So today I don’t want to discuss what diet is best or what foods you should be eating. Instead I want to discuss HOW to start making changes toward a healthier diet.
I also want to make note that when I say “diet” I don’t mean a fad or a restricted eating program. By diet I mean “The kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats.”
When you want to change your lifestyle, there isn’t just one way to do it. Every person has to make healthy lifestyle changes in their own way.
But I have found that there are two basic diet approaches that work best for most people.
The ALL OR NOTHING APPROACH:
With this approach, you create a meal plan with everything planned out so that you know exactly what you are eating and when you are eating it. You may even cook and/or prep everything for the week on Sunday so that it is all ready to go.
This is great for people who don’t like having to make decisions. For many, having to figure out what to eat at the end of a long day, or when they are hungry, leads to disaster and binging. Having everything set out ahead of time helps alleviate the stress of making decisions and allows them to more easily instill new habits.
They also don’t mind eating the same thing numerous times a week and do better when they don’t have a ton of different options around the house.
I’ve found this works best for people who are triggered to binge by having “a little” of a food that tempts them or reminds them of old eating habits – this works best for people who think about their new diet as the foods that they CAN HAVE not the foods that they now CAN’T or SHOULDN’T HAVE.
This may also be a great option for someone who is trying to lose weight fairly aggressively for a specific event (while I don’t like when people crash diet for events, sometimes a big push to get the momentum going can help lead to a long-term commitment).
THE TORTOISE APPROACH:
The all or nothing approach doesn’t work for everyone though. Many feel very RESTRICTED when they have a set meal plan because all they can think about is the foods that AREN’T on the schedule.
So the other approach that I often recommend to clients is what I call the Tortoise approach.
This is honestly my favorite way to make diet changes when dealing with clients who are trying to make an overall lifestyle change.
I call it the TORTOISE approach because it reminds me of the story of The Tortoise and The Hare. Slow and steady wins the race. For these people, sprinting ahead on a meal plan or with very strict guidelines, leads to binging and ultimately to failure. They can’t keep up the pace or feel like they are so ahead that they can rest for awhile…just like the Hare. They do much better with a slow steady pace that allows them to adapt to each change before making the next one. The slow steady pace helps them stay on course the entire time and achieve their ultimate goal…just like the Tortoise.
For people like this, having basic guidelines to follow while being able to eat technically whatever they want allows them to never feel deprived (even if they never actually indulge) because they have the OPTION of eating something if they really want it.
So now the question is…Which way will work best for you?
Unfortunately, no one can answer that but you. And maybe you even need to give both a shot for a month or two to figure out which works best.
But before you choose an approach ask yourself two important questions:
- Do you feel deprived and only think about the foods you CAN’T eat? (YES, then you are a Tortoise because meal plans make Tortoise feel restricted. They like to feel like they can eat anything while staying within basic guidelines.)
- Do you get completely derailed by even just a bit of a food you don’t want to consume on a regular basis? (YES, then you are an All or Nothing. All or Nothings can’t have just a little of something and stay within guidelines. Just a little leads to binges that won’t stay within guidelines.)
Made a successful lifestyle change? Which approach did you use? Or did you maybe even combine them?
(I have had people do meal plans to get things going and then ease off to guidelines once they’ve gained some momentum.)
Let’s face it…Self control isn’t infinite and if you feel deprived on a regular basis, eventually you are going to binge. And then that binge usually leads to guilt, which in turn leads to another binge and then guilt….and then potentially another binge until you finally go back to restricting what you eat.
But you can’t eat healthily and eat exactly what you want all the time. You simply can’t eat burritos and frozen yogurt every night no matter how good it tastes.
But you also can’t DEPRIVE yourself of the food you love for too long because if you do, at some point you are going to give into deprivation and go and eat it anyway. You also most definitely can’t starve yourself because not eating enough is also going to lead to binging and won’t get you results any faster (For all you women that eat only like 500 calories a day, I wrote a post for you about how you may actually be HINDERING your progress because you are STARVING yourself!)
So if you can’t eat exactly what you want any time you want it, but you also can’t deprive yourself of the food you love, what the heck do you do if you want to be healthy?
You don’t restrict yourself…Or at least you do so as little as possible.
I’ve mentioned this before, but when making diet changes, you really have two options – go all in or make small changes.
Which one you do is really dependent on you.
For some people, it is best to go all in at the beginning because any temptation at the beginning away from the clean eating habits they want to instill will lead to a binge.
For others, “going all in” leads to feelings of deprivation, which in turn leads to binging.
So when starting to make healthier choices, you need to decide which one will work best for you.
Then you also need to figure out what triggers your feelings of deprivation. What makes you feel like you are restricted and can’t indulge?
Is it not having dessert at night? Is it that you miss that salty snack in the afternoon? Is it when you get stressed and just want to eat?
Once you figure out your triggers, you can PLAN for them.
You can have healthy alternatives on hand when you know you may need them.
Like for me…I grew up eating dessert every night so when I’m stressed or tired or just not in the right frame of mind, I start craving dessert.
But instead of completely depriving myself, I’ve found healthy alternatives that satisfy me. Like a piece of dark chocolate or some delicious fresh fruit. And honestly for me this works because I physically feel way better and SATISFIED.
It’s not that a pint of ice cream doesn’t still sometimes sound good, but for me most of the time it just isn’t worth it. I would rather my chocolate bar.
Basically what you need to do is nip the craving in the bud. If you let that craving fester, you are doing to feel deprived and eventually not care what you eat and binge.
If you just deal with the craving, you are going to be way better off.
And right now your probably thinking…”Ok well sometimes a healthy alternative isn’t good enough.”
This is where I say…”Well it’s not about perfect…It’s about eating well 80% of the time and indulging 20%. Dealing with the craving could be indulging occasionally when you really really want something or it could be planning in a cheat.”
There are definitely times when you just really really want that cookie, that bag of chips, that snack that everyone else at the office is indulging in.
And sometimes it is ok to give in.
But if you indulge in that thing that you truly want, don’t allow it to be an excuse to binge.
Indulging and enjoying things you love isn’t bad!
You shouldn’t freak out if you eat a calorie that isn’t on your “diet program!” (Shoot you shouldn’t freak out if you go on vacation and indulge for a week because you’ve got to enjoy life!)
It isn’t a big deal!
If you stress about not being perfect with your diet, that stress is what will TRULY lead to binging. Because that stress is what makes you feel restricted and turns one little indulgence into a year-long binge.
If you really want to eat well, you’ve got to realize healthy living is a LIFE-LONG PROCESS. It isn’t about perfection day in and day out. It is about trying to simply eat whole natural foods as often as you can while STILL enjoying life!
So don’t stress yourself out about dieting. Don’t make yourself feel deprived and completely restricted.
If you LOVE Thanksgiving food or Christmas food or have one restaurant you go to occasionally on a Friday night, indulge on that day! Don’t deprive yourself of things that you love! That one day, one meal isn’t going to destroy all your hard work! What will destroy your healthy lifestyle is stressing about the indulgence and NOT enjoying to the fullest! Feel satisfied when you indulge, not guilty, because satisfaction leads to adherence in the long run, which is what truly matters!
So now the question is…Are you caught in the binge eating cycle? What do you do so that you ENJOY eating well and don’t feel deprived?