Don’t let eating healthily become a chore – stay motivated with these tips from clinical psychologist and triathlete Dr Matthew Tatum
Crossing the finish line of a triathlon is an amazing experience, but eating can be one of life’s great pleasures too. So when someone says the words “healthy eating” it’s natural to start fearing a dull, tasteless plate of food that you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemy.
But the goal of healthy eating isn’t to torture yourself. We aren’t trying to eliminate taste or flavour – we’re trying to redirect old, unhealthy habits into newer, healthier ones. Making improvements to your diet isn’t just about knowing what to eat either – it’s as much about motivation.
Sometimes willpower alone won’t cut it, so here are some tips to help you start and stick to a lifetime of healthy eating.
1 Start small
Introduce a few new foods each week and eliminate a few unhealthy ones. Continue this process for as long as necessary until you reach your goal. Don’t aim to never touch processed sugar again if you’ve been having a Snickers bar with every meal – you’re setting yourself up for failure. Make small, gradual changes over time.
2 Set goals
Changing behaviour is most effective when you’ve defined your goals, so sit down and write them out. Do you want to lose a certain amount of weight? Lower your blood pressure or cholesterol? Eliminate or add certain foods? To make your goals effective, make sure they’re specific, measurable, attainable and time-limited (SMArT).
3 Get support
Making changes to your diet will be easier if you have people on your team. If your family is still stocking the fridge with junk food, you aren’t likely to be successful. Get them on board – it’ll benefit everyone in the long run. Having someone to keep you accountable will also help. Talk to your partner, friend or training buddy about your nutrition goals and ask them to help keep you on track.
4 Mix things up
Don’t let routine kill your diet. The beauty about healthier foods is that there are tons of ways to prepare them. There aren’t a whole lot of ways to spice up a bag of chips but if you’re trying a new type of fish, chances are there are lots of ways to prepare it and lots of dishes to pair it with. Be creative – or at least find a good recipe book!
5 Treat yourself
One way to encourage yourself to continue eating healthily is to reward your behaviour. If you stick to healthy eating for a whole week, treat yourself to a guilty pleasure one day at the weekend.
6 Be gracious to yourself
Don’t beat yourself up if you stray from your diet. If you can’t resist the fried food during an evening out or the cake at the office party, acknowledge that your splurge was just a minor deviation from your normal routine and return to your normal diet. Don’t let these splurges become a habit but don’t be too hard on yourself – this process should be enjoyable, not painful.
7 Be flexible
This is the most important tip of all. Flexibility is the key to longevity. If you’re craving something sweet, don’t run straight to the ice cream or chocolate. Instead, grab a piece of fruit or make a smoothie. The goal here isn’t to ‘turn off’ your craving for something sweet but to redirect it to something more nutritious, natural and healthy.