Having a nutrition plan that works with you for the long-term is the most important factor when making healthy nutrition changes.
Having a healthy relationship with food can give us energy to get through the day to show up as more authentically yourself without being controlled by food cravings and without being on the dieting roller coaster. Everyone deserves to have that!
These are the most common steps I’ve walked people through to get a more consistent and healthier place, however, these aren’t always sequential and don’t need to be completed before moving to another step!
Step #1 Rewrite Negative Beliefs About Yourself
You’re worth the time and energy needed to do the work! Many people don’t even realize they have negative beliefs about themselves and end up consistently self-sabotaging any nutrition or health-related activities.
Its almost impossible to do anything positive for yourself if you don’t feel like you deserve the attention and time it takes to not only perform healthy activities for yourself, but also to continue to do them in order to see the progression long-term.
Self-compassion is vital for a healthy relationship with self and with food. It takes compassion in order to look at data from past and current nutrition plan-related attempts and actions to learn more about yourself and be able to create plans that are the sustainable for you and your lifestyle.
Beliefs impact thoughts, thoughts impact actions. If the beliefs about yourself are negative, how is it possible to consistently do positive actions for health? Hint: It’s not.
Think about a coach, or personal trainer. How would you feel if after every attempt you tried they said something negative to you like, “that sucked”, or “you’ll never be successful”, or “why try again? You’ve already failed multiple times before.” Chances are, you’d not be very motivated to sticking with that person as your coach or personal trainer.
Instead, you would probably stick with a coach or trainer that knows your weaknesses, sees your struggles, but also tells you when you’re doing great and corrects in a constructive way. It’s great to have external support like this, but it’s even better to have the internal support from yourself to yourself.
Having a healthy and productive relationship with yourself also means that you hold yourself accountable to habits that support a healthy you (physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially), and at the same time, not beat yourself up when you have a misstep. Instead, you allow that misstep to act as a data point to better understand what happened, why it happened, how much of an impact it really has on the big picture (usually it doesn’t), and how you can approach it differently, if needed, later.
Step #2 Visit Your Strong Beliefs About Food & Nutrition
Dig into your rules regarding your nutrition and food choices. Is there evidence to support it/them? Do you need to continue to follow those absolutes? Are you putting unnecessary restrictions on you or your family or are they absolutely necessary? It’s ok if this is hard! It takes a strong person to challenge their own beliefs!
Remember when most people thought fat was a bad thing?
Or that it was a great idea to just eat high-glycemic carbs for breakfast?
Or maybe you’ve heard rules about not eating after 7pm, or only eating one kind of macronutrient at a time in order to fully digest them.
Some clients have come to me in the beginning with a wide variety of food rules, some more grounded in science than others. While I don’t spend time trying to change anyone’s mind, I try to meet them halfway and as they see and feel the differences, successes, and strides they’re making, they are no longer scared of eating specific foods.
I had a conversation with an acquaintance a few years back and he mentioned how much more energy he had now that he started going on a very popular diet. He was meal prepping all his meals and really enjoying it! I was intrigued and asked how his diet was like before. He mentioned how he would only sometimes eat breakfast, and when he would, it was only a bowl of sugary cereal. And his lunches and dinners weren’t any more balanced. It was awesome how being on a “diet” taught him the benefits of meal planning and preparation. And it was wonderful that he was now eating more protein, fats, and getting in less added sugars, but he didn’t need to go on this specific popular diet to experience the energy and benefits he was talking about. He likely would have still gotten amazing benefits from less restrictive meal planning. He had an all-or-nothing approach and ultimately wasn’t able to stick with it long-term.
Step #3 Focus on Foundations
Break the confusion around nutrition. Find similarities between different frames of eating. What makes them “successful”? What does “successful” mean? How are they similar? Are there any consistencies between them? What diet rules are preferences rather than absolutes?
There is so much information in the world about nutrition. To make things worse, it even seems like the experts are against each other at times. It’s even a challenge to know who is actually an expert…and what does that actually mean and who quantifies that?
Fortunately, we can find the common ground and see patterns of intake that correlate to healthy bodies.
We might not know everything about nutrition yet, but we do know the foundations.
Much of the difference between different diets and approaches to eating is built on that foundation with additional rules for preference or specific needs. That’s why Kendra had such a good experience with X diet, and Emily had a similar experience on Y diet.
The foundations were met, the differences were preference, individual needs, and flashiness.
Step #4 Place intention of “Most of the Time.”
Join Team “Most of the Time”…not Team “Perfection” – they never win long-term!
If a meal or snack goes “off track”, you don’t need to throw in the towel and give up for the rest of the day. You don’t have to wait for next Monday to try again.
Eat to support you body (physically, mentally, and emotionally) most of the time.
This about any non nutrition-related goal. Do you think you need to be perfect in order to achieve it? Likely not. You don’t need to be perfect in order to get closer to you nutrition-related goals either.
