So you want to eat better, because it’s something you know is good for you. And you have some idea how to do it. But whenever you try, you fail. Sound familiar?
Sadly it’s the case for a lot of us. I for one tried so many times before I finally managed to successfully change. Until I finally managed to improve my diet enough, and for long enough that I saw a significant improvement in my health, with most of my health conditions receding and energy returning. Want to know what finally worked for me?
It wasn’t a fad diet, or any kind of miracle. It was finally finding my reason, my REAL reason, my ‘why’. Knowing this gave me the motivation to stick to my diet goals, and make them happen. It’s been truly transformational to my life so I want to share this with you. Because it’s not actually something that’s hard to do! In fact, it’s incredibly basic!
Want this level of transformational change for yourself? Let’s go find your ‘why’…
You’re not the only one struggling to eat a healthy diet
We all know that we should be eating healthy foods, and it’s something that most people aim to do. But the reality of most people’s lives is that we don’t manage it. According to the US Dept of Health, typical American diets exceed the recommended amounts of added sugar, refined grains, sodium and saturated fats. And a CDC report in 2018 found that only 9.3% of adults meet the recommended daily vegetable intake! The number for American high school students was 2%!
In the UK, the NHS reported that in 2017 29% of adults were getting their 5 a day and found that fish purchases and leafy green veg have fallen over the last 10 years, implying that our diets as a country are not improving. (Although white bread has fallen heavily at least ????)
And this comes against a backdrop of increasing rates of chronic diseases like heart disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer and conditions like obesity, diabetes and depression. Diabetes in America has doubled in the last 5 years!
So if you’re struggling to make diet changes stick, know that you’re not alone. So why are things not getting better? Why can we not eat healthily? Even when it’s something we want?
Why can’t we eat healthily? Even when it’s something we really want?
There are actually many reasons. Let’s take a look at some:
Education – with all the government initiatives it would be pretty hard these days to not know that you should eat a healthy diet. But what is that exactly? Low fat? Low calorie? Low sugar? We’re overloaded now with so much advice and people telling you which superfood you MUST eat, that it’s overwhelming. Understandably, many people give up, or stop listening. Who’s telling the truth and which if the many actions on offer will deliver results? In the face of that, it’s very easy to stick to what you know. It’s easier and it saves time.
And time is one I hear a lot, people often think that cooking healthier meals takes longer because of the preparation work chopping all the veg up, and when you’re getting into new eating habits, meal planning is essential but does take time. When we lack time, it seems very hard to find time to plan some healthy meals, so we stick to what we know again to get by.
Stress, made worse by the current situation with additional uncertainty and change, often leads to comfort eating. Feeling ill or tired also has the same effect. It’s so simple to call for a take out when your motivation to cook is low. It’s when we’re tired or sick that it’s really hard to stick to changes and we return to the things we know as they’re more familiar and therefore more comforting.
Which brings us on to instant gratification. Saying no something you want NOW for an intangible health gain that you’ll maybe see later. It’s a difficult argument to win with ourselves…
Then who has said ‘I’ll start on Monday’, pigged out on junk all weekend to make up for it/clear the kitchen out, and then found some reason that this week is no good, so you decide to start another time. That's procrastination. My hand is definitely up to that one!
And who’s decided to eat healthily, and gone full whack? No ‘bad’ foods allowed. 100% good eating. And how many times has that worked for you? I’m guessing zero. We take too much on and it becomes an impossible task to make so many changes to our lives all at once! At our most keen, we set ourselves up for failure because we don’t know how to make a successful change!
Children can also be a barrier, as they are often more resistant to healthy foods and most go through a fussy stage early on. It’s pretty demoralising to spend ages cooking and then have to put it in the bin because the children refuse to eat it.
So this goes on, and the more times we fall back on our bad habits, the more that failure wears us down, making us think that we’ll fail again. So we give up trying, or start off with an expectation to fail so we give in at the slightest bump.
Take a moment to think about what stops YOU from eating healthily – can you relate to some (or all) of the things on this list? I know just about all of them have applied to me at some point.
A lot of this comes down to our habits, and how we can change them, or introduce new ones.
What is a habit? It’s an automated process that our brains follow when they receive a cue, or trigger. It’s something that we do unconsciously, without thinking about it.
Habits are pretty clever really. The brain has a lot of decisions to make, so, to improve efficiency, it tries to use what it’s already had success with again, and not have to think about issues it has solved before.
