Let’s say you wanted to completely change how you are eating. How would you start?
A full overhaul of your diet would require changing many little habits: what you eat, when you cook, what you buy, where you shop, how you think about food and maybe even when you wake up and go to bed. Whenever we think about making a big change we should be aware of the work it will take. In the case of dramatically changing your diet, there are a lot of steps and the challenges can seem daunting.
I think there are five ways to approach this, regardless of what nutrition changes you are going to be making. I see these as strategies to help you stay on track.
Starting small is the best way to approach a changing your diet, even when your final goal is a diet overhaul. Slow consistent progress has the best chance of success. The strategies listed below are meant to assist you in the changes you want to make. This does not have to happen overnight, so don’t feel as if you have to be perfect from the start. Pick a strategy or two that fits your lifestyle and slowly try to improve your own diet one small change at a time. When you have a setback don’t beat yourself up. Learn from it and move on.
1. Measure and track:
This, in my opinion, is the most effective way to alter your diet as you are constantly collecting feedback to assess your progress. Tracking what you eat, your body composition (weight, inches and pictures) and your performance will give you the most accurate picture of what is truly happening with your body. To measure your performance you should be tracking your workouts and looking for improvement. Aim to record your meals and workouts on most days, and body composition weekly.
The downside of this approach is if you do not know what to change or how to track your progress, then there is a bit of learning curve. Honestly, it can also be tedious to track your workouts, nutrition and body composition.
Myfitnesspal is a great application to get you started. It is the best app I have found for tracking all of your meals. It can also track body composition and water intake. I find it below average for tracking workouts and would recommend using an Excel sheet or journal to track workouts but it is possible to do it all through this one app.
2. Weekly meal plan:
Making a weekly meal plan or finding one online is a great way to start fresh with an entirely new plan. The challenge with an entirely new meal plan is that it can be a bit intimidating to cook a week’s worth of new recipes. This is even harder if you are cooking for more than just yourself or if you are used to ordering take-out.
Also, all meal plans are not created equal. A couple things to keep in mind when finding or making a meal plan. Is the grocery list is out of control? Are you going to end the week with half an avocado in your fridge? Does your meal plan account for eating leftovers?
Knowing what meal plan to follow can be a little tricky but there are lots of great options out there. To start, aim for a simple meal plan focussed on whole foods with recipes you’re comfortable cooking. Also, make sure your weekly meal plan takes leftovers into account.
Here is an example of a meal plan Olivia and I have used. To help simplify the planning we don’t include snacks or breakfast and focus on the big meals and leave the rest blank., Our strategy is to make sure we have our standard healthy breakfast and snacks in the house.
L: Green salad
D: East Coast brunch (baked beans, scrambled eggs and salad)
L: Picnic (for example: assorted veggies/fruit, nuts and hard-boiled egg)
D: Veggie tacos with corn salad
L: Miso bowl
D: Sauteed lentils and chickpeas with pasta sauce
L: Leftovers or miso bowl
D: Wild card!
3. Format style eating:
Or what I call The Lazy Meal Plan. Before I was dating Olivia this was my go to strategy. I call it the lazy meal plan because it really is simple.
Breakfast: smoothie and/or coffee coconut oil
Lunch: salad + protein
Snack: nuts and/or seeds
Dinner: protein + starch + veggies
Snack: Greek yogurt + fruit
You eat the same type of meal at each time of the day. Smoothie or coffee with some coconut oil for breakfast. Salad with protein for lunch. The protein could be anything you like since I am a vegetarian I might have lentils, tofu, beans or quinoa, but of course fish, chicken or any other protein source would work great. Switch up the protein, variety is healthy and keeps you from getting bored. A snack in the afternoon very often is just a handful of nuts.
Then dinner would consist of another protein with a starch (like rice, potatoes or pasta) and a variety of veggies (small salad, picnic style veggies cut up ready to eat or better yet roasted veggies on a pizza stone).
Then either some fruit or maybe Greek yogurt for another small meal after dinner.
4. Make rules:
I actually don’t recommend this often because I do think strict rules can create some bad relationships with your food. Many of us, myself included, can end up feeling more guilt than necessary when falling off the wagon. However, some of us thrive using rules and I have seen some of these methods work with amazing results for others.
Here are a couple rules I have seen others put in place:
- No snacks after dinner
- One cheat day, all clean the rest of the week
- Intermittent fasting
- Vegan before 6 pm
- No junk in the house
- One salad a day
- Must plan all take out 2 days in advance (helps you avoid bad last minute decisions)
Following a diet with a specific set of rules could fall into the meal plan or tracking category as well but I thought I would include them here instead because they do hinge on following a set of guidelines.
I believe all the following diets can be successful: Paleo, Ketogenic diet, Slow Carb, Zone – when following the zone diet you, in essence, need to be tracking as well.
5. Big prep days:
If it’s in the house you will eat it. Pick a day and cook enough healthy food to last a week.
Cooking food for a week is not an easy task and does take some decent planning. To make it easier on your prep day determine your grocery list ahead of time and have everything ready in the house. The first time you attempt to cook a full week’s worth of meals in one sitting you may be surprised by how long or tedious this can be. Again it is important to be patient. Even a big prep of healthy food that doesn’t cover every meal of the week, is a great start.
To make this strategy easier on yourself plan the recipes ahead of time. Determine the best order of things and what can be done together. For example, cook all the chicken you need all at once, regardless of whether it’s for a dinner on Monday or a lunch on Wednesday.
I hope you find these strategies helpful. Start small and acknowledge it is going to take consistent effort to make some big changes.
Thanks for reading,