Dave Ramsey says in several of his books that, "Change is very hard and we change only when the pain of same is greater than the pain of change." Let's face it, for many people, cleaning up your diet is hard! I mean, unhealthy foods are EVERYWHERE and not to mention addictive (and cheaper). It seems so much easier to just deprive yourself for a few days or weeks, instead of actually trying to make long lasting postive diet changes. Really though, we are not talking about going on a diet, but instead about replacing nutrient poor foods with nutrient dense foods. I have rode along on the journey as several people have went through this process, as well as gone through it myself, so I know first hand how much some people struggle with it.
Any positive diet change is not going to be just for a few weeks or months like so many "diets" out there, but instead should be a lifestyle change, a whole new mindset if you will. I have had the pleasure of meeting some people who seem to make this lifestyle change with what appears to be very little effort. After reflecting on what these people had in common, I came up with the following tips:
1. It has to be YOUR idea. Any major change can not be your wife's idea or your father's or even your doctor's. It has to be YOURS, if you are going to have enough motivation to stick with this long term, YOU have to want it. When people that come to me say something like, "my doctor says I need to give up gluten", I already know their chances of long-term success are minimal, because they lack the personal motivation to stick with it through the tough times, which are inevitable. That is not meant as a judgement of any kind, but I see it happen quite often.
2. You must have some kind of plan. In the land of convenience foods, pizza parties and donuts at the office every friday, it is critical that you make a plan before starting your diet change. You are going to be tempted, you are going to get busy, things are going to come up, you will not always be eating at home and sometimes there will be no options available. All of this will undoubtedly happen when your motivation has already left the building! It can really help to know what you are going to do in these types of situations before you reach them. You need recipe ideas and to know what you are going to buy at the store. You simply can not wake up one day and say "I want to clean up my diet" and instantly do so perfectly 100% of the time. (And if you somehow did, please email me and tell me how!) Freezer meals, weekly meal prep, doubling meals and help from my boyfriend is how we make it work in our house. It took us a few years to get to this point though, so be patient.
3. Only wanting to lose weight is not enough. In my experience, there tend to be two types of people that make the effort to clean up their diet. People who are trying to lose weight and people who are sick and in pain, and of course many people experience both reasons. Those people who are only trying to lose weight will eventually go back to eating unhealthy if that is their only motivation. That is not to say that many of the people who try diets like Paleo for weight loss reasons, do not eventually change their mindsets, because so many do. They feel so much better eating nutrient dense foods that their bodies were craving, that they don't even worry about the weight loss anymore. Those people who are sick and in pain tend to do a better job of sticking to the path out of necessity. Having a gallbladder attack or migraine will quickly remind you that "cheating" is not an option for you!
4. Focusing on what you can eat, instead of what is "off-limits" is crucial. When I first started eating Paleo, I really focused on some of the things that I could no longer eat and drink. It made it really difficult. When I eventually stopped focusing on things I was suppose to be avoiding, I realized that there is actually more things that I eat now than when I was eating a Standard American Diet. I mean really, when you really open your mind, there are soooo many things you can make out of meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and healthy fats! For example Beef and Broccoli Cashew Stir Fry, Beef Bourguignon, Pineapple Meatballs and Ground Beef Stroganoff are use a few amazing Paleo friendly recipes just for beef. Cherry Chocolate Chip Cookies, Sweet Potato Pie, Mexican Chocolate Pots de' Creme, Eskimo Pies and Flourless Zucchini Brownies are just some of the amazing Paleo "friendly" desserts. (Of course, these desserts are not healthy if you eat them all the time, but they are great options for those people who can't or do not want to eat bad oils, flours and fake foods when they want a treat.) Another way to look at this is to start adding in good foods, instead of focusing on removing the bad ones. This can be the kick start that some people need in order to achieve their goals.
5. Doing what works best for YOU can give you the extra step up that you need to succeed! When some people enter a swimming pool, they dive in, and take in the full shock of the temperature change. While this can be very uncomfortable for a moment, it doesn't last long. When other people enter the swimming pool, they ease their way in, little by little. This makes for less of a shock, but it does drag out the process. The point is, that either way both people eventually are adjusted to the temperature of the water and in the pool.... Gretchen Rubin discusses the difference between abstainers and moderators in this episode of Underground Wellness Radio (start at 33:00). Moderators are the ones who can eat one tiny square of chocolate a day but the thought of no chocolate is too much for them, while abstainers, by contrast are the ones who can't eat any chocolate because they will eat the entire bar! Neither strategy is right or wrong, you just need to find what works best for YOU! If one way is not working, maybe you need to try the other way.
6. Know your triggers and act accordingly. When I was finally able to kick my soda pop habit for good, I couldn't eat any fast food, because when I did it would send my cravings through the roof! I am sure it was partly the addictive foods themselves, causing me to craving my glass of Dr. Pepper, but I also think it was the memory of always consuming it with my fast food meals that made it worse. Personally it was too hard for me, so I just avoided fast food for a few months (that is really never a bad idea, is it?!?).
7. Persistence. Persistence. Persistence. When I quit smoking cigarettes several years ago, it took me 9 tries before I finally kicked the habit for good. I tried the patch, the gum, Chantix (prescription medicine), cold turkey and the list goes on and on. You want to know why I finally was able to quit? Because I stuck with it! I made a goal and nothing was going to keep me from it. I kept that same intensity for a few years until I finally figured out what worked from me (which goes back to tip #5). The ability to stick to your goal (remember it must be your goal) is one of the top traits that will ensure success when transitioning to a healthier diet. These are the people who are able to adjust their plans and make things work through all the bumps in the road. These are the people who despite failing 197 times, they keep trying until they find what works, because they are determined at all costs to reach their goals!
8. Forgiveness. Being able to forgive yourself when you make a mistake or when you fail is possibly the most important trait to have when trying to make a diet change. People who beat themselves up for failing are, in my experience, not going to make the change long term; however, those who frown, brush themselves off and move on, are more equipped to make the a lifestyle change instead of just "dieting" for a few weeks. Winston Churchill once said, "Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." Failure is not permanent and you must never let it steal your hope. Forgive yourself and move on.
And while I decided not to add it to the list, because I have seen many people accomplish their goals without it, support can be very necessary for some people so I thought I should at least mention it. It never hurts to know that you have some people on your side! Of course, many people have also used the motivation they get when everyone doubts them. Either way, other people opinions can help add fuel to your fire and give you the extra incentive that you need to accomplish your goals.
I also have to add making the right diet changes are extra important for long term sustainability. If, for example, you try to go on a low fat diet, I suspect you will be hungry all the time and it will be near impossible for you to sustain with all the unhealthy tempting choices that we are bombarded with on a day to day basis. Check out The Paleo Mom or Robb Wolf if you would like to understand more about how Paleo can be a great starting point for you to find out what works for your body. Check out Nourished Kitchen to get started with real food. And hopefully this blog will be helpful to you as well!
Are there any tips you would add to this list?