So you have made a decision, a life changing decision. You have decided to change the way you eat. Notice that I did NOT use the word diet. In order to have sustainable health changes, you have to make sustainable lifestyle changes. Becoming healthier certainly does not happen overnight. It does not happen with jumping on the latest diet trend. It does not happen with starving yourself. It does not happen with binge exercising. It happens when you decide to change your lifestyle. When you decide to change how you live your life: you can achieve and maintain a healthy weight, you can decrease your risk of several chronic diseases and some cancers that are related to lifestyle, you can be confident and happy that you are doing everything in your power to take great care of yourself. We should strive to do everything we can to enjoy our lives in our health, not limiting ourselves due to poor choices we have made. You want to enjoy your healthiest life by controlling what you can control. You can control how you treat your body. So basically, eating a poor diet can lead to poor health, which can lead to a poor quality of life. Not to scare anyone too much with all the medical talk, but I want to make a point. I hear people say all the time, well you only live once so I want to enjoy it. I get it. Donuts taste good. Chips taste good. Cheese tastes good. It is not that unhealthy foods taste bad. It’s just that too much reeks havoc on your body. Eating a diet that consists primarily of unhealthy foods leads to an unhealthy life. One that you cannot enjoy. So, yes, you can eat a cookie, but do not buy cookies to keep your pantry. Do not have a stockpile of unhealthy snacks on deck to eat at a moments notice. I have a huge issue with cookies. I LOVE cookies. When I would bake or buy them, I would think to myself I’m only going to eat “this many” cookies. Then I’d find myself standing in the pantry eating another, then another. I would become mentally exhausted due to the internal battle with my willpower, so then I would reason with myself by eating them until they were gone. That way I did not have to fight the urges any more. Terrible, believe me I know. When I decided to change our diets, I knew that the junk food had to go.
Another crucial step in becoming and staying healthy is finding your reason to do it. Be excited and committed to your reason. My reason was our daughter’s Crohn’s disease diagnosis. She is my motivation. Find what motivates you, really motivates you. Once you have strong motivation, you can get started. Changing your life is easier when you have a heartfelt reason for doing it. When you have the right motivation, whatever that is for you, it makes staying on course so much easier. You may be motivated by internal reasons like personal health or self-image. You could also be motivated by an external reason like a sick family member (my personal motivation). I really want you to think about what motivates you to change your lifestyle. I stress this step because it is so important. You will have some tough times, and you will want strong motivation to keep you on track so that stress does not knock you off.
While your heartfelt motivation keeps you course, mentally you will need to create and clear the course. What’s the course? Changing your lifestyle in ways in which you ready to do it. You have to choose your course. Only make changes you are ready to make. As you make more changes, newer changes will become easier. Your motivation gets you going and keeps on course. So in getting your mind wrapped around becoming healthier, there are some things to realize. This is not always going to be easy. Is anything that is really worth doing super easy? In your head know that this is a journey. It takes time to figure out what you are doing, how to do it, then how to do it efficiently. All of this takes patience. You will have to adapt to your new normal. You will need to give it time to become normal. Foods you will try may taste different than to what you may be accustomed. Some foods you will like right away. Some foods you may not like right away, but may learn to like or learn to prepare in a way that you like. It takes creativity. I was not a big bean eater when I changed my diet. It’s a texture thing for me. I still cannot sit down and eat a bowl of beans; however, I have learned to like beans in foods that I eat. I knew that I needed to have beans in my diet due to the nutritional value they bring. So I keep at it. I find different ways to bring them into meals in a way that I can tolerate them. Having the support of family and friends also helps keep your head in the game. Changes are easier when you are not alone. Do not be so hard on yourself. You are taking on a gigantic task. I really mean it. If you feel like you’ve gone off course. That’s okay. Just get back on it. This is not a diet. This is more work than a diet, but the effects outlast those of a diet. By working hard now, you’ll be in a position where healthy is a part of who you are. It is a part of what you do and how you do what you do. It will come naturally to you. It will be sustainable. It’s worth this work.
So your heart is in it, and your mind is in it, now you have to get your kitchen into it. You will be learning what you are eating in this exercise. This exercise involves reading the nutrition labels. Read the list of ingredients. Foods should contain ingredients that you recognize, ideally mostly whole food (like fruits, vegetables, whole grains). Try looking up ingredients with which you are unfamiliar. Next check out the nutrition facts. Aim to eat less saturated fat, sodium, cholesterol, and added sugar. Items with less than 5% daily value (abbreviated DV) are considered low in these nutrients. Greater than 20% daily value means that food contains a high amount of that nutrient. Walk into your pantry and with your best guesses, toss the junk. Make eating unhealthy inconvenient. If your pantry does not have junk food, then it’s tougher to eat it. So what needs to go? Well, all the chips, cookies, baked goods (cinnamon rolls, dinner rolls, cupcakes, snack cakes, etc), and candy need to go. In the refrigerator, remove the refrigerated baked goods, candy, processed meats (bacon, hotdogs, lunch meat; increase risk for chronic diseases), and red meats [muscle meat from mammals: pork, beef, deer, etc (also increases risk of several diseases)]. Consider getting rid of your dairy or at the very least decrease consumption. Dairy is high in saturated fat and cholesterol. If dairy is to be consumed, try low fat or nonfat options. Also the yogurt needs to be evaluated. Yogurt notoriously contains added sugar, so you’ll need to read the nutrition label. The freezer should also be free from ice cream and popsicles. Evaluate your meat stockpile as well. You do not have to necessarily throw these items away, but be prepared to no longer buy them to store at home. The entire premise is learning about what you are eating and gaining experience with reading nutrition labels. The great news is that the healthier you start to eat, the less you’ll have to read nutrition labels. You do not worry about the calories in an apple, right? The goal is to eat more whole foods.
Speaking of eating more whole food, make it easy to do so. Now that junk is out of the house and inconvenient to eat, make the healthy food that is in the house super easy to eat. Arrange your refrigerator so that healthy is vibrant and accessible. This is our refrigerator months ago when I first bought these awesome containers (see Amazon link below). We still use them, but I chose this pic because it is easier to see the containers. Literally, this simple change has made these foods go-to snacks.
Making a change starts with you. It all starts with making a decision to change and finding your motivation. A supportive environment is conducive to success as well. While it is helpful to have a support system, most important is the energy that you invest into changing. Make unhealthy choices inconvenient by removing from your household. Make healthy choices easy to access. Be willing to invest the time, energy, and money to make these changes. Be willing to invest in your health. Change at YOUR pace. This is crucial. It paves the path for changes that are sustainable. When you change what you're ready to change when you're ready to change it, you are more likely to maintain that change. It was not forced. This is not a diet, not a fad. It's a lifestyle change. It may take some time and that's okay. It is so worth it in the long run.
Always striving to help,