So if you felt hungry one afternoon (the trigger), and went looking for something to eat, you might find the biscuit tin. If you ate some, you’d enjoy the taste and not feel so hungry anymore. To the brain, this is a big success as the problem is solved and was solved in a way which made you feel good. Habits reinforced by positive feedback are particularly strong. Next time you experience the same trigger (hungry in the afternoon), you will default to the biscuit tin as the brain remembers that this worked before. The more times this cycle repeats and is positively reinforced, the less conscious it becomes and the more likely you are to respond that way again next time. Over time, this is reinforced to the point where it’s totally automatic.
As we’re thinking about our actions less it becomes really hard to stop them. Unfortunately, they’re something we tend to collect as we go through life as they don’t really go away on their own.
Based on the above, things look pretty bleak for our chances of making change, but does go a long way to explaining why our diets are not great. But don’t give up yet!
People make change all the time, I for one have gone through a massive dietary transformation, so IT IS POSSIBLE! What you need to know is how to make a successful change. You need a new system and the right support.
Diet change is possible
Let’s move on to the more positive bit – where we look at how we can do something about all of this. How can we make these changes stick?
There are two parts to this, removing or replacing some of the bad habits, and creating new good habits or changes.
To overcome your existing bad habits
With your existing bad habits something needs to interrupt or replace this behaviour.
Here’s a method to help you out. In my workbook you can work through this and record steps for each habit. Check it out here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1a7ojxP4pSdsVkxkHJgIoXbN8OWaitdNY-XbLsNatOxs/edit?usp=sharing
Step 1 – Identify your bad habits
Start by identifying the habits you have which are bad for you. Write them down. You may not remember them all at once, but as you become more aware of them add to the list.
Step 2 – be mindful about your eating
Start being aware of what you eat and why. So next time your hand is in the cookie jar, stop and think about why you’re there. What’s your trigger? Are you hungry? Do you always have a biscuit with your afternoon tea? Has something just happened which has made you feel sad or ruined your day? Is what you’re working on not very gripping and you’re bored? Sometimes just realising that you’re eating in the afternoon out of boredom can be enough to allow you to walk away from it.
Step 3 – replace it
Think of something you could be doing instead. Replacing a habit is easier than stopping it altogether. For example; if you find yourself eating a couple of biscuits every time you go into the kitchen to boil the kettle, find something else to do for those 2 minutes. Do a couple of squats, or some stretches to get your blood flowing (if you’re not in an open plan kitchen in the middle of your office), or do two minutes of a mindfulness activity. Try deep breathing, or gratitude, or just checking in with how you’re feeling and putting some perspective on it. There are tons of mindfulness techniques out there and they can really make a difference to your day in two minutes. If you can find something that has a positive outcome for your body and makes you feel good, then that positive feedback loop will reinforce your replacement habit much quicker. Here’s another one; when you’re really bored in the evening, ring a friend. It’s hard to eat when you’re chatting!
Step 4 – find your WHY
This step is about finding your proper motivation – we’re going to come back to this one further down.
Step 5 – Be kind to yourself
Don’t berate yourself every time you fail and repeat the bad habit, but do congratulate yourself when you do succeed in your replacement. Focus on how that makes you feel, that happy success, and try to remember it next time you’re having that inner argument with yourself.
Making new habits/changes
For bringing in a new habit, it’s the same process just slightly different at each step. Use the workbook again… https://docs.google.com/document/d/1a7ojxP4pSdsVkxkHJgIoXbN8OWaitdNY-XbLsNatOxs/edit?usp=sharing
Step 1 – Identify the habits you want to introduce
List what you want to be doing regularly. Like eating more fruit, drinking more water, planning meals, or trying more healthy recipes.
Step 2 – try to link to another habit
Making a new habit stick is much easier if you can associate it with another habit that you already have well ingrained, like that first cup of tea in the morning, your mid morning coffee or brushing your teeth, (ok, so that one’s not so great to link eating too, but you get the idea).
That’s fine for some small changes, but when we’re thinking about changing to try new recipes, eat more vegetables that we’re not familiar with and go down different aisles in the supermarket, it’s hard to link those to existing habits.
