Too often, the only nutrition advice you’ll get from the doctor’s office is to “eat a healthier diet” or “cut back on sugars.”
Not only is this advice unhelpfully vague, but it’s also not giving you any guidance on what to eat instead or what a realistically sustainable “healthy diet” looks like.
Setting out to improve your eating habits to improve your diabetes is truly a worthwhile and imperative goal, but let’s make sure you’ve set yourself up for success.
Aim for 80/20, not 100 percent perfection
While you’re working to make vegetables and other whole foods a bigger part of your diet, it’s unrealistic to think you can completely eliminate all of the things you once ate. Certainly, there are many things on that old list of food choices that likely need to go, but aiming for 100 percent perfection simply doesn’t work for most people.
For example, many of the people who follow an extremely strict low-carb diet may succeed for a few weeks or months but often rebound completely by binge-eating all the carbs once the deprivation kicks in. After that, your entire relationship with food is likely to go off the rails.
Instead, aim for 80 percent clean, whole foods, and 20 percent of something less-than-perfect. For some, it’s bread or pasta. For others, it’s ice cream or a cupcake.
If you’re eating 5 meals a day, the 80/20 guideline implies that 4 of your meals and snacks are clean and whole, and one of your meals or snacks is something more indulgent. This means you’re not eating ice cream all day, but you could choose ice cream as one of your meals or snacks that day. And then focus on choosing much more wholesome, clean foods for your other meals.
This 80/20 approach will prevent deprivation and binge-eating rebounds, and it will help you stick to making those healthier choices for your meals every day for the long term.
Keep it simple: Eating more vegetables doesn’t have to be complicated
A huge focus of any diet should be vegetables. The more of your plate is filled with vegetables, the more your body and your blood sugars will thank you. The more you can replace starchy choices like potatoes, bread, and pasta with vegetables, the more you’ll see positive changes in your blood sugars and your weight.
But chopping vegetables at 6:30 p.m. after a long day at work can be an easy deterrent to filling your plate with more plants.
Don’t overthink it — especially in the beginning. On the days you’re just not up for the chopping and managing a larger recipe, more vegetables can be as easy as:
- A bag of frozen veggies (the greener the veggies, the better)
- A big salad full of greens, a quick handful of pre-shredded carrots, and a careful serving of your favorite salad dressing
- On Sunday, chop a variety of vegetables into bite-sized chunks and mix them all together in a larger Tupperware to pull from throughout the week! Bell pepper, onion, cabbage, cucumber, green beans, carrot, broccoli, Brussel’s sprouts, etc. can all be pre-chopped and stored for up to a week. You can cook them each night or eat them in a bowl with chicken and a little dressing or herbs.
The more prepared you are to eat veggies, the easier it’ll be to get them on your plate.
Stock up on the frozen stuff, keep a container of “power greens” of kale and spinach in the fridge that you eat from every day, and do all your vegetable chopping once or twice a week to lighten the workload!
Expect setbacks and forgive yourself quickly
Changing old habits takes time.
- Evolving your current relationship with food takes time.
- Learning new ways to cook, embracing new foods, and teaching your brain and tastebuds to crave different foods takes time.
Too often, when you set out to eat a healthier diet, it comes with this unreasonable expectation that you’re going to successfully eat this way for the rest of eternity without fail.
Realistically, you should expect to have days that don’t go as planned.
- You should expect to fall into an old habit of binge-eating chocolate when you’re stressed if that’s what you’ve done in the past.
- You should expect to have days where you give in and eat one of those sugar-laden muffins at the monthly office meeting.
Expect setbacks and then move on quickly.
The real detriment from those setbacks isn’t the food you ate, but what happens afterward when you deem yourself a failure and continue to eat the foods that are hurting your health.
Instead of scolding and shaming yourself for needing more time to evolve this part of your life, acknowledge what you ate, why you ate it, and then…forgive yourself. And move on.
Wake up the next day and start fresh. Back on your plan. You only fail if you give up completely. And you’re not going to do that, because you want to improve your eating habits! You’re here to do that!
Just remember that like any evolution, it takes time to make real changes.