Not only do we need to make some decisions about what, how much, and when to eat, most people need to consider the psychological side as well – how does one go about making changes and sticking with them for good?
Making changes with nutrition can be particularly challenging because of the way it is so deeply linked to our biology, our feelings, our thinking, our relationships and to our culture.
I can’t tackle all of those in this blog post, but I do want to offer one approach, at least on an individual level, that can make it a little easier to transition toward a better nutrition pattern. Turn it into a little game for yourself.
First, for now, let’s keep what you currently consider to be a ‘better nutrition pattern’ for you, using the information and insight you already have.
Next, make two columns on a piece of paper. One column is GOOD STUFF and the other is BAD STUFF. Now under the category that each belongs to, according to your understanding, start listing all the main food items or meal items that regularly fill in your menu for the week. Your conscience knows which is which. Also include your commonly consumed beverages.
Once you finish that, the rules of the game are this: every 3 weeks, choose an item to add to your regular menu and choose an item to remove. For the next three weeks, include this GOOD item more often, and avoid this BAD item completely. After that round is up, you stick with the change, and go one step farther.
A bit more instruction…
Choose one new item to add to your GOOD list, and choose one item to subtract on the BAD list.
Think of the week ahead. Note exactly when and where you have the opportunity to add that GOOD item to your meal and set a clear intention to do that. Make any sort of note or reminder or alarm on your phone to help you remember that intention. If it is something you will buy at the market, when you bring it home store that food item in a prominent position where you will notice it and use it.
A modification: Instead of adding a totally new item, you could decide to increase the quantity of an item already on that list, one that you know you should have more of.
Think of the week ahead again. Note exactly when and where you would normally have that selected BAD item. Set a clear intention to avoid it. Remove if from your home, if you can. If eating out, buy something else instead. Tell your family and friends what choice you made so there is some social accountability too.
You are not trying to change other aspects of your regular nutrition yet – just focused on those two (for now). You are not giving up all the items on your BAD list at once, just one of them. You can keep those other items on the list… for now. But just don’t increase the consumption of the remaining BAD stuff to make up for the item you removed.
I would not recommend picking the BAD item that you are most addictive too (yet), unless you feel like this game would really work for that one. It may be that after you’ve gained momentum making these incremental changes on easier items, your body and your strength of self-regulation may be stronger and feel more aversion to this item you’re currently too fond of.
If, after 3 weeks, you have succeeded in including a good item and removing a bad one, then you have made a small shift in your nutrition toward your more ideal pattern. Keep those changes in place. Every three weeks you can pick two new items to play with and continue with this game for the entire year. If you keep this up for a whole year, you could possibly have added 17 GOOD items and removed 17 BAD ones which could add up to a great transformation in your nutrition pattern.
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