Let’s face it, many of us are resistant to the idea of eating healthy, or improving our level of nutrition.
Over the past few years, I have tried time and time again to eat predominantly “healthy”. I must confess, I am a believer in health in moderation when it comes to my food choices. I tried an elimination diet, and wouldn’t you know, I have a food intolerance; I tried a modified paleo plan, discovered it helps that I am a fan of red meat, eggs, roasted vegetables; I tried cutting back on carbs, sugar, cheese, wine and more, I discovered that “dining by denial” did not work for me.
Even so, I am excited to have experimented enough with ‘nutrition’ that I have found a system of eating that works for me, most of the time (meaning the 80/20 rule: eat predominantly healthy 80% of the time, indulge in my old ways 20% of the time). The older I get, the more I appreciate the impact of eating what I want, when I want, and as much as I want does not work for me anymore. I have come to appreciate how much better I feel when engaged in healthier eating. Thankfully, there are a number of indulgent foods that just no longer appeal to me!
Plus, if I am going to age, and it certainly beats the alternative, I want to be healthy enough to enjoy it. If that means finding a way to incorporate healthier eating habits into my day, I can certainly find ways to do that, that work for me. Oh and healthy eating just happens to add to my energy level, BONUS!
In an article from the Modern Health Monk, Jeanne Clement lived to be 118! She apparently smoked (no more than 2 cigarettes a day) from the age of 21. She said her secret was olive oil, port wine, and chocolate; others attribute a laid-back attitude, friends, cigars, lots of water, and more, to what kept them healthy into their 100s. Not one of the individuals in the article attributed a ‘strict nutritional diet’ as the thing that kept them going. They certainly mention healthy eating, but there was apparently much more involved.
Don’t discount healthier eating habits because you see it as something you SHOULD do. It is a choice. Below are a few suggestions to adjusting your attitude around healthy eating. You may not need an ‘attitude adjustment’, and still find some of the suggestions helpful.
The least challenging way to begin to think about healthier eating habits is to be curious. Be open to experimenting with different foods. Perhaps there is a vegetable you were made to eat as a child, and you now avoid it at all costs. Mine were peas, carrots, and corn! I still do not like peas. I pick them out of a dish if they are served to me. I discovered in the midst of my elimination diet that raw carrots with a specific hummus did appeal to me. As for corn, I rarely eat corn, but if served mixed in with a number of other ingredients, I can certainly eat it.
What are you willing to experiment with? Are there certain foods, that are cooked a certain way, you could add to your meal? I have clients that do not like to cook, prefer their meals simple, and simply play around with combination bowls that contain meat, a vegetable or two or three, and possibly a starch if they like. How can you keep your experiments uncomplicated, if necessary?
ONE thing! Yes, unless it is your very nature to GO BIG or GO HOME, do not attempt to introduce a whole new eating regimen all at once. It can be overwhelming, time-consuming, and possibly expensive if you invest in a bunch of food you realize you will not eat. Yes, I have done this. I was frustrated by the amount of food I wasted in this endeavor.
Try one new thing a week. If you have a family involved in these changes, ask them for suggestions of what food they are willing to experiment with this week. When I was growing up, we ate what was put in front of us. These days, I do have friends, neighbors, and clients that say no two family members will eat the same meal. How can you make the addition of one new food an adventure the whole family will enjoy, without the added stress of multiple meals? Seriously, if you have a suggestion that works, please comment below. I know others reading this share this challenge!
As I mentioned earlier, I now apply the 80/20 rule to my own eating habits. It is not so much that 20% of what I eat is unhealthy, it is that 20% of the time, I am not concerned with the nutritional content of what I choose to eat. Yes, as a board-certified health and wellness coach, I am confessing that I do not always concern myself with the nutritional benefits of everything I eat.
While proper nutrition is certainly important in maintaining your overall health, it too has it’s limitations unless other health needs are met. This includes life satisfaction. Allowing myself to indulge in certain foods on occasion because they TASTE good, but may not necessarily be GOOD for me, is an area of life satisfaction that is important to me. What role does food play in your ‘life satisfaction’?
If you are so inclined and up for the adventure of experimenting with different foods, this is a great opportunity to get creative. Try new recipes; play with different food combinations; try some of the recipes from your favorite healthy celebrity chefs; have creative pot luck get together with friends.
Pairing a lifestyle behavior change, like healthier eating habits with positive social interaction, exponentially increases the benefits of the experience!
As a child was you told not to play with your food? Go ahead, give yourself permission to ‘play’ as much as you like with your food. While experimenting and getting creative, don’t forget to make your food as flavorful as you like. Everyone’s taste is different, so explore your taste. Perhaps there is a pairing you have not thought of yet. Do you prefer your food with a little heat? A little less exotic? Do you like salty and sweet together?
We so often hear of the dangers of too much sodium, but there are unlimited ways to enhance the flavor of your food without a negative effect. Basil, dill, ginger are a few that come to mind…and then there is turmeric, cilantro, and rosemary. Please comment below if you have a favorite seasoning to add a new twist to a favorite dish.
One of the keys to successfully adopting any new behavior change, especially a healthy one, is consistency. Even if you start out adopting new food only a few times a week. Create a plan and stick to it. Commitment to consistency will help foster your determination to find solutions to the inevitable obstacles that arise when changing your eating patterns. Perhaps one of your new dishes is an epic fail, now what? What if you are short on time and tempted to conveniently fall back on an unhealthy standby, say… a fast food run? What if your family does not support your experiments? Perhaps you have a few challenges in mind already because of past experience with adopting new eating habits, what worked for you in the past? What did not work? What new solutions come to mind?
Two options for keeping this simple are the MY PLATE guidelines:
Or the HEALTHY PLATE guidelines:
The significant differences between the two plates are that the HEALTHY PLATE gives you specific examples under each food group, and does not include dairy. Working to adopt either one is definitely a simple place to begin.
As you begin to have success incorporating new healthy foods into your day, you build confidence and self-efficacy, that is you begin to believe in what is possible. As your confidence and success (no matter how small) begin to build, so will your desire to experiment with other new behaviors, whether with nutrition or anything else.
If you want to approach eating with a whole new appreciation, the ONE behavior change you may add initially is to slow down, to be present while eating. I have friends that learned from a young age that you eat to live, so eat as much as you can as quickly as you can. Is this a behavior that is a real challenge to overcome? YES! Is it an impossible challenge, NO.
This is where introducing new behaviors on a small scale in important. Perhaps you begin with mindful eating only 1-2 meals a week. It takes practice. Part of the practice is eating with gratitude and appreciation. Learning to savor the meal.
It is possible to create a healthy eating plan of your own choosing. There is a wealth of information available: the benefits of specific foods in each food group; the hidden dangers of other foods (perhaps one of your favorites); what you MUST eat; what you MUST avoid…yes, it can be exhausting and overwhelming. Please, DO NOT over complicate it.
It is true, that what you focus on you get more of, than stop focusing on the challenge of healthy eating and focus on the benefits. If necessary, write down the benefits. Carry them with you as you are planning a family meal, going grocery shopping, trying to find food in a hurry.
If you have read this far, that says that on some level you are interested in eating healthier, even a little bit. You just do not know where to begin or how far to take it. The beauty in this is that you get to make the choice. More important is to find a way to enjoy this new relationship with food. If it is more burden than joy, you will not stick to it anyway. With that, I wish you ‘joy’ in healthy dining!