Can’t seem to make changes? Can’t seem to lose weight, start exercising, leave a job or a relationship? Most of us know what that’s like. And most of us aren’t very kind to ourselves when this happens. We beat ourselves up. But if you’ve started to beat yourself up, the good news is that you’ve realized that you are stuck! That’s a start.
Now, stop berating yourself, step back, and figure out the value of staying where you are. It’s not always a positive value, but it is valuable to you or you wouldn’t be here. As a dietitian, I see people get stuck when they try to make health changes. Clearly getting healthy has a positive value, right? While staying stuck can be of negative value in terms of your health, it probably offers you comfort. Perhaps our partner or friends love to go out every weekend and indulge in delicious, but not so healthy food and we don’t want to miss out on our social life. We don’t want them to think that we disapprove of them. We may be afraid that they will be mad at us for changing. People often react in a negative way when someone in their circle starts to make healthy lifestyle choices. They take the changes as an attack on their own way of life. For some of us, getting healthy means losing weight and that means that we might attract romantic attentions. That is fear inducing for more people than you might think. Perhaps being healthy means that we will get everything we want. This is a terrifying prospect for most of us!
Sometimes we stay stuck and that’s exactly where we need to be; we may not be ready to change. This is particularly true if the change involves a deep-seated emotional issue. If this is the case, I encourage you to talk to a therapist and get some help. Give yourself permission to evolve slowly, gaining understanding along the way.
When it comes to transforming your diet, often making small changes over time is the way to go. This goes against the instant-gratification culture we live in. But there’s a reason that crash diets don’t work in the long-term. Give yourself permission to modify one thing at a time. Choosing one new thing per month is a way to do this. Go more slowly if you need to. If you’re ready to go any faster, you’ll know.
A sample one change per month plan:
January: Eat breakfast every day.
February: Eat 3 meals per day and 1-2 small snacks with no more than 4 hours between eating times.
March: Eat 3 servings of fruit per day.
April: Eat 3 servings of vegetables per day.
May: Repeat April! If you can, add a 4th serving.
June: Add one handful of raw nuts per day (only if you’re not allergic!).
July: Drink 8-10 glasses of water per day.
August: Walk 15 minutes per day. If you’re already exercising, add 5-15 more minutes to your routine.
September: Reduce consumption of soda or other sweet beverage by 1 glass/can per day. This includes diet drinks.
October: Start a regular sleep routine, aiming to get a minimum of 7 hours per night. As best you can, set regular sleeping and waking times. November: Stop bringing junk food into the house.
December: Limit dinner to one reasonable size serving of food. Have seconds only of the vegetables.
It really doesn’t matter what you choose to change or how fast you go. Although, for people motivated by a medical issue (ex, pre-diabetes or diabetes), going faster or getting targeted help from a professional may be best. If you’re relatively healthy, modifying your diet slowly may be the least disruptive way to solidly build new habits.
Ask yourself both broad and specific questions such as, “what is my vision of health?” and “why do I choose to overeat after dinner? I invite you to ask yourself tough questions and then allow yourself the space to answer. The answers might not come right away, please be patient. Keeping a journal might help you. Having a true understanding of who you are is foundational to making personal changes. Be nice to yourself and remember it’s a life- long journey.