Step 3 – Start small
At the start, it’s more important to get it to happen in some form than to perfectly change the habit. This is where so many of us go wrong. Taking on too much at once makes it seem like such a big job that we can be dauted and not even take the first step, or the effort to achieve it every day is so big that eventually we lose focus and it drops. When trying to make something a habit, consistency is key. We can then build on it later. So rather than saying that you’re going to start healthy eating next week, start with planning one healthy day of food. Or even just one meal if that’s where your diet is. It should feel like something that you can do.
Once you’ve got that working, then add to it.
Step 4 – find your WHY
This is the same and we’ll go into it in a minute…
Step 5 – Be kind to yourself
Again, celebrating small wins is important.
Step 4 – Finding your WHY
When you’re thinking about doing something different, all of those reasons for not being healthy are going to appear. You might think that you’ll do it next week, or give up before you try, or give into the comfortable, familiar choice.
What’s going to get you through this?
Knowing WHY you’re trying to change. And I’m not just talking about ‘because it’s healthy’, or ‘because it’s better for me’. I’m talking about really getting into the nitty gritty why that’s your REAL reason. The reason that this is important enough to you in your future that you can stand strong in that moment and make the change.
This isn’t actually hard, it’s pretty much asking why multiple times; but it needs you to keep going into it and not give up on too high a level. I have a workbook which accompany’ s this post to help you get through right down into it. Download it here now https://docs.google.com/document/d/1a7ojxP4pSdsVkxkHJgIoXbN8OWaitdNY-XbLsNatOxs/edit?usp=sharing
Let me give you an example of how this would work with someone I was talking to…
They say they want to eat healthily.
I ask why. What will it give you or do for you?
I’ll have more energy.
Why is that important to you?
So I can get everything done and still have the energy to play with my children in the evening.
And why is that important to you?
Because then I won’t feel like a failure as a mother.
We’re getting down to an emotional level here, but we can keep going and see if we can get deeper… And why is that important?
Because my children’s happiness is the most important thing to me and I want to be there for them.
This is the sort of level that we need to get down to; to the real emotional triggers that we can use to properly motivate ourselves.
Next time this person goes to grab that bar of chocolate in the evening, rather than thinking that they shouldn’t because it’s not healthy. They can think about what not having it will mean. More energy, happier children and less guilt. That’s a lot more motivating! You can even go as far as writing that out and sticking it in the cupboard. Or in this case; sticking a picture of the kids faces there.
Go through this exercise now, or ASAP. It’s best done with someone else who knows to keep saying why until you get down to the real reason. If you do it by yourself you’ll have a tendency to give up too early or think that you know it. If you can’t find anyone, feel free to message me on Facebook, or email me. It’s really important that you get this step right and I want to help!
To give you some ideas, I’m going to remind you of some of the main reasons to eat healthier. Hopefully, some will resonate with you and give you an idea as to your why…
Our complex bodies
I’m going to start with some context. Our bodies go through billions of chemical reactions every second. For these to be successful, they need to have a range of chemicals available. Most of these come from what we eat. So if what you eat is limited, or contains few vegetables, when the body tries to complete these reactions and the chemicals it needs aren’t there, they fail, or are half completed. You can think of it like baking a cake during lockdown (trying all sorts of baking alternatives as the shelves were bare). Sometimes, you can use another ingredient and the cake turns out ok, other times it’s an epic baking disaster. That’s what it’s like for your body and the gamble that you’re taking by not having all the right ingredients. You’re gambling in effect with the way you look, think and feel!
There are many reasons to eat healthily
There are more, but that should be enough to get you thinking. Take a moment to think about that list. What would it mean to you to be eating a healthy diet? What would it give you? Which of these mean the most to you and could be part of your why?
What was my why?
It took me nearly 30 years of my life to find proper motivation for change (mainly because I didn’t know what changing my diet would mean and I had high-level motivations like most people).
My first why was my children. By my mid 20’s I was still a really fussy eater and was pretty much still not eating fruit or vegetables other than chopped tomatoes (cooked only), peas, sweetcorn, carrots and broccoli. Mealtimes growing up were pretty stressful, and there were gagging incidences and long tedious mealtimes that dragged on for an hour. So my first why was after the children were born. I knew that I didn’t want them to grow up eating like me. And I wanted them to be healthy. By this point I was starting to see that healthy food could perhaps make a difference to my health. If I was going to expect them to eat vegetables, then I would have to eat them too. After 30 years of refusing them, I finally made myself eat them with a smile. When I got down to it, it was because my children’s health is the most important thing to me. Seemingly more important than my own!
