Three ways to improve your habits
Okay, to be honest, I should alter the title somewhat. I’ve abstained from dessert as much as is reasonably possible. If a once in a lifetime food was set in front of me, I would try it. I wouldn’t eat a whole serving of it, but I would try it. Additionally, I’m a student in nutrition, so I took a culinary class which required tasting the foods we cooked. So I did taste some desserts. For science, of course.
Aside from this, I haven’t had a real dessert on my own free will in approximately 4 years. Yes, it’s strange, but I did it.
Over that time, I’ve changed my diet more times than I can count. At a certain point, I was basically a guinea pig in my own experiment. I was vegetarian, ovo-vegetarian, paleo, gluten free, and I even dabbled with the Mediterranean diet. I never had difficulty sticking to new regimens, and over time I learned some valuable things about forming new habits.
Below, I will discuss the three most important aspects of changing dietary habits, but these techniques are just as valuable for any other lifestyle change.
Set solid boundaries for yourself — even if they are arbitrary.
I’ll admit, whether this works varies from person to person. However, for me, it was always important to draw solid lines.
The mistake most people make with this is believing that they can immediately draw sharp, disciplining lines and drastically change their lifestyle. Not so. You must work up to a point where you feel comfortable saying “okay, I will not eat that food at all anymore.” This means the change has to be gradual. Only draw the solid line when you are ready.
And yes, the line will be arbitrary to some degree. For example, if you’re cutting added sugar out of your diet, you may find yourself cutting out foods even with some insignificant amount of added sugar just to be consistent with your new rules. While this may seem irrational, it is the best way to create a solid new habit and maintain it. Over time, as you become comfortable in your new lifestyle, you can blur the lines to accommodate a more flexible, reasonable eating pattern.
Make sure your goals are attainable
Setting an unattainable goal is pointless. Goals should be reachable. In fact, I would dispute that they should even be called “goals.” A goal is something you aim for and sometimes miss. A better term would be a “plan.” A plan is something you follow; a means to an end. If the plan is unfollowable, there is no way that the goal will be reached.
By focusing on a plan and acknowledging the importance of the required steps along the way — whether implicitly or by writing them down — you will be able to recognize whether a plan is truly workable. This will reduce the likelihood of failure and frustration.
Don’t think of excluding foods from your diet — think of changing the foods in your diet
By far, this is where most people fail. It sucks to stop doing things. Humans aren’t good at having things taken away from them. This is why “just eat less” is usually not effective advice for weight loss.
In terms of dietary changes, this means you must develop a plan for where you’re going before you start going there. Generally, this means adding new foods to the diet. Before quitting cheeseburgers and bacon, you have to learn new recipes for tofu and asparagus (or whatever your goal diet is) that will replace the old habits. Once you are comfortable with cooking and eating these new foods, you can slowly nudge the old foods out of your diet.
This philosophy works for anything. What to spend less time watching TV? First find out what you want to replace it with. Pick up an instrument, find a book, take up a sport. Once you have a hobby to fill the void, it will be much easier to transition.