstacles you might face in achieving your goals, and plan ahead to anticipate these issues and prepare yourself for overcoming them. If eating out less is a goal, for example, one way to translate this into action would be to create a weekly menu plan for yourself every Sunday, and schedule a regular time to stock your cupboards with the foods you’ll need to succeed. (After all, if you don’t have healthy foods on hand, how can you eat them?) Menus in particular allow you to lay out exactly how you’ll meet your goals (e.g. incorporating more fruits and vegetables) in a given day.
- § Strategize for potential stumbling blocks.
At home you more or less have full control over your meals, but what about work lunches, dinners with extended family, or Friday night drinks with friends? Remaking your diet might mean tweaking aspects of your social life. While you don’t have to nix customary get-togethers, you may need to approach them differently by choosing other restaurants, eating beforehand or bringing your own food. Before eating out, check out the restaurant’s menu online and decide what you’re going to order. Before a party, decide in advance how many drinks you’re going to have, and switch to sparkling water with lime once you’ve hit your limit. Don’t arrive at dinner or a party starving, or you’re likely to overeat. Instead, have an apple or handful of nuts an hour before you go to take the edge off your ravenous appetite and help you better control your food choices.
- § Seek out support.
Although you fully own the changes you’re making, calling up the enthusiasm of a few supportive friends or family members can help keep you motivated and on track. Online groups offer a community for encouragement as well as success tips. Finally, keeping a progress journal along the way can give you heartening reminders of how far you’ve come in your healthy eating journey.
Whatever your goals are, value each step of conscious planning and each healthy food choice. Check out FitDay.com and Your Personal Nutritional Guide for additional tools and suggestions. Your efforts will be a rewarding investment in your life and well-being.