But changing the way you eat isn't easy. Unless you adapt your eating in a way that honors your body and fits your personal lifestyle and health goals, you could be setting yourself up to fail.
"Eating healthier can sometimes be a diet in disguise, becoming rigid and extreme," says Ursula Ridens, a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified intuitive eating counselor at Sharp HealthCare. "This can perpetuate guilt and shame, and is difficult to sustain. Making healthy food choices is more about making lifestyle changes to feel better and improve your well-being."
One common pitfall is jumping onto a popular diet trend. While trendy diets may offer immediate weight-loss results, they rarely adjust to the person, and end up being unsustainable, or fail to align with long-term health goals.
Strict diet plans can ultimately cause:
- A feeling of deprivation, leading to overeating
- A decrease in metabolism from low calorie intake
- Nutrient deficiencies and medical risks
- A feeling of failure, from an unsustainable plan
- Yo-yo dieting, leading to weight gain
Signs that a diet plan might be too restrictive include:
- Headaches or difficulty focusing
- Feeling too hungry, fatigued, anxious or depressed
- Long stretches of time without eating
- Avoiding foods that you enjoy
- Micromanaging nutrients, like calories, fat and carbs
- Developing a fear of eating foods deemed as "bad"
- An interference with day-to-day living (such as avoiding social situations)
If you've made the decision to change your eating plan, look beyond food. Instead, ask yourself what it is you'd like to change. Do you lack energy in the afternoon? Do you struggle with cravings? Do you have poor digestion? Are you concerned with high blood pressure or diabetes risk?
From there, you can make specialized lifestyle changes. Specific, yet realistic, behavioral goals are more meaningful than trendy diets — and help set the stage for success.
For example, you may need to plan your meals and snacks — and strategize on the time of day you eat. You may need to hone in on your body's specific nutrition needs, like protein, carbs or calcium. Or, you may need to learn mindful eating skills — discovering how to redirect emotional or stress eating and gaining knowledge about metabolism, anxiety and sleep.
Talking with your doctor and consulting a registered dietitian nutritionist are great ways to pinpoint these needs. Knowing what's important to you and needed for your body can lead you to make healthier, long-lasting changes more successfully than any set diet can.
Implementing a plan
While making changes to your eating is easier when catered to your needs, you'll still experience setbacks — and that's OK. "Keep the big picture in mind," says Ridens. "Stop fixating on every detail of eating."
She offers four tips on staying focused:
- Reassure yourself that it's OK not to be perfect.
- Be curious, not critical.
- Reflect on challenges, and use them as learning opportunities.
- Acknowledge the small successes, rather than focusing on what didn't go well.
The Sharp Outpatient Nutrition Counseling Program provides one-on-one nutrition counseling with registered dietitians at three convenient locations throughout San Diego County. To learn more, call 619-740-4632.