5 things to do to make healthy eating habits stick
Tired of feeling stuck on the diet bandwagon? Get off that thing completely and instead arrive at your destination with these 5 things to do to make healthy eating habits stick (as well as 5 things you should’t do!)
5 things you can do to make healthy eating habits stick
…and 5 things you shouldn’t
So Christmas is over.
Maybe you indulged more than you wanted to over the holidays and you’re feeling sluggish from too much sugar.
Maybe you are frustrated because you’re energy levels are suffering or you aren’t sleeping well or you just don’t have the energy you want to to play with your kids.
Or maybe your doctor’s told you (again) that you should make some lifestyle changes and this time you are committed.
Whatever the reason….you feel that pull to make some changes and you want to succeed.
So what do you do next??
What usually happens when you try to make healthy eating habits stick
If you’re like most people you commit. You start doing some research.
What diets are the best?
Maybe you decide you’ll count your macros since that’s new and hot. Maybe you decide Keto will be the way this time. Maybe you decide to swear off sugar for a year.
It doesn’t really matter what you choose, but the point is you make a plan and you commit to that plan.
Then let’s talk about what happens next.
You’ll probably be able to work well off your willpower for awhile. For a week or two you might be able to stick to your plan with no problems.
Eventually though things will start to slip.
You’ll head to a party and you’ll be bummed out to miss out on all of the fun foods.
Or maybe you’ll get super busy at work and you just won’t have time to track everything you’re eating to count your macros.
At first you’ll probably re-commit and try again.
But then you’ll start to notice that the slip-ups become more and more frequent. You’ll begin to feel guilt and struggle with your self-worth everytime you say yes to that brownie.
Eventually you’ll decide that whatever changes you are trying to make aren’t worth hating yourself so you’ll adopt what I like to kindly call the “forget this” attitude and you’ll be right back where you started.
But what if it didn’t have to be that way?
Imagine with me for a minute how your life would look different if you weren’t constantly consumed by thoughts of changing your diet? Changing your exercise habits? Changing your body?
Imagine that you might not be exactly where you want to be, but you can confidently say you are on the path and you are comfortable with the progress you are making.
Imagine what it would feel like if you were comfortable enough with your path that if you weren’t seeing the changes you wanted or hoped for, you didn’t have to say “forget this” but could instead make small tweaks and changes to be where you wanted to be?
How much time would you gain back in your life if you weren’t constantly consumed by diet/exercise/negative body image thoughts?
How to make healthy eating habits stick
It took me about 50 times of trying to make healthier choices and staying stuck on the on-the-wagon/off-the-wagon approach to both making better food choices and making exercise a habit.
The crazy thing is, the things that made the biggest impact and actually drove change that lasted (like forever) actually happened completely on accident.
Let’s take eating vegetables for example.
I always wanted to eat more vegetables, but as a kid I only had a few veggies in my “safe veggie” arsenal. I was a raw carrots and broccoli, cooked corn kinda girl and that was about it.
When I was in my undergrad (studying nutrition) I began working at an elementary school in the cafeteria to get experience with the national school lunch program and pad my resume to get into the dietetics program.
During that time I got to eat free lunch every day and we had a HUGE salad bar. At the end of the day everything on the salad bar had to be thrown away (it was heartbreaking honestly).
BUT It also meant that I had a completely safe environment to try veggies over and over and over again.
Often I wouldn’t eat a lot of what I’d put on my plate (but it was going to be thrown away anyway so no harm done). But as time went on (I worked there for 3 years) I began to like basically all vegetables!
Suddenly adding them to my diet more regularly at home was easy because they were now a safe food and I wasn’t afraid anymore!
When it came to working out I had a similar experience where I was doing small things on my own but then I got the opportunity to work at my local gym for 4 hours a week in exchange for a free membership.
Something similar happened. Suddenly I had a free and safe place to try all kinds of exercise. In this case I was also trading in some of my time so of course I wanted to get the most out of it so it became easy to go to the gym.
Eventually I fell in love with that endorphin rush and exercising became easy.
But what if you don’t have free access to veggies or a free gym membership?
The point here isn’t that you need to have free unrestricted veggies or a free gym membership.
