Making Dietary and Lifestyle Changes that Stick
As humans we are physiologically drawn to consistency and many of us are self proclaimed creatures of habit. Our bodies work tirelessly to maintain homeostasis or a biological state of stability. Change in general can bring about feelings of fear; not just of the unknown but also of failure. Changes in dietary patterns might prove to be even more difficult as our dietary preferences and habits are often picked up from parents or family members at a very young age. These habits and preferences soon become subconscious or automatic as we act upon these habits several times a day and every day of our life! This blog post contains 8 steps to making a change in your diet or lifestyle that will stick.
1. Don't forget the “WHY” before your try to remove or add the “WHAT”.
Always ensure you have done all of your research before making any lifestyle and dietary changes. There are many changes you can make that are well known to positively benefit your health. Take smoking for example: It is well known that if one stops smoking it will positively benefit their health. If you are looking to make a change and stick to it do your research and make sure you know those exact positive benefits you will be rewarded with if you quit smoking or sugar or whatever it is you are looking to accomplish. Make sure you are also aware of the negative impacts you will incur if no change is made. Some of us are more motivated by reward: "I will have better energy if I cut sugar from my diet". Other are motivated by fear or consequences: "If I do not change my sugar eating habits I am on the road to developing type 2 diabetes". Either way ensure you are educated on each side of the fence to fully ground and solidfy in your brain your decision to make a change. Write down the reasons why you wish to do so and refer to them at times when you want to forget.
2. If not THIS then WHAT?
If you are looking to make any lifestyle changes ESPECIALLY a dietary change make sure you have reasonable substitutions. Instead of deciding one day to remove wheat from your diet when you typically would enjoy it several times per day; focus your energy first on finding alternative you can use in place of wheat/gluten. Most of us have difficulty making changes in general. Imagine changing something that you do several times a day and that you have done your entire life. Our eating habits are often ingrained in our brain and are second nature. This can be a hard thing to change so ensure you are prepared for this. What will you eat instead of sugar? What will you do instead of smoking? Grocery shop and strategise how you will successfully make this change.
3. Find out what motivates you most.
Some are internally motivated in that they are motivated to make changes that will result in more energy to do the things they love or to feel confident or prevent IBS/IBS flairs that can affect their daily life. Others might be motivated externally in that what drives them to be healthy or have more energy is the ability to care for their children or spend time with their loved ones. Many are a combination of the two. Write down what motivates you to make changes and refer back to your reasons when changes seem to difficult to carry on with.
4. Be realistic and start small.
Start with small goals or even big goals but with small lengths of time to build up confidence and work your way up. If you have never followed any specific diet or elimination protocol in your life; deciding to remove all processed food from your diet going from one day to the next might pose a challenge. Instead focus on one thing such as a particular food or chemical or ingredient you want to avoid and set a short timeline that does not seem too overwhelming. Once you meet your desired goal you have the option of continuing and the satisfaction of meeting your goals and expectations.
5. Track or rate symptoms.
Some of us are more intuned with our body's and can sense change but even then we are likely not subjective enough to have gathered data to confirm our suspicions. I always recommend assessing and rating current symptoms before making any dietary or lifestyle changes and perhaps measuring half way through or 2-3 weeks in and a good 6 weeks into making any changes. Keep in mind these changes or improvements we are likely to see over 6 weeks are happening so slowly that we likely do not notice them. Not too mention we are often "too close to the source" to recognize the changes and sometimes need some external insight to bring these improvements to our attention. Another important point is that sometimes we do notice or experience improvements in our health but do not correlate that it is because of the changes we made and we tend to consider is coincidence. Changes in the diet can lead to many improvements ranging from improvements in digestion, increased immune function, improved skin quality, decrease headaches, decreased joint pain and the list goes on. Ensure you are tracking and rating your symptoms (number from 1-4 or mild to extreme) before making changes and certainly by 4-6 weeks in. Email me to get a Medical Symptom Questionnaire or MSQ that covers questions literally from "head to toe" and can be used to track and rate symptoms. Once we are better able to see how these changes positively affect our well being this can be such a powerful motivational tool and sense of purpose and reaffirms our original goals and decision to change.
6. Set specific goals and ensure measures for accountability.
The more specific you are about your goals and intentions the more likely you are to be successful. Setting specific such as steps to achieving your goals and time lengths or dates you would like to have achieved this goal by will help you better achieve your goals. Also try visualizing yourself achieve these goals. What will your life be like? How will you feel? What will be different? Creating connections with your goals and the steps you will take helps you make these goals a reality. Once you have set your goals and the specific surrounding them be sure you put into action a measure for accountability. Maybe you decide to track your intake daily or track your symptoms daily or weekly. Perhaps you schedule meetings with your Nutritionist or Dietitian or your Fitness Trainer to help keep you accountable or motivated. You might also consider setting goals or setting up a program with friends or family and using that support to keep you motivated and accountable.
7. Congratulate yourself on any and all victories.
You have worked hard and likely have made some difficult changes. You deserve to be rewarded for doing so. Make yourself a reward system and configure it into your goals so you have something to look forward to. Rewards should ideally be non food related but something we genuinely enjoy doing. Examples might be booking yourself a massage or facial or maybe going golfing or maybe just asking your significant other to take the kids to an activity so you can have time for yourself. Consider also compiling a "victory list" of all the improvements you have seen in yourself since making a change and use this to keep you motivated and to remind you of why you chose to continue to put in hard work.
8. Strive for improvement not perfection.
Accept that you are not perfect and in fact no one is perfect. Your flaws and yes even what your perceive as failures or short comings are what help you grow and learn. Consider failure only occurring when you stop trying. Every breath is a second chance to start a new. When it come to making dietary changes try not to let one meal derail you. We have several opportunities in the day to start over and can start fresh at your next meal or snack with the goal your had originally intended.