By now I suspect you’re getting a little weary of legwork. You’ve experimented with a swap, you’ve kept a food journal, and you’ve investigated your pantry, and you’ve thought for a bit about how to get those with whom you eat the most on board with the idea of a new approach to food. You didn’t realize you’d already done so much, did you? Didn’t do it all? That’s okay. Jump in here, go back to the beginning and start there – whatever. There is no timeline.
The only due date I’d like to suggest is that you do something today. No, don’t wait until January… Waiting until January means losing a month of taking baby steps down the road. Yes, there are more holidays coming, and you can decide how to deal with them, but they aren’t TODAY. There’s no reason you can’t get a little ahead of the game and celebrate whatever season it is for you with a glow of better health and the satisfaction of knowing that in addition to anything you’re doing for others, you’re also taking care of yourself. Convinced? Yay! It’s time to make a plan….
Gather your stuff. Get that food journal. Open that pantry door. Peek in the refrigerator. Your mission is to make a list of foods that you’d like to baby step out of your diet. No, you don’t need to come up with a specific number. And yes, we will help you figure out which ones to start with if you’re not sure. Let’s see if we can’t make some progress with a few simple questions.
- As you look at your food journal, is there something that you know is unhealthy and that you eat regularly for the sake of convenience or to treat yourself? Perhaps you have a soda habit or a frappucino addiction. These are perfect places to start – a food that is not a meal, it’s offering no nutrition, and it’s loaded with sugar. Am I telling you to ditch them altogether? You know me better than that. Cut them out, cut them down, wean yourself, swap them out for something healthier. Whatever a baby step is to you… do that.
- As you consider your food choices, does carry out or fast food play a major role in your lunch or dinner meal planning? Set a goal for eating one more home cooked meal or one more brown bagged lunch per week than whatever your current total is.
- As you examine that pantry you’ve already peeped in, take notice of the number of packaged snacks. This is an excellent place to experiment with some snack swaps or learning to make a homemade snack.
- As you peek in the fridge, take notice of the beverages that are available. How many of them are sweet? How many of them are juice or juice-like? Another excellent place to get started. Remember, you don’t have to throw it out (unless you want to, and I’m certainly not going to stop you). Cut the amount, cut the frequency, mix it with water, swap it for something healthier.
- Still not sure where to get started? Some basic categories you should consider: foods with a lot of sugar or corn syrup, foods that contain excessive fat (especially hydrogenated fats), foods that contain excessive sodium (in all its forms), and highly processed foods (like those that stay good for a REALLY long time).
- Still at a loss? I’m going to point you toward Michael Pollin’s food rules – eat food, real food, mostly vegetables.
Overwhelmed. Don’t be. Now is when you take all those answers and thinking and make a list of foods or food categories that you want to work to eliminate from your diet. It could look something like this:
- sugary cereals
- carry out
My current list looks like this
- caffeine (UGH)
- salt on the plate
- afternoon sweet
So am I going to do all of these at once? Maybe, but I won’t cut them all out. For my caffeine problem, I’m switching from two large mugs of my beloved coffee to one of coffee and one of black tea. The next step will be to switch the black tea out for green tea. Then black tea in the a.m., green tea in the afternoon… you get the picture. I have reduced caffeine before and in addition to the headache, I’ve found that being abrupt on this one makes me miserable and inflicts some level of misery on those around me…. so I’m going to step it down, achieve my goal at a pace that allows me to make adjustments, allows me to tame my body’s addiction over time without being a horrible grouch for the holidays.
Once you’ve got a list of things you’d like to cut/limit/wean yourself off of, choose a starting place. Pick one of them and consider how you want to proceed. Limit the quantity? Swap it out? Cut it altogether? Your answer will be different from my answer – what is a baby step to you may seem like a huge leap to me. This is YOUR plan, not a test of your character, but series of decisions you get to make for yourself.
Finally, write down the steps you’re going to follow to get started on that change. If you’re going to limit your quantity, write down how that’s going to work – what’s the new limit and what are you going to do to replace that item? If you’re cutting a sweet treat in the middle of your work day, what are you going to either eat or do to replace that ritual? Write it down. Write down your start date (today) and then give yourself a goal date for reaching whatever your desired change is on that item.
If you want to ditch chewy granola bars, write down when you’re going to start (today), write down what you’re going to do instead (there could be a few steps here), and write down the date by which you hope to be done changing this food habit. Does that mean you’ll never eat one again? Maybe, but probably not.
Remember what Big Sis said – the key to healthy eating is making healthful decisions as often as you can. Establish a new pattern so that the chewy granola bar (or soda, or candy or drive through) is an exception rather than the rule. Open the door to improved nutrition and prepare to be wowed as your taste buds come back to life and you discover new satisfaction in eating for your health.
And just in case you’re wondering, this isn’t all about what we cut out… we have plenty of suggestions about what to cut in. A little delish, morning, noon, and night comin’ up.
If you need help with some swaps, read this step. No suggestion that works for you there? Ask us! We’ll answer, and probably some others will too. You don’t have to figure it all out yourself… and if you don’t like your plan a week from now, know what you get to do? Change it. It’s YOUR plan.