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How to take a positive approach to dietary change

Have you started this year with a resolution to eat healthier? You’re not alone and there’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting to eat more healthfully.

One problem with resolutions, however, is that they can often come from a negative place. For instance, have you ever found yourself thinking in patterns like:

  • I overindulged over Christmas, so I really need to cut back.
  • I can’t control my sugar cravings so I’m going to quit sugar altogether.
  • I have gained weight so I will stop snacking or cut out alcohol.
  • I find it too hard to say no to chips so we can’t have them in the house at all.

 

All of these patterns of thinking are focussed on what you’ve done wrong and then a way of punishing yourself or restricting your choices. Think about it. It’s the same as saying to a child, ‘You can’t control the amount of time you spend watching YouTube so NO SCREEN TIME FOR YOU!’

While this strategy is effective in the short term, it doesn’t help you to learn how to eat healthy long term or develop a positive relationship with food. What we restrict, we ultimately desire.

So, this year, why not take a different approach? Why not try coming from a place of positivity and self-care? Here’s how:

Focus on what to add, not take away

Technically, food is just a bunch of chemicals. That’s it. No food is inherently good or bad because no matter what it is, it’s a bunch of chemicals which your body will break down, absorb and use.

And, in essence, healthy eating is about getting the widest variety of those chemicals into your body regularly.

The most effective way to include a variety of food chemicals is to increase the volume and variety of whole foods that you eat each day.

 

Whole foods includes foods that have changed very little between the farmer and you. Things like:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Grains (particularly whole grains and whole meal products)
  • Legumes
  • Dairy (particularly milk and yoghurt)
  • Meat, seafood and poultry
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

 

By consciously INCREASING your intake of these things, you help your body in a few ways:

1.  You get more nutrients to support your immune system

2. You get more fibre to help support your gut health

3. You reduce the calorie density of your meals and snacks, which helps with weight and appetite management

4. You help your body to manage cholesterol, blood glucose levels and many other biomarkers which are risk factors for chronic disease.

 

There is even research indicating that improving your diet quality, i.e. eating MORE whole foods, can improve symptoms of depression and anxiety. AMAZING!

This doesn’t mean that you can ONLY eat whole foods. It simply means that you can improve your health by adding in more whole foods to your diet each and every day.

 

Here are some suggestions on how you can do it:

  • If you love having toast for breakfast, SWAP to a wholemeal bread.
  • Instead of trying to push through the afternoon slump, PLAN to have a muesli bar that has whole grains or nuts
  • Instead of restricting your desire for something sweet after dinner have some ice-cream AND some chopped fruit
  • If you really don’t want to cook, ADD some frozen vegetables or salad to your takeaway.
  • If you really enjoy some cheese and crackers before dinner ADD some vegetable sticks in as well.

 

Thinking about your food in this way helps to focus you on all the benefits and nourishment that your body gets from whole food. Over time this can foster a positive relationship with food, rather than perpetuating the need to constantly limit and restrict.

Have some self-compassion

Another effective way to positively approach food is to care for yourself the same way you would care for other people.

Take a moment to ask yourself this question: If you had a loved one, who needed support to feel healthier and stronger, what would you feed them?

Now, think about what it would mean to feed yourself that way. Does that feel different to how you normally approach food and eating?

It’s common to speak to yourself very differently (and often more negatively) than you would speak to someone you care about. You’re much more likely to be compassionate to other people.

So, an important component to approaching dietary change in a positive way, is to care about yourself and approach yourself with the same compassion. When or if you feel any building sense of guilt or worry about food, take a moment to care for yourself.  Stop and ask, “How would I care for someone else in this situation?” and see if that changes your perspective to something a more positive.


If you’re struggling to approach food and dietary change in a positive way, the team of Accredited Practising Dietitians at The Healthy Eating Clinic can help. They are experienced in building healthy habits into life in a positive way and they’re ready to support you.