Everyone wants to eat better – that resolution tops many lists every January 1.
An old saw: “Opportunity knocks – temptation leans on the doorbell” is apt. We live in a world where we have access to food 24/7 and plenty of it. We no longer eat all our meals at home, depending greatly on social eating situations on a daily basis (breakfast meetings, a latte at a playdate, lunch with coworkers, drinks afterward, and dinner out) it’s almost impossible for all but the most disciplined diners to keep on the straight and narrow.
As someone who has the word “food” on a resume, I can personally tell you how hard it is to follow a sensible plan. Yet there are ways to keep a diet under control, and if you add in 30 minutes of simply walking every day, you can manage nutrition and weight. It is possible with even slight adjustments.
No. 1 rule: Know what you eat
We aren’t as in love with our food as it would seem. A lot of people can’t remember what they had for dinner four days ago – and as far as snacks and drinks – no way. If it’s not memorable, why are we eating it?
Habit and boredom are two keys.
If you’re serious about changing your food habits, first, find out exactly what it is you’re eating. Keep a record for at least two weeks (three or four is better) of all the foods you eat and drink during a “normal” week – whatever’s normal for you. Every mouthful.
Record the time of day, your mood, who you were with and what occasion it was – just a note or two to jog your memory.
Here’s a chart that could help – fill one out each day, preferably when you eat – don’t rely on your memory to record that second coffee with sugar in the morning, or bite of chocolate you took from your coworker’s candy jar.
Start noting patterns. Maybe you have a smoothie and a half for breakfast – or extra sugar in the coffee you take in your oversized cup to work. Maybe you sit down with a bowl of trail mix or popcorn to watch Ellen. Were you bored at the computer when you went to the fridge rummaging in the afternoon or late-night? Did having that second beer with your buddy cheer you up?
Now, change them. Take a different route to work – one that doesn’t pass the drive-up donut shop. Meet the other moms at a park – not the coffeeshop/wifi spot that makes quaffing your calories so easy. Tell your beer buddy to meet you at the gym instead of the bar. If you’re hungry at 3:30 every day, plan for a snack that’s healthier than the vending machine.
Crave it? Eat it – in moderation. But first, brush your teeth – it’s a simple model’s trick. If you still crave a food after you brush well and rinse, you can have it. Chances are, you won’t.
Take up a hobby that’s not connected to food. Ride a bike for distance. Paint – and not the food court. Learn to sew, learn to sail, learn calligraphy. Pick up an instrument from your childhood and perfect it, or learn a new one.
Step out of your food ruts
We all joke we could live on a chocolate or beer diet or that we’re on a seafood diet – “see food and eat.” Truth is, most of us have no “diet” plan nor do we pay attention to really how much of any one food we eat. Want to eat red meat only two times a month? Keep track, then. The chili, taco from the truck, bacon on a BLT or sprinkled on a salad – you’re eating red meat, friend.
There’s a huge world of food out there, too – you’re stuck in a rut, but limited only by your palate.
Eat new, different foods. Try new restaurants, take cooking classes, get in on food demos at ethnic restaurants or ask your favorite chef to teach you a thing or two.
Incorporate healthy foods into your standard recipes.
Striving for five servings of fruits and vegetables per day? It’s harder than you think. French fries don’t count in the plan to eat healthy fruits and veggies – we’re talking dark green leafy things and cruciferous stuff like broccoli, cabbage, tat soi, Swiss chard, kale, fennel, Brussels sprouts, collards and mustards. Bright, colorful ones like squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, red peppers, beets, eggplants.
Fruits include all the berries, apples, oranges, grapefruit, melons, plums, kiwi, peaches, cherries and grapes.
How about grains? Stuck on rice? Move along to quinoa, spelt, barley, faro, oats. Tons of legumes. Nuts about peanuts? Try walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, pecans, sunflower seeds, cashews, pistachios, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts.
Plan to succeed
Keep real and don’t sabotage your plan before you start. If you shoot for drastic changes, you’ll fail. Make small, smart ones that you can live with on a daily basis. Plan for the nights out with friends and the sudden splurge to sate an ice cream craving. Eat a few bites and be done. You have to have a little will power and with each time, it will get stronger.
Don’t kill any one food. Even ice cream and cookies and french fries are OK occasionally. Everyone says “in moderation.” Forget it! Read the portions on the label and eat only one (or a half) portion – you’re one person. Denying a food you love makes you want it more and sets you up for failure.
Don’t use food as a reward. If you start rewarding yourself with food, you’ll be playing a headgame that will get you in deeper. Reward yourself for good deeds or achievements with new clothes, jewelry, a new gadget – something tangible and not edible. You’re not mentally thinking that food is the best thing in life.
Get a buddy to work with. Even online, support makes a difference for most. Find like-minded friends and work together to eat healthier.
You can do it
Envision the new you: Put a photo of yourself in better days on the fridge and tell yourself you were once this way – and can be again. Think positive and don’t let a setback knock you down. Bend a little, and stand up again. You can do it!