I’d like to preface this post by saying that I don’t believe there is one ideal diet for everyone. And I also do not believe that someone who is content eating a certain way is a good/bad person nor are they defined by their food choices. I believe every one has the right to make their own dietary decisions. With that being said, I know that their are plenty of people in the world that feel stuck and unhappy with their habits, but have not gotten themselves to change them while they see others whom seem to have successfully done so. This post is for those that want help with building better habits.
I wanted to write a post about this topic because it’s one that I commonly get questions about. People typically ask me how I manage to have so much “willpower” and “discipline” regarding my dietary choices. The truth is that I don’t use willpower or discipline when choosing my food, not really.
The problem with relying on those things to make better choices is that there is only so much you have. Willpower is a limited resource that eventually runs out, which is why so many of us have failed at numerous diets. We see this over and over again, people are on the wagon, being “good” with their diets, and then later off the wagon and eating “bad” foods. This tends to happen when someone tries to change so many things at once while relying on willpower to follow through with those changes. They reach their threshold, and fall back into their usual tendencies.
So if someone is eating the standard American diet and wants to change that, how can they do so without eventually going back to old habits? The key is to start small. Ask yourself how you can make a significant impact with the least amount of work. “Work smarter, not harder” is a good rule of thumb to keep in mind here.
For example, if a man is eating fast food along with sugary soft drinks every day, the liquid sugar consumption is most likely having tremendous impacts on his blood sugar regulation, energy levels, etc. So, eliminating just the sugary drinks will most likely yield significant improvements. Once abstaining from sugary drinks has become easy and habitual, then he can move on to the next improvement. Perhaps he starts to eat fast food every other day instead of daily. And the cycle continues. By making small individual changes, eventually he will have built better habits that feel easy to uphold.
It’s important to remember that eliciting a lifestyle change is not usually easy. It will require some work to remove habits that have become second nature to you. This is why choosing something that seems manageable is important; it will take some effort. Do not choose to change something that seems impossible for you to change. You don’t want to set yourself up for failure. But I also want to mention that there is another end to the spectrum. You also don’t want to choose something that’s too easy. For example, if you rarely drink alcohol, and you decide to give up alcohol, that change will probably come farely easily to you. And it probably won’t have a very significant positive impact on your health, since alcohol was never really a problem for you anyway. This is why it is important to find that sweet spot. Choose a HABITUAL change that seems manageable.
Another thing to remember is that you don’t have to make things complicated. If you’re trying to eat more home-cooked meals, don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to tackle a complicated recipe. If you’d like to use a recipe, choose a simple one. Or you can use the opportunity to experiment with spices and different flavors. If you don’t feel like cooking is so much more work than you’re used to, then you’ll be more likely to make it a habit.
Of course, this advice extends to things beyond food choices. This can be applied to lifestyle changes as well, including incorporating more movement into a sedentary life, building better relationships, job/career goals, etc. There is more to life than the food we eat.
With all of that being said, I’d like to add that while making health improvements is a wonderful thing, don’t let that be your downfall. I, as well as many others, have fallen into the trap of focusing so much on improving my health and changing my body that I lost sight of the point of it all, which is to live life and love others. So don’t be afraid to go out, have a drink, skip a workout to hang out with a friend, and eat some cake at a birthday party. After all, quality of life improves your health as well.