Are you ready for the bad news?
The initial changes as you transition to healthy eating habits are not going to come naturally and they are going to be hard.
Yep, it’s not going to be easy. But if you keep on at it and if you keep on trying, eventually you’ll get it. I promise. I know this because I’ve been there. I’ve been where you are right now. And sometimes, when I fall out of sync, I’m right back in that spot of “stuck.” But when you have a system, when you have a plan, getting back on track is easy. Okay, easier.
First, let’s talk about what healthier eating is. There should be no surprises here as most of us already know what to do. It’s always that “how to do it” thing where we get hung up. But just in case you’re not sure, let’s review a few actions that can positively impact your health:
- Drink more water.
- Eat more vegetables.
- Eat more fruit.
- Eat fewer grains.
- Eat little to no added sugar.
- Eat lean and clean proteins.
- Avoid processed foods like the plague.
When you are following these guidelines, what you are left with is whole, fresh, nutritious food. But the reality for most of us is that you can’t go to the store,buy a head of broccoli, and just start taking bites out of it. I mean, you could…but that would be a little weird. Eating a diet of whole foods requires organization, preparation, and time. And I would be amiss if I didn’t mention that you need a little bit of know-how, too.
After a few years (yes, years) of practice, I can say that I now feel pretty comfortable and at ease with living this lifestyle. And it truly is a lifestyle. There is an effort and energy required that can be a struggle at first that becomes easy and natural over time. You begin to plan and shop with a second-nature that just takes over when you walk in to a store and meal ideas pop effortlessly into your head. To help you embrace these changes, I’ll share with you a few tips and strategies that can make the transition easier.
- Start small. Everyone wants to experience a win as it reinforces the behavior we aim to continue. Pick one thing and do it well. Eat fruit as snack. Replace your potatoes with veggies. Eat at home instead of at a restaurant. Pass on the bread if you go out to eat. Stick with grilled or baked proteins with veggies. Drink water instead of pop or coffee. Cut out sweets and treats. Remember, we all start at different points so pick something that is suitable for you.
- Don’t be afraid. For a lot of people, this will be something new and different. This may mean trying new foods or cooking. Note: not cooking something new – just cooking. Yes, this is a new concept for many people that I work with; and that’s okay. Make it fun. Buy a new knife, cutting board or sauté pan. Try a new recipe. Stay inspired.
- Plan ahead. Plan ahead. Plan ahead. This is probably the most important step, especially if you’re new to this. If you go to the store and buy a whole bunch of produce without a plan for it, there is a very good chance that you are going to be throwing a lot of it away when it gets moldy in the back of your fridge. Know when and how you are going to eat it to reduce waste. Other important aspects of planning ahead are to:
- Create a weekly menu for at least one meal per day. This may mean that you jot down what you are going to have for dinner every night with accommodations for your schedule and family activities. This is also a good time to reflect on opportunities that you have to create leftovers that will make a good lunch or dinner for another busy evening. Not only does this take the stress of out coming up with what to have, it can also help you create your shopping list when you can anticipate what you are going to need.
- Prepare fruits and vegetables by washing them and cutting them for quick grab-and-go snacks.
- Keep ready-to-eat proteins on hand (hard-boiled eggs, string cheese, sauteed or roasted chicken breast, browned ground beef or turkey) so that you have a quick add-in protein to round out a meal.
- Know where you are going to be and what will be available to you when you are away from home. Will you have healthy options available? If not, you may need to pack a little cooler with you or volunteer to bring a dish to share.
- MULTI-TASK. This is my major must-do. When I am making breakfast in the morning, I’m also packing my lunch for work. When I am cooking something on my stove that doesn’t require constant attention, I’m cutting up some veggies. When there is something on my stove that does require attention, I’m roasting vegetables in my oven. When I’m making my grocery list, I’m writing out a menu-plan for the week. And that may mean that I am also taking meat out of my freezer to thaw. This is the one aspect that will be the make it or break it for sustainability. And you can actually have fun with this too. I’ll sometimes throw my laptop or iPad on the counter so I can catch a show that I missed while doing prep work. I’ll get my kids involved so they can learn kitchen skills. I’ll throw on some music and just experience the tastes, smells and textures of fresh foods. Except for raw chicken – because it still just grosses me out.
Practice creates comfort. There is no perfect. We can all only try our best every day to stay on track. And if we don’t there’s always another moment to try again. Honor where you are at, do what you can, and don’t give up. You’ll get it.