5 Tips on Sustaining Diet & Lifestyle Changes

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Diet and lifestyle changes can be intense. They are the basis of what I do as a naturopathic doctor and usually about half of my patient visits are spent counseling people and making adjustments in order to help them continue with their progress.

A good diet and lifestyle can significantly increase your health and decrease your need for medications. But it's a LOT harder than just taking a pill each day! I thought I'd give my top 5 tips in keeping those lifestyle changes going:

  1. Don't make it a big deal with family/friends. If you're going out to eat or going to someone's home and wax and wane about what you're eating for 20 minutes, it can bring a lot of negative attention to your dietary changes. You can always find a lean protein and a veggie at any restaurant, even buffets. If you're going to someone's home where you know they are serving something you no longer eat - simply ask them before hand if you can contribute something. If they're serving something you don't want to eat, have a small portion, or bring your own food, or simply tell them you can't eat that anymore and offer to bring a side dish to share of something you are able to eat. Sadly, I see a lot of dietary changes that are sabotaged by friends and family. Just remember, this is coming from their own fears. Don't take it as a judgement - only you know how much better you feel when you eat right and hopefully over time, they will see those changes in you and want to do the same for themselves. 
  2. Don't put too much pressure on yourself. Diet and lifestyle changes are not temporary - it's not a "diet" you do for a set time, or a workout regimen you try for a week. It's a LIFEstyle change - so it's for life. So many people ask me, "so how long do I have to eat this way?" And my answer is, "how long do you want to be healthy?" You're not going to wake up tomorrow and suddenly eat perfectly and exercise every day. Especially if that is far from what your previous lifestyle was focused on. It's going to take time, so instead of focusing on what you AREN'T doing to reach your goal, go over your successes each day to help inspire yourself to have more successes tomorrow. 
  3. Set realistic goals. Again, as with #2, if you overwhelm yourself with too many changes at once, you are likely to fail. Remember, it takes 21 days to make something routine, so gradually introduce big changes one week, or even two weeks at a time. For example, if you are wanting to remove gluten and dairy from your diet and create a daily exercise routine, don't start them all tomorrow. This week, focus on finding recipes that don't include dairy, next week, try cutting down on the gluten and week 3, pick 2 days where you try a different exercise routine. Our bodies thrive on routine, so if we shake things up too fast or too drastically, it will only make us feel more frazzled which increases our risk of going back to our old habits.
  4. Make moderation your #1 goal. Know that you will be able to have that cake or pizza or dessert again, just not as often as you once did. Once your new dietary changes have become habit and your gut has had time to heal, you will be able to have those things occasionally without it affecting your willpower. Why? Because you're going to feel the difference. When you eat well for what your body needs, and you have a pizza night or a birthday party and wake up the next day with your arthritis flaring, or a belly ache, or a migraine, or that pesky eczema patch that you hadn't seen for weeks pops back up, you will realize the good you are doing for yourself, which will truly help you keep those moments in moderation and/or in much smaller proportions.
  5. Finally, don't let it take over your life. There is actually an eating disorder, called orthorexia, where people can get obsessed with healthy eating to the point where it makes their diet very limited and drastically affects their social lives and relationships. This is not the intent of a healthy diet/lifestyle. We do our best to keep ourselves healthy. Some people like to have a few alcoholic beverages on the weekends, some people like to have a slice of pizza, some people still have a childhood comfort food they like to prepare when they're feeling down…and all of that is ok. The point is, every little change we can make for our health can make a huge difference. By focusing on those positives, instead of the negatives, you will be able to sustain these changes and reap the benefits in the long run!

What have your challenges been in making healthier choices for yourself? What has helped you get through those challenges?