It is so common for people give up on their diet plans because of one “screw up” that spirals out of control. It usually goes like this: they have an amazing morning, balanced and prepped meal on point. Their lunch is perfect. Then the afternoon comes and a coworker brings in a box of their favorite treats. So they “cave in” and have one, and it tastes amazing. They want another but they’ve been “so good” all week so far. They go back to their desk but that extra treat is all they can think out. A little while later they give up and go grab another. Then they feel guilty and defeated for eating it, and then they give up and resolve to start again next Monday, meanwhile planning the rest of their cheat/last-supper mentality weekend before Monday hits. Sound familiar?
That’s just one reason why I don’t like to use extreme restriction in my nutrition counseling and coaching.
Not promoting restriction is not the same thing as not giving some guidelines and practices to use around these foods.
For example, if someone wants to eat a piece of cake, depending on their plan and history, I’ll probably recommend they eat a full meal (with protein, fat, and carbs high in fiber) before eating that slice of cake in order to support a healthy, yet still enjoyable amount. It’s not an all-or-nothing plan.
Step #5 Relationship Repair
Having a healthy relationship with food and healthy coping skills are important for long-term health. This is similar to step #1 (rewrite negative beliefs about yourself), but this encompasses more than just yourself.
But first, we need to be able to define, or at least have an idea, of what a healthy relationship with food can look like…
A healthy relationship with food looks like a few different things, but here are some highlights of most healthy relationships with food:
– You can eat “off plan” and still choose foods that fuel you well most of the time.
– If for some reason you don’t choose those foods, it’s not a big deal and it doesn’t change how you feel about yourself or food, and doesn’t affect the next meal.
– You can enjoy a bite (or a few bites) of your favorite food without going overboard and feeling out of control.
– You primarily choose foods with thought of both your taste buds and your body.
– You primarily eat in a way you would like your friend, parent, partner, child, or other loved-one to do. Would you want them to eat the same way you do?
– You eat when hungry and most of the time you stop when satisfied and are still able to physically move well after.
– You have flexibility within your normal meal intake.
– You sometimes eat less some days, and eat more other days.
– You primarily eat foods that support and promote health without falling into deep restriction that takes over most of your thoughts and free time.
– You trust your body. The longer you are able to trust your body and give it what it needs, the more it will give you hunger cues, fullness cues, and so much more. Take care of your body and your body will take care of you!
The relationship with our food, environment, and with friends and family is also important for how we approach long-term health.
How do you react when plans don’t go as planned? Is it a big deal? Do you fully take advantage of it and go all out on fun foods that don’t fuel your body well? Or do you roll with the change of plans and go for the next best thing without much stressing?
Many people who struggle in consistency with their nutrition also struggle with their relationship directly with food. Unfortunately, years of dieting and not listening to body signals often leads to a complicated relationship with food – one centered around what’s deemed “good” or “bad”.
Food is not inherently good or bad, it’s neutral (unless we are talking about spoiled food…then it’s bad). A donut is not inherently bad. Yes, a donut but itself is not going to support healthy blood sugar, energy, and mood regulation as a sole breakfast option, however there is a time and place where we can have that donut and still feel good, physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially!
Some people like to encourage moderation as a plan, however, without knowing how to use moderation, that tip is absolutely useless. Moderation is an innate tool, but it sometimes gets lost and often needs to be re-acquired before it can truly be used again to have a healthy relationship with food.
Step #6 Get Clear on How You Want Your Future to Look
How do you want your relationship with food to be like in 5 years? 10 years+?
Do you still want to have the current level of attention? Do you want to have less stress/worry about food? Can you have health and peace around food without micromanagement – or is it all or nothing?
Think about how you’re approaching food, your health, and everything nutrition-related at the moment. Is it sustainable?
If so, that’s great!! That’s a sign that what you’re doing fits with your lifestyle really well and is likely supporting your physical, mental, emotional, and social well-being, all of which are important for overall health. Sure, you might want to optimize some areas, but overall, keep it up!
However, if you don’t see yourself doing what you’re doing long-term, are there any steps you can take to make it a little more sustainable?
To create a foundation before jumping head first into these 6 steps, I created the Straight-Up Simplified 3-Day Meal Plan Roadmap
4 keys steps for SIMPLE & balanced meal prep.
A simple formula for putting meals and snacks together to balance hunger and healthy blood sugar levels.
A walkthrough on creating a healthy, balanced, and SIMPLE meal plan with food you can get at any grocery store.
3-Day balanced meal plan and snack list.
Wrapping up, all of these steps are important parts of the journey to cultivating and strengthening a healthy relationship with food and long-term, healthy nutrition habits. But if you don’t identify with all of them, it’s ok! It’s not a linear or simple thing. And sometimes these steps may be in a different order! That’s totally fine and just makes it more of your own story.