When it comes to healthy eating, most people know the basics, but not everyone chooses to follow them. Knowing what to do doesn’t always translate into action, and changing the way you eat is a long process – the first part of which is feeling ready to make the plunge. If you think you are ready, consider these tips for success:
- Determine a meaningful reason for you to change your eating habits. Ask yourself: What motivation do I have to stick with it?
I want to change my eating to help lower my blood pressure. This can help me reduce the risk of developing long-term health problems.
- Set behaviour goals instead of outcome goals. This works to help change what you do, rather than simply influencing a number or a measurement. You’ll focus on things within your control, like eating a specific number of servings a day, rather than other factors that can affect your blood pressure, like stress.
I am going to increase the amount of vegetables and fruit I eat each day.
- Talk to yourself positively about the change you want to make. We believe what we tell ourselves.
I can do this. Each day that I reach my goal, it will get easier for me to make this a habit for life.
- Make small changes and do it gradually. Often people set out to achieve too much too soon. Doing this can be overwhelming and it can set you up to fail. Working toward smaller goals can result in positive feelings when you accomplish them, meaning you’re more likely to keep on making changes.
Hard-to-reach goal: I am going to eat seven servings of vegetables and three servings of fruit every day.
More realistic goal: For the next week, I am going to bring one cup of raw vegetables with me to work on Monday to Friday and eat it as a snack.
- Consider tools to track your progress. This can be as simple as putting a sticker on your calendar every day you meet your goal. Or you can opt to track your food intake in a notebook, with a smartphone app or a computer program. This can help determine if emotions or habits influence your food intake.
I’ll put a sticker on my calendar each day I meet my goal.
- Organize your environment to help support your goal. Research shows this makes us more likely to eat healthier. Make healthier food options easier to eat by having them be the first thing you see when you open your fridge or pantry. Alternatively, if you know that having cookies in your home triggers you to eat them, either avoid buying them or store them out of sight.
I will wash and cut up my raw vegetables and put them in a clear container in my fridge to make them easier to remember to pack for work.
- Reward yourself for making progress. Research shows that tangible rewards can help with motivation and help you to set future goals.
I will download a new song once I meet my vegetable target for one week. If I meet my vegetable target for one month, I will buy a new tool or book.
Remember that setbacks happen and they are a normal part of making changes. Vacations, travel, financial stress and negative self-talk are just a few examples that can impact your dietary choices. Use these setbacks as a chance to learn rather than to judge yourself. Following these steps can help put your nutrition goals into action.
Karol Sekulic is a registered dietitian with Alberta Health Services who has expertise and interest in the areas of weight management and nutrition communications.