Often times, when we look for a healthy eating plan, it can feel like nutrition and diets are just a giant maze with no way out. And it can get really frustrating to try different eating plans without being able to stick to them more than a few weeks or months.
But whether you simply want to eat healthier because you have food allergies or health issues, or you want to lose weight, finding a personalized, sustainable lifestyle diet you can stick to is key.
So how can you design your own eating style, actually stick to it and get the results you want?
1. Set realistic expectations
Have you ever set an ambitious goal to quit sugar or lose 10 pounds in seven days and... failed? This is probably because your expectations were too high and you were setting yourself up for disappointment instead of success.
If you are transitioning from a diet high in processed foods to a mostly plant-based one, for example, or your goal is to lose 30 pounds, and you expect to see significant results in three weeks or even a couple of months, you're putting a tremendous amount of pressure on yourself.
With such an aggressive approach, you'll have to make great efforts, stretch yourself a lot, restrict many foods, and because you do this, you'll be expecting your hard work to translate into great results, fast -- who doesn't love instant gratification? And this will most probably not happen.
What you need to do instead is set realistic expectations: If you've put on weight for the past five years, and all your previous attempts to "lose 15 pounds in 21 days" have failed, give yourself six months or even a full year to get back in shape.
If you want to go from processed foods to lots of vegetables, give yourself time to try new foods and learn to cook new dishes, instead of shooting for perfection the first week. Again, be realistic: Until your taste buds adjust, some processed foods may simply taste better to you than whole foods, and the transition will take time.
2. Know yourself
The truth is you can't successfully adopt a new eating style without getting clear and honest about your relationship with food and about your lifestyle in general.
If you want to eat healthy meals but you're not used to cook your own food, you can't follow a healthy meal plan from day one, because you will need to learn to cook and get comfortable in the kitchen, first.
Before you decide to eat 100 percent homemade food, ask yourself: "Can I make enough time to cook every week? Is my job allowing me to eat this way on every weekday?" "Can I stick to this or should I better plan to transition gradually?"
Then, plan ahead for problems; know what your psychological triggers around food are. If you know you can stick to your plan but may be tempted to eat a pint of ice cream at night, take it into account, and act accordingly. This way you'll avoid any disappointment that would lead to blame and guilt.
If you want to lose weight, know if the scale is your friend or your enemy, and decide beforehand if you're going to weigh yourself or not.
The most direct path to a slim and healthy body is not to try and force change upon yourself but to take into account who you really are so you can come up with a plan that works for you.
3. Change your eating habits, one step at a time
Once you're clear on what to expect, you've taken your lifestyle into account, and you know which are your blocks or triggers around food, you can go ahead and make a custom, realistic eating plan by gradually adopting new habits. This way you'll have great chances to actually stick to your plan.
For example, first you could decide the only change you're making is to drink four large glasses of water throughout your day. And you do just that until it becomes a habit. Then, you could start being mindful and eat until you are full, and then until you are 80 percent full. The third step could be to add vegetables to all your lunches, then to all your dinners, too.
If losing weight was your goal, you'd probably be amazed at the results you'll get from making these simple changes to your eating style. These are just examples, and you'll need to design your eating plan according to your personal goals.
And once you've got a plan that's tailored to your unique needs, make sure you don't let life get in the way. You'll increase your chances to stick to your plan even more. Not letting "life happen" is about putting yourself first, making your plan a priority in your life and saying no to other things. It's about determination and self-care, too.
Anne Ricci is dedicated to helping women eat more real food, boost their energy and feel good in their body. You can join her tribe and get personalized tips at AnnesHealthyKitchen's Community.