Ahh, New Year’s Resolution time! How many times have you resolved to follow a new diet, to finally get the health or physique of your dreams? And how many times have you wound up frustrated and defeated...only to find a new plan for summer/ your birthday/ [insert special occasion]? And chances are, you’ve seen friends and loved ones fall prey to this same cycle, confirming that this approach doesn’t work for anyone.
And yet there is an understandable allure to making a resolution, or even setting an intention, to improve your nutrition in the new year. So how can you improve your diet and health without falling into the same old pattern?
It’s time for a reboot.
It’s time to approach nutrition and eating differently. Of course, what you eat is important. But learning a little about psychology and taking the time to connect to your body are more important when it comes to long-term success. Instead of a resolution to achieve results or even adopt a new set of behaviors, commit to exploring your mind and body through the nutrition and behavior change principles to come. When you learn to connect your choices with how your body responds and how they make you feel, you’re in control. You will learn how to recalibrate your balance no matter what life throws at you so that you can stay on track.
Here I'll give you an overview of how I go about helping clients reboot their nutrition. We'll explore three key principles that underlie sustainable nutrition changes. In subsequent posts we'll look at some sample food logs of real clients, and some possible habit changes they can make to reach their goals, step by step.
Guidelines, Not Rules
As we are all individuals, there is no one-size-fits-all set of rules. Each person’s genetics, history, environment, preferences, community, etc will determine what works for their body and lifestyle. However, there are overarching guidelines that the various effective diets fit into. We use these to get started and adjust for each individual as we go. Making positive changes on any one of these guidelines will positively impact your health.
Focus on whole foods
Eat the rainbow
Include healthy fats
Eat to 80% full
Focus On Improvement, Not Perfection
Look at good nutrition as a spectrum. Instead of labeling foods, diets, or even our actions as good or bad, consider food choices and eating habits as falling across a range. Some foods move us closer to our goals than others. Some make us feel thriving and energetic better than others. And some taste better than others, are easier to find, are more affordable, and allow us to take part in social events comfortably. Since our food choices are governed by such a wide variety of factors having strict notions of good foods and bad foods sets us up for defeat. What's more, we don't have to reach perfection to get results. As long as your habits and food choices keep getting a little better you will move forward toward your goals.
No Change Is Too Small
You’re here because you know changing habits is hard, especially when it comes to eating habits. Therefore, keep your changes small. For example, you could focus on one meal a week, then 2-3, then one meal each day. Whether it's adding a vegetable, subbing sweet potato for pasta, or eating more slowly, limit your focus to small, doable steps. Small changes are more readily adopted and, more importantly, better sustained.
When Possible, Focus On The Positive
Yes, as a former school teacher I believe positive reinforcement is extremely valuable, but that’s not what we're talking about here. When changing behavior it’s helpful to focus on what you do want to do, not what you don’t. When we fixate on something, our brain doesn’t know we’re trying to avoid it. This is one reason why diets, where we constantly think about what we can't have, are exhausting and defeating. A better strategy is to channel your energy into the changes you want to incorporate in your diet. One of my favorite habits is to add a serving of vegetables to a given number of meals each day/week. There may be some habits or foods we ultimately want to avoid, and in those cases we can focus on a replacement habit. For example, instead of making the rule of no chocolate, decide to choose a piece of fruit or a homemade smoothie for dessert three nights per week. As Tony Robbins says, "Where focus goes, energy flows." Let's put our energy into those changes that move us toward better health, energy, and success.
“Where focus goes, energy flows.”
There we have the foundation of our work: use guidelines to explore what foods work for your body, keep your changes as small as possible, and focus on the actions you will take and foods you will add (instead of what you want to avoid). When we follow these principles we honor the complex factors that influence our eating behaviors and allow ourselves the time and space to make sustainable changes that feel good, not punishing. Taking the time to experiment and explore may not sound as sexy as a diet promising to be a silver bullet, but the results of this approach are well worth it.
Stay tuned for our next posts where we'll look at real food logs and some examples of how to use these guidelines to make small, positive changes.