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7 Steps to Help You Jumpstart Healthy Eating

7 Steps to Help You Jumpstart Healthy Eating

Have you enjoyed a few more cookies and less greens than usual in the past few weeks? That’s okay! Food traditions are an important part of holiday celebrations. If people are giving you treats and inviting you to gatherings, that means you are loved. Yay! 

But at this point you might be itching for a big salad or a fresh veggie stir-fry. The healthy living pendulum tends to swing back and forth a bit, and that’s fine, as long as the changes aren’t extreme.

Here are seven steps to help you get back on track with healthier eating in a sensible and sustainable way. 

1. Think about where you are, and where you want to be

These are three questions I often ask clients when we get started: 

  • Where do you see your current eating habits, on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the mythical perfect diet? If you’ve been eating more desserts than usual lately, zoom out and think about your eating habits over the past few months, not weeks.
  • Where would you like to be? What number would be a good balance of manageable and health-supporting for you? (Let’s not aim for 10.) You might be closer than you think!
  • What could you do to move just one step closer to your goal, if you’re not there already? This might be adding a vegetable to supper most nights, or snacking on peanuts in the afternoon. Something you can maintain when your busy life ramps up again in January.

2. Ask yourself what’s in your way 

I like to think of a solid foundation for healthy eating being 4S’s: 

  • sleeping well
  • stress under control
  • support from friends and family
  • and a schedule with time for it. 

Is one of those pillars not in place for you? If so, would it make sense to address that first? They’re not always easy problems to solve, but they’re at least worth considering.

3. Set a goal that fires you up 

“Don’t get diabetes” or “lower my high cholesterol” are reasonable goals, but you might find yourself more motivated if you also set positive goals like “I’m going to try a new fish recipe every week this month” or “I want to walk in the Mother’s Day 5K.”

I learned about this from Carolyn Thomas, author of A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease, who wrote about it on her blog, Heart Sisters. She contrasts so-called “approach” goals (“Do this so you’ll feel great!”) with “avoidance” goals (“Do this so you won’t get sick.”) Guess which one behavioural scientists find to be most effective?

people walking in a road race

What goal could you get excited about?

4. Measure success in something other than pounds

It can help to have a way to track your progress, but people often default to weight loss. “I’ve lost ten pounds already!” 

The trouble with that yardstick is that weight loss is extremely difficult to maintain. For the vast majority of people, starting to exercise and eat better in the name of weight loss means setting yourself up for failure in the long run. 

The good news is that you can be healthier and have more energy, even if you’re heavier than you’d like to be. Those things people do in the name of losing pounds are still beneficial, even if weight loss is elusive.

What are some examples of other things you can measure? 

  • Cooking a certain (realistic) number of meals at home every week.
  • Bringing leftovers for lunch a certain number of times.
  • A certain amount of walking.  
  • Getting beans, lentils, or chickpeas on the menu a certain number of times each week. (Here are some quick and tasty ideas for how.)

If you’re the type of person who likes to count calories, consider instead tracking your fibre intake. A recent study showed that higher consumption of fibre significantly decreased the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, cancer, or any cause at all. Now that’s something to get excited about!

5. Focus on adding instead of subtracting

Aiming to have more fruit, veggies, whole grains, nuts, legumes, fish or other lean protein works so much better than focusing on less sugar, less saturated fat, etc. 

You’ll likely end up achieving those reductions anyhow, but it’s those “approach” vs “avoidance” goals again. Which one do you feel more enthusiastic about?

It also helps to get really specific about your goal – make a plan. Instead of just saying, “I should eat more fruit,” you can say “I’ll pick up a bag of frozen blueberries and have some every morning on my oatmeal.”

6. Allow yourself foods you enjoy

…even if it means your overall eating habits amount to a 7 or 8 out of 10 versus a 9. It’s so much more sustainable to eat for satisfaction. “Diet” style eating is tough to maintain.

One tool I suggest for boosting enjoyment is a mindset of experimentation. Say you make room in your meal plan for one new recipe a week, and accept that it may or may not be a hit. If you keep it up, you’ll have tried 52 new recipes by the end of the year! They won’t all be winners, but inevitably you’ll like some of them. 

7. Have a (simple) meal plan

Simple is the key. One-week meal plans you’ll find online often have 21 different meals plus snacks. Don’t try to do that! Too complicated.

Just having a general idea of 2-5 easy meals you’ll make for supper is a great start. Breakfast and snacks can rotate between 2-3 favourites. Lunches can be leftovers.

If you need meal ideas, you can sign up for my “Go-To List Challenge” which gives you a collection of my favourite recipes as well as six days of step-by-step help refining your recipe collection. 

And you can use these meal planning templates, which come with a mini email course on meal planning.

You can do this!

Are you ready? 

This is doable, right? By setting specific, practical goals that you can get fired up about, you can jumpstart healthy eating, get moving in the direction you want to go, and feel better physically and emotionally!

What will you aim for? Join the conversation in my free Sweet Spot Heart Healthy Cooking Club on Facebook.