One of the most common issues my clients come to me with is how to stay consistent. Everyone can make changes for days or weeks but making these changes over months to years is difficult. If this sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone!
The good news is that there are some strategies you can implement to help build consistency with healthy eating that we’re going to talk about - read on!
Tip #1 - Make small changes, one at a time
Humans are complex creatures. We have lots going on all the time, and yet, we are driven to improve ourselves. Eating healthy or making big changes to your health can often mean wanting to change everything all at the same time. However, we have limited capacity to change, and if we take on too much and can’t cope, we will stop doing everything.
In healthy eating, this might look like cutting out junk food, caffeine, sugar, starting to eat more vegetables and exercise 30 min a day, every day – all starting Monday. But, by Thursday, you’re tired, sore, hungry and end up bingeing on junk food and skipping your workout for the day. You then think you’re a failure (you’re not!), and quit the entire plan. When that happens, it generally means you took on too much at once.
To avoid this, pick one thing at a time to change. Give yourself at least 3 weeks to work on that one thing, then reassess. If you need more time to get consistent with that change, that’s fine! Take as long as you need on that one thing to feel comfortable with it. When you get there, pick the next thing on the list and repeat.
This method of change isn’t flashy and it takes a long time. But it’s sustainable; meaning that once you get comfortable with a change, it becomes habit and you don’t have to try as hard to keep it going. The success also gives you a little boost, making you want to move onto the next thing.
The other good thing about making one change at a time is that if you’re not successful, you know why! You can then think about breaking that change down even more until it’s small enough that you can be consistent with it.
There is no shame in having to make small changes one at a time! Success is the key here, and setting yourself up for success is what matters, so do what you have to do to get the work done!
Tip #2 - Avoid all or nothing thinking - AKA the 80/20 rule
Often when we’re making healthy eating changes, we think we have to eat all healthy, all the time. We think that if we eat something ‘bad’, that we’re bad and failures at healthy eating. This is all or nothing thinking and couldn’t be further from the truth.
Food is delicious and should be enjoyed. This includes junk foods or foods that contain butter, cream or other high calorie ingredients. We all also deserve to have joy in our lives, and sometimes that joy is derived from eating delicious foods and enjoying them with others.
Enter the 80/20 rule!
This rule states that, if you eat healthy 80% of the time, you can eat WHATEVER you want 20% of the time, and it won’t make a difference to your overall health. But, it will allow you to enjoy less healthy foods, which may make you happier.
In meal terms, if there are 21 meals in a week (3 meals a day x 7 days a week), the closest math is 18 health meals (80%) and 3 whatever meals (20%).
For example, if there is someone who eats junk all week, then decides to have a salad and diet Coke, that salad doesn’t stand a chance! So, the converse is the same. If you’re eating well most of the time, one meal at the all-you-can-eat-buffet (or whatever), isn’t going to undo all the good you did the rest of the week, so enjoy it!
The rules are these – you get 3 meals a week to eat whatever you want – GUILT FREE! There is no right kind of food or right amount of food you eat, just enjoy it!
Your 3 meals resets every week – you don’t get to save them up! But you also don’t need to use all 3 each week.
So, some people like to plan these meals out, some like to wing it. Either strategy is fine, just be careful you don’t use them up early in the week, you might regret this later! But you do you, use your 3 meals to your advantage.
Using the 80/20 rule helps you stay on track when healthy eating gets hard – you can either use one of your 3 meals or know that it’s coming up in the near future, which makes eating healthier in the moment easier.
Tip #3 - Get back on the train
Life happens. No one is perfect. Nutrition shouldn’t always be the most important thing in your life.
But when you fall off the train, get back on. Mistakes don’t mean that you’re a failure, they just mean that you’re human.
So, if you have a bad day, start again tomorrow.
If you have a bad week, start again tomorrow.
If you end up blowing through your 3 unhealthy meals by Tuesday and end the week with 7 unhealthy meals, start again tomorrow.
Part of healthy eating is learning how to rebound from unhealthy periods. These will happen, but the quicker you can bounce back, the less effect they will have on your overall health in the long term.
Making sustainable change takes time and can be difficult if not approached the right way. But, when you figure it out, your changes become habit.
Reach out if you want help coming up with a healthy eating plan that you can stick with! I’m here for you.