When it comes to eating better, what comes to mind? If you're like a lot of women, your mind probably immediately goes to "good and bad" food lists, cutting carbs, swearing off sugar and saying no to fun.
That's because for decades diet culture has told us that in order to live healthier and achieve our goals, we must make big sweeping changes. But the truth is making major changes to your daily diet is not only unnecessary, but unrealistic and rarely effective.
First, it's overwhelming. Making sudden and drastic changes to your day-to-day food habits is a tall order for anyone, because it feels depriving, restrictive, and punishing. Diet culture has you focused on all the wrong things: what not to do, what to stop doing, and what to cut out. When your efforts are far better spent focusing on what you CAN start doing. That's why I teach my clients how to add, not subtract, focus on 1% improvements, and look for small opportunities to level up their food habits.
Second, it's not realistic. Unlike what the diet industry would have us believe, there is no one-size-fits-all perfect diet. That's because we're all uniquely different, in the best ways! We have differing body types, food likes, lifestyles, backgrounds and more. What your body needs to feel and function its best is not going to be the same as your friend, co-worker or partner. And this is where diets fail by not considering the total picture of YOU. Cutting out food groups and swearing off fun foods is not only unrealistic, it's unhealthy, and often leads to increased food cravings, lacking energy and brain fog. Not to mention the mental health damage caused.
And third, it's not sustainable. How long can you eat only chicken breast and broccoli? Cut out carbs and say no to your favorite fun foods? Ignore your hunger and battle willpower? My guess is not long. And you don't have to! I have one very important rule: don't make changes you aren't willing to make for the long haul. Because the truth is, if your diet feels impossible to stick too, your results will be impossible to maintain. The truth is there is nothing wrong with starting small. In fact, I highly recommend it!
Here are four simple ways to start making eating better, easier:
Plan for fun
Part of life is gathering and spending time with others. And most social events include food. That's why it's so important to plan for FUN. You may not always know what's going to be served at that bbq, fun dinner, or birthday party and that's okay. When you first arrive at that fun event, take a quick overview of all the food and beverage choices and decide what you want most. Instead of filling your plate with a little bit of everything, fill half your plate with nutrient dense options first: fruits, veggies and proteins. Next choose a few of your favorite fun foods to pair on the plate, practicing healthy portion sizing.
This helps you ditch the all or nothing dieter's mindset and foster an all foods fit mentality where fun foods can co-exist along nutrient dense ones. Not only will this reduce overeats and binge eats later, you'll learn how to create a healthier relationship where you feel in control of your choices (because spoiler alert: you are!)
Share the wealth of health
Next time you're headed to a social gathering, bring a healthy dish to share! I love to whip up a fun side dish like a cowboy caviar, tasty ceviche, or simple summer salad. But you don't have to be a cook to score big here. A veggie tray with hummus or another fun dip, a fresh fruit platter, or a tray of whole grain crackers and low fat cheeses are always great options that won't over power whatever the host has planned.
As someone with dietary restrictions, this is one of my favorite tricks to helping me feel at ease walking into a social event because I know there will be something simple there I can easily eat and feel satisfied by, saving me from a case of the hangries (hungry + angry) later. Plus I find hosts are super appreciative of the gesture (because let's face it, hosting is a lot of work!)
Think before you drink
Fun beverages like flavored lemonades, teas and punches have a tendency to go down fast and are often loaded with added sugars and other empty calories. And alcoholic drinks are some of the worst offenders, with some mixed drinks running as high as 1,500 calories a glass. Yikes!
To help save on empty calories look for lighter options, cut the standard lemonade, tea or punch with a bit of bubbly water and try making the skinnier version of your favorite cocktail by reducing the amount of mixers used, swapping sugary syrups for soda water and fresh citrus. The great thing about your taste buds is they adapt, which means as you reduce your intakes of the sweet stuff, you'll find you need less to feel satisfied.
When it comes to cocktails, I recommend downing a big glass of water between each fun beverage, not only will you stay healthily hydrated, but you're less likely to be mindlessly snacking on crackers and chips later.
Make your best choice
Something I see a lot of women struggle with is worrying about making the "right" choice. Especially in social situations. Spoiler alert: there is no right or wrong choice, it's about learning how to make the best choice for YOU in that moment.
Two questions I teach my clients to ask themselves when they're feeling conflicted about making the best food choices for them are:
How do I want to feel in two hours?
Will this matter in two weeks?
The answers to these questions will help reduce emotional eating, stress eating and FOMO (fear of missing out) eating by putting things in a different perspective. For example, I know if I eat certain foods I may not feel my best in a few hours, and sometimes I'm okay with that, other times I know I need good energy and don't want to deal with the belly ache or headache later. In some social situations you may notice that you're reaching for food to soothe a thought or feeling or out of social pressure. Understanding how you want to feel in two hours will help you be present with your choice so you can make the best one for you in that moment.
For question number two, there is a big difference between being on the trip of a lifetime to Europe and running to your local grocery store or visiting a nearby restaurant. When you're in Europe experiencing those amazing breads, gelatos, pastas, and wines, this is not something you're likely to be doing again anytime soon. Versus being able to head to the grocery store of visit nearby restaurants for some of your favorite fun foods. If you passed on fun foods while on a dream vacation, I guarantee when you're back at home you won't be thinking, "Whew, I'm so glad I passed on all the fun!"
That's why balanced eating includes FUN. When you know you can enjoy a slice of pizza and a big salad too, you're slowly going to change the narrative around food, feel empowered to make the best choices for you, and foster a healthier relationship with food and your body, which is key to creating healthy habits that last.
Are you tired of starting over every Monday, hopping from diet to diet, wondering if you'll ever get it "right" so that you can lose the weight and become the best version of you? I’ve got you friend! Come join me inside my FREE women’s-only Facebook community: Eat Better with Coach Mindy. It's for busy women like you who are ready to lose weight, gain energy, get healthy and fit -- without restrictive diets or punishing food rules.