Shift to a Healthier Diet Without Making Drastic Changes
At first attempt, when trying to get into a healthy lifestyle, comprised of eating “right” and exercising, we often set ourselves for failure by laying out an impractical plan and having unrealistic expectations. We follow an awesome diet-plan which includes eating fresh vegetables and fruits for a week, and then one day we end up eating burgers and fries. Suddenly we feel like we just blew it and abandon the plan. In general, we all frame our diet-plans with this “all-or-nothing” mindset, but it doesn’t have to be THAT DRAMATIC. You don’t need to take drastic measures to shift to a healthier diet, nor should you abandon your plan because you screwed up one day.
We have come up with our top 5 tips to prevent negative outcomes:
The key here is to take a step-wise approach, where you learn to crawl, then walk, then run, and possibly even fly if you have super-powers. Jokes apart –evidence indicates you can actually alter your taste-buds so you crave for healthier foods (1). Sugar, salt and fats are considered the main culprits of bad health, when consumed at high quantities. Before even moving on to eating wholesome foods, train your palate to consume less sugar, salt and fats.
For example, if you’re adding 2 tsp of salt in your food, reduce that amount to 1.5 tsp so you can still enjoy the saltiness of your food while allowing your taste buds to adapt to the new quantity. When you’re ready, reduce that salt even further to 1 tsp.
If you don’t cook then here is another example that might be more relatable. If you’re used to eating roti and curry or dhal and rice on a daily basis, then continue to eat that, but just make slight changes to make it healthier. Change at your own pace – like changing 3 rotis to 2 rotis or substituting white rice to brown rice.
In order to avoid boredom of eating the same foods every day, you may be inclined to stock up on different types of meats, vegetables, grain products, and fruits. This is not ideal as you may feel the urge to eat more, not only because you have a lot of food in front of you, but also because you don’t want any of it to go to waste. It is better to keep the food selection simple; so pick 1-2 of your favourite healthy foods from each food group, get creative and switch them around frequently. For example, instead of getting 4 different types of meats for the week like chicken, beef, pork and turkey, stick to just 2 options like chicken and beef. Feel free to alternate selections on a weekly basis.
If you delve into the question of “What is processed foods?” you will find that most foods we eat today are processed, including the healthy foods (2). Therefore,to suggest AVOIDING it COMPLETELY would be unfeasible. However, the types of processed foods that should be reduced are the “ready-to-eat” foods such as frozen pizza, microwaveable dinners, crackers, granola and deli meat. The main ingredients to watch out for are sugar, fat and sodium because processed foods contain large amounts of each. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the recommended value for sugar is less than 10% of calories per day, for fats it is less than 30% and for sodium it is less than 5 g (3).
This is the only time when it is OKAY TO CHEAT – in fact, cheating is helpful in maintaining a healthy diet. Start with the 80-20 strategy, where you eat healthy 80% of the time and allow yourself to indulge in less-healthy foods for the remaining 20%. The 20% cheat time can be allocated to the days when you’re travelling or socializing. However, it does not mean you allot an ENTIRE day for cheat meals. If you’re used to consuming anywhere between 3-6 meals a day, it means you’re allowed 1 cheat meal. This may be comprised of one dessert, such as ras-malai or gulab jamun, or an entire meal, such as a plate of chicken biryani – a cheat day does not mean you can eat chicken biryani all day long!
For those lacking in the kitchen department, you may want to sign up for a cooking class or schedule a cooking session with a family member or friend. This will only help you to eat healthier and not rely on heavily processed foods. When you prepare foods at home, you can control the amount of sugar and salt added to your meals. You will realize, and you may even be shocked to learn, how much oil, sugar and salt are added to some of the foods to make them taste as good as they do.
Please note that these tips are designed to help you shift to a healthier diet, not necessarily to help you lose or gain weight. It may take several months to make these lifestyle changes but it will prevent you from failing.
- Greger, M. Want to be Healthier? Change Your Taste Buds. 2014. http://nutritionfacts.org/2014/06/24/want-to-be-healthier-change-your-taste-buds/.
- International Food Information Council Foundation. What is a Processed Food? You Might Be Surprised! 2010. http://www.foodinsight.org/sites/default/files/what-is-a-processed-food.pdf
- World Health Organization [WHO]. Healthy diet. 2015. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs394/en/.