This got us through some improvements, and added more vegetables into our lives at weekend dinner times, (because the kids ate at nursery for lunch and dinner in the week) but much more work was needed.
In the end it was my own health that motivated me to properly move to healthy eating. But I let it get really bad before I did anything. I’ve always had a range of issues, from skin, to gut and lungs. But after having the kids, I got a lot worse, with a new condition diagnosed every year. Literally, for about 6 years; it became a bit of a running joke.
The worst was my guttate psoriasis, which I had three outbreaks of within two years of returning to work. At one point, my arms were so sore that my son came to me one day, crying and when I stooped to pick him up, the pain made me drop him back down. He was about 18 months old and didn’t understand why I wouldn’t cuddle him. He was crying, I was crying. It was a horrible mess, saved by my husband swooping in to comfort him. It still upsets me now to think about it because I felt like a total failure as a mother. Unfortunately, at that time I ended up with depression, and didn’t have the motivation to do something. And to be honest, I had no idea what to do.
When the next outbreak arrived 9 months later, the doctors put me on yet more drugs, Methotrexate, which is an anti-cancer drug. Serious medicine. I was faced with this gradually worsening health and being a useless parent as my future and I finally said no, I do not accept that there are like 25 things wrong with me! There had to be one underlying cause. Much research later, I came across the idea that my poor eating was affecting my immune system, and that diet improvements could help.
When I looked into this more, I realised that pretty much everything that was wrong with me could be linked to inflammation. My psoriasis, headaches, gut issues, asthma, allergies, dermatitis, eczema, depression, tiredness. So for me, my real why for diet change became to overcome my illnesses, so that I could be a functioning mother again, and have energy to be an active part of my family. So that I wouldn’t not be able to hug them again.
It wasn’t easy, but with gradual steps I’ve managed to change my diet to a pretty good one. I eat loads of fruit, veg, nuts and beans with wholegrains. My meals are delicious and I really enjoy them. I do still go through phases of eating too much chocolate and biscuits, and we do have takeouts sometimes – I’m not a saint. But I barely suffer at all, I have energy and I feel good. Which is a major turnaround.
Why did I tell you all that? In hopes of inspiring you to not accept your health conditions without trying diet. To show you what finally finding my motivation enabled me to achieve, and to educate you about inflammation – a hidden and largely unknown illness which is not so hard to improve, but causes issues for so many people.
If you’re looking at that list and realising that you have one or more of those things, check out my free quiz to see if inflammation may be the cause of your issues too!
You can also check out my other post of 11 Things you Need to Know About Inflammation to learn a bit more www.eatthinkexplore.com/10-things-about-inflammation
So I have a question for you. What are you going to do now? Is your why enough to motivate you to do something?
If you found this helpful, and your eating habits have gone to pot during the lockdown, you might benefit from my 10 day Anti-inflammation Reboot which starts on the 29th June 2020. Get more info here www.eatthinkexplore.com/inflammation-reboot
During this we will get back to basics, remind ourselves what we should be eating, follow some simple rules and make some changes. It takes today's discussion further in working on your why’s more, and being more mindful about what you’re eating.
I won’t be expecting you to start eating a ‘fully’ healthy diet on day 1, or even in the 10 days. That’s not sustainable and you’ll just end the 10 days, binge eat junk food and be back to where you started. Instead this is about returning to some of your better habits that have been derailed by the lockdown, and starting a few new ones, identifying your motivations and hopefully having some fun in the process in our Facebook Group.
I’m offering an early bird discount of 40% to the first 7 people who sign up – so go nab your discounted spot now! www.eatthinkexplore.com/inflammation-reboot
If you’ve realised that changing your diet is really important for you, but don’t feel like you can do it alone, I offer programs to help you to get to healthy eating and to reduce inflammation.
I always put an emphasis on education, so that you can take what you learn form me and apply it for the rest of your life, and behaviour change support. Because, most of us know what we should be eating, but we don’t, which is all down to habits and motivation like we discussed above. And it’s hard to change these on your own. I can support you to successfully make long term changes to your diet so you can improve your health and make your why happen. Check out how here www.eatthinkexplore.com/nutrition-services or book a no obligation chat with me here and we can discuss how this might work https://app.acuityscheduling.com/schedule.php?owner=19454068
I hope this helped!
I help working mothers with health conditions overcome barriers to improving the way they eat so they can stop wasting their time and energy on draining health conditions and instead focus on the…
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