The point here is that I unlocked a secret for change accidentally in both of these cases, and that secret is that change is a slow process that stems from changing our habits slowly over time, not by powering through with sheer willpower.
Maybe you’re thinking…
But I’m TRYING to change my habits and I still end up failing.
Well maybe you are trying just a little too hard.
One of my favorite ways to think about changing habits is that habit change should feel like stretching.
It might be just the tiniest bit uncomfortable but it should never hurt. But after consistent stretching over time you’ll be so much more flexible. Stretch too much and you might end up injured which is the exact thing we don’t want right?
So if you find yourself in a situation where you’re trying to change a habit and you start feeling the pain, instead of giving up think about how you can alter it just a little so that it’s a gentle stretch instead of pain.
With that idea in mind I want to share the actual, actionable, do-able solutions for making dietary changes that stick (basically I’m going to teach you how to stretch without the strain).
I’m also going to share the things NOT to do, the things that will send you back on that never-ending diet hamster wheel or plunge your self-worth straight down into the toilet (…and we definitely don’t want that, right?)
Let’s look at the 5 things to do to make healthy eating habits stick. As I go through this I’m going to walk you through my thoughts and feelings as I am currently working on some dietary stretches myself due to some hormonal problems I’ve been experiencing recently. I hope that me opening up about my own situation helps you feel more at ease in yours.
5 things to do to make healthy eating habits stick
Things I am doing
Think about your why-Without a solid why you are not going to stick to any behavior change. Your why should be connected to your core values. In my case I am feeling tired, sluggish, moody, and overwhelmed. I’ve gone to Therapy, I’m working with a doctor. Those things are all helping in their own way but I want to be all-in to feel like my best self. My episode with Rebecca Mudrick of Shift For health talks about finding your why.
Consider what you can add to your diet (not take away from)-I don’t know about you, but I’m rebellious. When I was in school we were required to try out different diets for a week so we could know what we were asking patients/clients to do. Those diets were brutal. I found myself craving things simply because I could not have them. I was only on these diets for about a week at a time and it was excruciating. We all cheated, none of us could *actually* do it, and we were the dietitians, the ones who study food day in or day out.
To kick that rebellious streak, it’s helpful to consider what you can add to your diet to improve it. In my case, I’m looking to eat a little less red meat an dairy, and more veggies and fish. But to do this, I’m simply ignoring the red meat and dairy. Instead I’m looking at how I can eat more veggies and fish in a practical way. Some of my ideas are making veggie power bowls for lunch, meal prepping tuna salad for the week.
Take notes from other countries-The American diet is high in dairy, high in red meat (and if you are American you are probably thinking, yeah high in everything delicious, am I right?) Because of this it can be really easy to feel deprived if you continue to make these meals the staple of your diet. You’ll start feeling the food police coming on as you consider adding less cheese or swapping out your ground beef for ground turkey (and remember we’re trying to focus on adding to the diet, not subtracting)
But when you take notes from other countries you can start introducing completely different meals to your diet that you are maybe less familiar with so you don’t have those expectations of how they are “supposed” to taste. Other countries are much better at getting their flavor from spices and herbs and veggies than we are. Some spots to look for recipes from include greece and spain (the mediterranean diet is one of the best in the world, japan (lots of fish) and India lots of flavorful curries filled with beans and lots of spices.
Don’t overdo this because it can get overwhelming, but consider trying one new recipe from a different culture once a week. You can even spend some time learning about that country as a family to make the process more fun
Meal Planning & Meal Prep based on foods that I already know I like -Obviously meal planning and meal prep are making this list. Here’s how I’m shifting my meal plan and meal prep. I’m introducing a few meal prepped snacks a week. In the past I haven’t been a huge snacker but I have been noticing energy slumps where I usually scrounge up some fruit snacks from the fridge. So I’m adding some high protein snacks to my meal prep list.
I’m also making sure that my meal plan doesn’t change drastically, I know I’ll only stick to eating foods I like. But I can make some simple swaps like adding more veggies at dinners or making sure I choose fish as my protein at least once a week.
