by Jasmine Ditter, Dietetic Intern, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay
When it comes to improving our health, we often think that it only comes by sticking to a strict program or making huge lifestyle changes. This mentality can make eating stressful and put a strain on our relationship with food. In our mind, we determine what is good or bad for us and then when we “slip-up” we feel immense guilt. However, healthy eating does not need to be painful, and we can improve our relationship with food by starting with small and simple steps.
So how do we get started with making stress-free changes in the way we eat?
Focus on what you CAN have rather than CAN’T. Starting off by looking at all the foods you might want to cut out can really be discouraging, which is the opposite of what you want. Rather than creating a list of the foods you can’t eat, focus on the delicious foods that you can eat such as unlimited fruits and vegetables, or those whole grain crackers. Having a positive outlook adjusts your whole way of thinking.
Take time to talk to yourself. Ask if you really want the food you are about to eat. Does it taste good? Are you hungry? Are you eating it only because it is there or because everyone else is eating it? By stopping and answering these questions, you improve your self-awareness and are less likely to eat the things your body may not want or need.
Drink a glass of water before your meal. Water fills up your stomach and increases satiety, causing you to consume fewer calories during your meal.
Sit down while eating rather than eat-on-the-go. We commonly find ourselves on the run and eating while doing other things. However, by sitting down, we are dedicating that time to focus on, and enjoy, our food.
Switch to smaller plates. We have a tendency to fill our plates, leaving no space on it to be empty. If you have a smaller plate, your mind will adapt and serve yourself a smaller portion of the food. You can still go back for seconds, but starting out with a smaller portion will help you tune into your body’s hunger cues to determine if you really need more.
Set down your fork and chew. Taking a moment between bites to chew your food well and taste it gives you more opportunity to enjoy your food. You could even take a sip of water between each bite.
Have your salad dressing on the side. Dip your fork in the dressing before each bite and put the salad on your fork. You will be able to enjoy the dressing with each bite while cutting back on the amount you consume.
Eat your vegetables first. This is when you are the most hungry and the fiber and bulk of vegetables, like water, helps to curb the tendency to overeat.
Put away those snack foods. Try to put the snacks and treats away in places where you are less likely to see them and are harder to get at. This will help when you are wandering through the kitchen bored but not really hungry. Putting a bowl of fresh fruit out makes it more likely to grab a piece for a snack!
Treat yourself. Don’t focus on eliminating your treats, but rather, look at reducing the amount that you consume. Enjoy a ½ cup of ice cream or a small piece of chocolate. Remember everything in moderation.
Lastly, but most importantly, choose one habit at a time. We develop these habits over time, and as a result, it takes time to replace them. If you change too much too fast, it is easy to become discouraged when you don’t see the results you expected. Focus on replacing old, bad habits with new, good habits and once the new habit sticks, look for a new way to keep working towards your overall goal. In the end, small changes add up to big results.