When it comes to starting any new eating routine, your habits can be the most difficult to change. Those habits define what you choose to eat and, often, the cravings you’re fighting (or giving into). The best way to start clean eating is with new habits.
Creating new habits, however, is a lot easier to talk about than implement. It’s not the sort of thing that is going to happen in a blog post. I can share my knowledge and ideas and experience but change happens at the moment of decision – when you’re standing hungry at the fridge or when you’re walking the aisles of the grocery store. I can’t make those decisions for you, I can only share words to help you focus on the change you want to make.
These five ideas aren’t revolutionary. You probably know all of them or at least some of them. It isn’t about what you know, it’s about what you decide to do in the moment.
Change one habit at a time
Depending on what you eat now, getting started with clean eating may involve several different changes, adding and replacing different foods and favorite meals.
So, focus on one habit to create or replace for 30 days. Don’t worry about all the other things you want to change. Don’t let yourself be discouraged if you don’t notice dramatic results from changing one thing.
Change one thing – create one new habit – and then move onto the next. If you need to be convinced of the power of small decisions you consistently make every day check out The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success and Happiness by Jeff Olson.
Especially when you’re trying to change the way you eat, get rid of what you don’t want!
Foods like carbs and sugar and caffeine are addicting. Things you’re used to snacking on or for dessert are comforting. You will crave them.
When you start craving something sweet or comforting or caffeinated, if what you want is lurking in the back of the pantry, eventually you’ll stand up and get it.
If you have to get in the car and go buy it, you’re more likely to decide it’s not worth the effort. Especially if it’ll take more than 10 minutes to get out the door and to the store. Cravings generally don’t last more than 10 minutes, so if you can hold out that long (or indulge the craving with a healthy alternative) you’ll be fine.
Don’t fight cravings
There’s three options when cravings strike (well four, but we’re going to pretend giving into the bad habit isn’t an option).
- Replace it.
If you want chocolate, try a healthy chocolate snack or peanut butter.
If you want dessert, turn gluten free, dairy free baking into an art.
If you want some other junk food, find a replacement that will satisfy your craving.
- Redefine it.
Every time I try to create change in my life, I change the words racing through my mind. When presented with a chocolate chip cookie or a brownie (my perpetual weaknesses) I don’t think about how delicious they are. I focus (quite honestly) on how fleeting the taste is and how the consequences will last for days. How the sugar and processed flour will erode my internal organs and stress my insulin responses.
When you focus on how unhealthy the food is, instead of how fleetingly pleasant it is, it’s easier to make a healthy choice.
- Embrace it.
Kelly McGonigal, author of The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It spoke with the TED Blog about New Year’s Resolutions and setting goals. She discussed when you’re pursuing a goal you’re balancing two conflicting desires.
You’re immediate desire is for gratification – the cheesy fries or fudgy cake.
And your long term desire for change, for a lean, svelte, healthy body.
At first all you see is the immediate desire. But if you can broaden your perspective, see both things you want and recognize that they conflict with each other than it becomes easier to decide which desire you want to give into.
“I can feel the emotion, I can feel the craving, and at the very same time, I just make my awareness big enough to hold my commitment to make a different choice. Your ability to hold those opposites is what gives people willpower over time.”
Change your identity
As if you’re Jason Bourne or Sydney Bristow. The idea you have in your mind of who you are will drive a lot of your decisions. If you are healthy than certain foods make sense to eat and others just don’t. And if it doesn’t make sense for you to eat bad foods, you’re less likely to indulge in temptation forced upon you (like when someone brings cookies to work).
Maybe it sounds impossible to change who you believe you are. It might feel like you’re lying to yourself or everyone else. But it’s actually not uncommon.
“if [you] actually can truly create the identity — that [you] really sense that “I am someone that trained for a marathon,” or “I am somebody who is committed to this” — that it actually makes it easier to make choices. … if your identity is as somebody who takes good care of your health — then that becomes a default way to make a good choice in that moment.”
– Kelly McGonigal
Be kind to yourself
We often think when creating new habits that we’re more motivated by criticism than compassion. But clean eating is all about getting healthy – it’s about loving your body, not hating it. It’s about taking care of yourself, nurturing your body with good food and delicious meals.
It’s also not about deprivation. Don’t focus on all the things you want (or need) to eliminate. Replace bad habits with healthy choices. So it’s not about never eating chocolate chip cookies again but learning to use healthy sugar and bake gluten free, still delicious cookies.
Find ways to make new habits a game, find the fun and playfulness in new recipes and new choices so that you can ENJOY getting healthier.
And if you really want to dive deep into creating change, check out Tony Robbins’ TEDTalk. It’ll give you some interesting things to think about…