If you are NOT meal planning and prepping, don’t try to change your diet just yet. Just start planning and prepping based on the things you already know you like
Continuing with my keystone habits-Sleep, exercise, and journalling are all huge for my mental health. It’s especially important when you are making a behavior change to use those keystone habits that you’ve already created as your anchor. Your behavior change won’t go as well if you are not in a good mental state, so make sure that self-care happens and use those positive feelings to push you through the stretching you need to do to make a behavior change.
Things I am not doing
It’s equally important to stop doing a few things to make healthy eating habits stick.
Throwing away all of my Christmas candy
I have definitely been making multiple trips a day to the pantry for anoter christmas reeses cup, or some mambas (I love mambas, I feel like they are the grown up version of starburst and I am here for it!)
I am definitely hoping that improving some of my other habits minimizes these trips to the pantry, but I know that demonizing the candy will only make the problem worse. So it stays in the pantry, I am able to tell myself it is not scarce and I am more than welcome to have it whenever I want it.
Cutting out entire food groups
This goes along with what we talked about earlier, but just because I want to eat less red meat and dairy, doesn’t mean I’m cutting it out entirely. Red meat and dairy are some of my favorite food groups. I can though make other foods more of a staple in my diet and save the creamy potato soup for when I really need that bowl of comfort.
Expecting immediate results-When you have a health-based why like mine, it can be really easy to quit when you aren’t seeing results. I’m not expecting that tomorrow my cycle will completely regulate and I’ll get pregnant all on my own without any medical intervention. If that happens, that’d be the coolest. But I’m heading in expecting that this change can improve where I am over time. I am also not expecting that it will even be able to solve all of my problems. It is much more likely that a combination of therapy, diet change, and medical interventions will all work together to make me feel better. This is just one step of the puzzle.
Ignoring my hunger and fullness cues to cut calories-This is huge for moms. In fact, most of us aren’t ignoring our bodies necessarily to cut calories but because we have too many other dang flipping things to get done and adorable needy little distractions. There are way too many times that I don’t even notice I’m hungry until 11:30 when I realize I haven’t eaten anything.
Far too often I find myself justifying not eating because “hey it will be easier not to overeat today…” by the way nothing is further from the truth, and you’ll be so much crankier this way, anyone see the movie soul?
So while I am attempting to make some improvements I understand that our bodies were designed to get hungry and need food. There is nothing wrong with this! Honor your God-given body my friend
Shaming myself when things don’t go exactly as planned
Most importantly, I know that failure will be part of the process. I know that there will be days where I have a nice veggie-filled meal meal prepped in the fridge and I’ll opt for takeout instead.
It’s okay. The only way to reach a goal is to keep going despite these failures.
Alright everyone, there you have it. The 5 things you can do to make healthy eating habits stick (and 5 things you SHOULDN’T do)
I hope if you have considered dieting or getting healthier that these ideas have given you an idea of how you can do so in a way that honors and loves you and takes just tiny stretching steps toward a larger goal.
Next week’s episode is an exciting one!
Do you ever feel like you’ve got to be missing something when it comes to mealtime.
Like you feel like it should be easier than it is? Or you want to go to bed tired but not completely beat down and exhausted by the day?
Well…you’re not wrong. Motherhood and mealtime and everything that goes with it is keeping many moms exhausted and overwhelmed, but there is a better way.
So you can continue wondering what it is you’re missing, or you can tune into next week’s episode where I’m sharing the 4 secrets to peaceful mealtimes. This episode will be foundational to all of the other content on the podcast. I’ll also be sharing an exciting (free bonus) with the episode so you won’t want to miss it!
Tune in next week at 9 AM Friday!
I also want to take a minute to thank you so much for reading/listening/consuming however you do.
I hope that you being here is proof that this content is needed and helping.
In order to grow though I absolutely need your help, so please, if while you are listening you have anyone’s name or face pop into your mind and think “they need this!” please share! Also consider subscribing to the podcast so you don’t miss an episode, following me on social or giving the podcast a review. Thanks so much for your support!
Until next week, happy planning!
Want to learn more about changing habits? Check out these books and past podcast episodes!
Why changing habits is better than setting goals
Keystone habits : What they are and how you can use them to skyrocket your success