It seems we all know what a healthy diet is—we just can’t seem to follow one reliably.
Understanding the reasons why you should can help you get on track.
“Chances are, you know a lot about what constitutes a healthy diet, but the disconnect comes when we fail to put our knowledge into action, to make it real,” says Marisa Moore, R.D., an Atlanta-based spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
Changing old habits isn’t easy, so if you’ve made even one or two positive changes in your food choices, you should feel good about what you’ve accomplished.
If you’d like to make even more moves in the right direction, Moore suggests you give the following strategies a try.
Change your approach from a negative one—what can’t I eat—to a positive one—what can I eat—to make my diet more healthy.
Think of adding more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat diary foods to your meal plan.
Take small steps
“People who try to do a complete overhaul of their eating habits all at once tend to get overwhelmed and will more than likely drop the whole endeavor,” Moore says.
Instead, make one positive change a week, such as switching from whole to 1 percent milk one week, then to skim the next. After that, substitute a bagel for your usual doughnut.
Moore also suggests you let each dietary change become familiar before going on to the next one.
Look at where you are
Evaluate your eating habits by keeping a food diary for seven to 10 days. This will help you see how healthy your current diet is and where you could make changes.
For example, if your diary shows you have a burger and fries for lunch three times a week, consider having a salad with your burger at least once a week.
“When you get used to that, order a salad twice a week,” Moore says. “With this change alone you’re reducing your calories and fat and adding several healthy vegetable servings daily.”
Make sure you have choices
When you go out to eat with friends or family, suggest restaurants where you know you can order a healthy meal.
“Most fast-food and upscale chain restaurants have Web sites that provide the calorie and fat contents of their menu items,” Moore says. “Doing some research on places that have at least some healthy menu items can help ensure your actions follow your intentions.”
Know what motivates you
“To find out, you have to ask yourself what‘s most important to you,” Moore says. “Some people might want to improve their health so they can play with their children. Others might be more interested in having a healthy retirement so they can travel or play golf.”
Once you know your primary motivation, it will be easier to stick with your desire to eat lower-fat, lower-cholesterol meals.
“In other words, this self-knowledge will give you a good reason for ordering baked chicken instead of a rib-eye steak,” Moore adds. “And having a written list of your reasons for wanting to eat healthier, and reading it when you feel like giving up, can help you stay on track.”
Don’t be in a hurry
It takes four to six weeks for a new habit to stop feeling new.
“It’s hard to believe at first, but eventually making healthy choices will be second nature to you,” Moore says. “And at that point, you’ll know you’re eating healthier because you want to, not because you have to.”