Are you one of the estimated 45 million Americans who start a diet every year? Whether you're trying to lose weight or just develop healthier eating habits, your mind could be the key to your success.
You know what you need to do to live a healthy lifestyle, but convincing yourself to actually choose the broccoli and fish over the pepperoni pizza isn't always easy. Being mindful about what goes into your mouth and how you think about food can help you make smarter choices.
If you're stuck in your old ways, try these tips for being more mindful to change your diet.
Rethink Your Goals
Many people focus on weight as a goal. It's a concrete way to measure progress, but it doesn't always give an accurate picture of your health.
The scale sometimes moves slower while you're shedding inches. Some people lose weight quickly, but they do it in an unhealthy way, such as consuming too few calories. Weight goals can also cause you to lose motivation if you don't reach them despite your efforts.
Focus your goals on things you can control. You might set a goal to drink a certain amount of water each day or to eat at least five servings of vegetables. Maybe your goal is to get the recommended 150 minutes of weekly exercise.
Small, specific goals that make you healthier are easier to achieve than setting a goal to lose 50 pounds. The shift in goal setting also focuses more on the healthy eating habits you want to develop instead of doing anything to lose the weight.
Be Aware of Your Feelings
Do you notice a connection between how you're feeling and your food choices? Emotional eating may cause you to reach for foods you know aren't the healthiest option.
Negative feelings, such as depression and sadness, often lead to unhealthy food choices. But positive feelings can also derail your diet. You might decide to treat yourself with food when you're happy about something.
Paying more attention to your feelings can help you stay on track with your eating. When you notice those feelings coming on, be mindful of how you respond to them. Make a plan for a more positive way to deal with the feelings instead of reaching for comfort food without thinking about what you're putting in your mouth.
Control Your Stress
Stress often leads to unhealthy eating choices. Research shows that 38% of adults admit to poor food choices in the past month due to stress. For 49% of those adults, that stress eating habit happens at least weekly.
Being mindful about reducing stress may help you make healthier food choices. Start by noticing what things cause stress and try to reduce your exposure to those things.
You can also use stress-reducing techniques, such as starting a yoga practice or doing breathing techniques. Using adaptogenic herbs may also help ease your stress.
Ease Up on Black and White Thinking
Pizza is bad and salads are good, right? When you're in the diet mindset, you'll likely establish that black and white thinking, labeling certain foods good and others bad. Falling into this type of rigid thinking can cause guilty feelings if you indulge in the "unhealthy" options and eventually lead to binging.
When you know you're not supposed to eat something because it's bad, you may want it even more. Even if you resist for a while, you may eventually go overboard when you indulge.
Some foods offer more health value than others. Eating a king-size candy bar every day isn't going to help you reach your health goals. But denying yourself all chocolate because you label it as bad can cause you to want it even more.
Another consideration is not all "healthy" foods are really healthy and not all "unhealthy" foods are bad for you. It's possible to load up a salad with so much dressing, cheese, fried chicken, and other toppings that it no longer resembles anything healthy. You can make healthier swaps for a pizza, using fresh crushed tomatoes as the sauce, lots of veggies for the topping, and a little feta cheese to make it a nutritious option.
Ask Why When Eating Habits Change
Are you suddenly struggling to stay on track with your healthy eating habits? Maybe you're letting yourself eat more sugar than you normally do or you can't seem to stop snacking at night.
Instead of beating yourself up, look for answers on why you're making those choices. Are you dealing with a stressful situation in your life? Have you stopped meal planning and shopping for healthy foods so you're grabbing whatever is available?
If possible, stop and ask yourself why you're making those choices before you eat something you know you shouldn't. If you're heading toward the drive-through for a super-sized cheeseburger meal, consider what's driving that decision. See if you can address the root cause and make a healthier decision.
Identify Harmful Thoughts
Do the same insecurities and negative thoughts creep into your mind frequently? Maybe you call yourself fat when you see yourself in the mirror. Perhaps you tell yourself you messed up and you'll never get healthy after making a poor food choice.
Recognize those negative thoughts so you become more mindful of them when they pop up. Start talking back to those negative voices to silence them.
It could be as simple as telling yourself to stop the thought. Or you can address the specific thought. If you tell yourself you never stick with healthy eating, remind yourself of times when you made healthy choices, or tell yourself you will stick with it this time.
Another trick is to imagine a friend is saying the negative thought about themselves. What would you say to that friend in response to negative self-talk? Say that same thing to yourself when you feel the negativity creeping into your mind.
Change Your Mindset
A shift in your mindset is necessary to establish healthy exercise and eating habits. Instead of placing so much emphasis on the diet itself, put time into changing how you think about food and health to set yourself on the right track.
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- "WEIGHT MANAGEMENT." BOSTON MEDICAL, https://www.bmc.org/nutrition-and-weight-management/weight-management
- "How much should the average adult exercise every day?" MAYO CLINIC, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/expert-answers/exercise/faq-20057916
- "Stress and Eating." American PsychologicalAssociation, https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2013/eating
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