What if you never had to diet, count calories, or obsess over the foods you ate?
It sounds like a dream for anyone stuck in an endless cycle of dieting. And yet, as a nutritionist, I truly believe that’s the best way to approach food.
After all, research shows that all the other common techniques tend to not work so well (and that's an understatement). For example, New Year's resolutions. After the sugar coma has worn off and we're feeling the effects of drinking too much alcohol and caffeine, we become more focused on eating healthier and developing better habits. That's a good thing...but only 8 percent of people actually achieve their goals.
Instead of the madness of the same frustrating approach over and over (and over) again, here are my recommendations for how to stick to your diet, end your frustration, lose weight, and find more enjoyment in food.
Go For Quality
If you’re going to make the decision to treat yourself right, extend that promise to the foods you choose. Go as high-end as you can afford, whether it’s with fresh fish or your favorite grass-fed milk yogurt. But, that does not mean you need to eat organic-everything.
In terms of diet quality, try to choose less refined carbs (yes, you can eat carbs) like beans, lentils, and whole grains instead of more refined ones.
Improving the quality of your meals can be as simple as:
- cooking more often for yourself instead of getting takeout
- putting in the time to ensure that you have healthier snacks in your desk at work
- prepping meals for your freezer at home.
That way, you’ll have access to better choices when you need them.
If you’re not comfortable in the kitchen, take a few cooking lessons. You can even get someone to teach you in your own kitchen to help you improve your culinary skills. You’ll be more willing to cook and eat your own food. It’s an investment in your health, and it will help reduce your restaurant spending, too.
When building your meals, use this as a cheat sheet:
- Healthy eating tip 1: Whole, minimally processed foods
- Healthy eating tip 2: 25-30 grams of protein per meals
- Healthy eating tip 3: As many vegetables as you can eat
- Healthy eating tip 4: A variety of different fats, whether nuts, seeds, avocados, fatty fish or meat, or olive oil.
You don't have to be perfect at every meal (more on that in a moment), but if you structure most meals with those foods in mind, you'll be shocked at the results you see.
How to Stick to Your Diet
Food is food. I've been a Registered Dietitian for nearly 20 years, and if there's one thing I know, it's that there really are no "good" or "bad" foods. While some choices may be healthier than others, that doesn’t mean unhealthy choices should be avoided. In fact, labeling unhealthy foods as bad can make you want them even more, and when you finally allow yourself to have them, you’ll be more likely to overeat them.
Remember: In nutrition, there’s no such thing as perfection. If 80 percent of your food is minimally processed or fresh, there’s nothing wrong at all with using the other 20 percent of your food for some of your indulgences.
Choosing a piece of cake doesn’t make you a bad or weak person, just as choosing an apple doesn’t make you a good, strong person. I know that you understand that, but, emotionally, this is sometimes a difficult concept to accept because food has become a moral, judgemental minefield. Don’t play that game.
Guilt and shame don’t play nice with eating, and we’re all human. Too often we punish ourselves for food choices we make that we don’t consider to be ‘normal’ or ‘healthy’.
It’s also not a big deal to eat food that brings you joy and to get joy from eating. As long as you have other coping mechanisms in place so that you’re not solely relying on food for comfort.
By the same token, honor your preferences and cravings. Life is too short to choke down foods you don’t like just because some random ‘nutrition guru’ says you should be eating them.
Hate broccoli? Choose another vegetable - there’s plenty of options, and really, they’re all good. Feel like eating a brownie? Go ahead - and then let it go. Feeling guilty for days about eating something is draining and can actually cause overeating in the long run.
You might roll your eyes at the mention of "mindfulness." It’s everywhere right now, but mindful eating means having your meals without distraction so you can actually taste and appreciate your food.
Eliminating distractions (AKA stop eating in front of your computer at work, okay?) and making an effort to eat slower can also help with feelings of fullness, so you end up eating less. This can be really helpful if you’re trying to lose weight or maintain healthy body weight.
Some weeks will be better than others and that’s just life. I see people all the time who have a few days or weeks during which they didn’t eat as healthily as they wanted to, and, as a result, they got frustrated and gave up.
An all-or-nothing attitude has never been helpful for anyone. It’s much easier to get back on track with healthy eating if you know that nothing bad is going to happen just because you had a few less-than-healthy days. You don't gain weight from one bad meal or even a few bad days. And you don't get fit from one good workout.
Restart your regular eating habits as soon as you can, and don’t dwell on the past. If research and experience have taught me anything, it's that there's no one diet that works for all people. Results are tied to consistency. And consistency is tied to flexibility. So hang in there, stay the course in spite of bad days, and better health will follow.