If you are looking to make changes to your diet for the long term, it is likely you are going to need to build some new habits around food. This could be related to planning, shopping, preparing and / or your ‘go to’ foods.
So how can we go about building new habits?
Most of us lead busy lives and our brains are already pulled in a million directions!! A request to your poor addled brain to make multiple complex changes to the way you eat all at once would – for many of us – be too much. Our brains simply don’t have the spare capacity, the poor things!
By breaking the changes down into manageable chunks of one to two habits at a time we increase our chance of retaining the information, implementing the changes and building the habits for the long term. And therefore our chances of long term success.
What to change?
The lowest hanging fruit first!! By this I mean the things that are easiest to change.
Why? Because who doesn’t want to make progress as easily as possible. Plus, referring back above ... let’s at least start by making it as easy as possible for your poor addled brain! And for changes to be sustainable they must be practical and not a hardship; the easy changes are typically the ones that are just that.
So what could be a low hanging fruit? Perhaps …
Killing a habit it won’t take much effort to break
Switching a food you won’t miss too much
Adding a more nutritious food you actually enjoy
Do you consume high calorie drinks, e.g. lattes or sugary pop? Could you switch these for something lower calorie or lower sugar?
Do you have a large high sugar snack in the afternoon because you typically have an energy crash? Could you increase the size of your lunch to give you more energy to get through the afternoon?
Do you snack on crisps, chocolate and other items from the vending machine at work? Could you keep some fruit, crackers, jerky or similar at your desk instead?
Do you use a lot of high calorie dressings, such as mayonnaise or oil based salad dressings? Could you use a smaller portion, or switch for a lower calorie options such as balsamic vinegar?
How to change?
The very nature of habits is that we don’t have to actively remember them to execute them. Like brushing your teeth before bed … you just do it.
But building habits does take conscious effort and you must actively remember to do them for a while before they stick. And in reverse, breaking habits takes conscious effort as you must actively remember not to do what you instinctively do.
So how do we do this?
It depends! Maybe it is as simple as writing a certain food on your weekly shopping list … because if it is in the house you will eat it. Or maybe it is a post it on the fridge of what your focus is at each meal e.g. ‘Remember to add veggies!!’. Or maybe you need to set an alarm to remind yourself to eat lunch every day.
Make it as easy as possible for yourself to build this habit, and make a plan!!
Reflect on change
Try and implement the changes you have identified for five to seven. If it is successful and it felt good, fabulous!! You have correctly identified low hanging fruit that you might be able to turn into a permanent change. If it is not successful, then reflect on why. Maybe it wasn’t a low hanging fruit after all. Or maybe it was a low hanging fruit but your ‘how’ was wrong … you added a food to your weekly shopping list but it just rotted in the fridge … so maybe instead you need to decide what you will use it for before you buy it.
And remember: building habits takes time. There will be times when things don’t go accordingly to plan, or where you ‘fall off’ the bandwagon. But that is okay. We learn from it. Think about why it happened, whether you could (or would have wanted!) to have done something differently, and so what strategies you can put in place for next time. There will always be a next time!