We create health habits by making one small change at a time
Let’s face it, most people want to be healthier right? The unfortunate thing is that most of us find it really hard to change our habits, and inevitably that’s what the latest diet fads demand of us. In the beginning we might Google the guidelines of the latest diet craze and for a few days we’ll follow the instructions to the letter. But soon enough we notice we’re having to cut out all the foods and drinks we love, we become overwhelmed and before we know it we’ve thrown in the towel.
In practice, I often find that if a patient cuts out all their unhealthy go-to foods before they’re ready, they relapse and may even start eating worse than they did beforehand! No one wants to feel deprived and a big part of eating and enjoying food is feeling satisfied.
So how do we create healthy habits that last?
With small dietary changes, most people will find they don’t feel deprived as their tastebuds will slowly change to enjoy the taste of healthier foods. On the flip side, really sweet and salty foods will taste just that… really sweet or really salty. Most will start finding these foods less enticing and start opting for healthier options instead. This is how you achieve healthy habits that can last a lifetime!
So where do we start?
The First Step
The first step I get patients to take is to simply change just one meal and one beverage per day for 7 days. For instance if someone drinks 3 coffees a day, I ask them to drink 2 and replace one with something like green tea. Green tea is lower in caffeine and it also contains polyphenols which have the ability to reduce pathogenic bacteria in our gut and at the same time increase the beneficial bacteria.1 And a healthy gut means less bloating, more regular bowel movements and believe it or not improved hormone balance. Making this one seemingly-small change, and perhaps also swapping their lunchtime sandwich for a salad, means they’ve essentially altered their diet by a third! That’s huge and they’re only one week in.
The Second Step
Secondly, I ask patients to increase their vegetable intake in one of their daily meals. The rule of thumb here is to replace any processed carbohydrate (pasta, white bread, etc) with vegetables and aim to make your plate half veggies! The goal is to create a rainbow plate—ensure your plate contains a variety of colours because each colour has its own anti-oxidant activity.
Veggies are high in polyphenols (anti-oxidants), especially colourful vegetables like broccoli, red onion and black olives. Polyphenols have a broad acting effect and have been studied to have anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, neuro-protective and anti-ageing effects.2
Other small changes that lead to lasting healthy habits
On top of these small changes, there are many other ways you can tweak your diet to achieve awesome improvements to your health. Here are some of my favourites:
- Decrease the sugar/sweetener in your coffee or tea by ¼ tsp every week—you’ll be surprised how quickly your tastebuds will adapt
- Drink one less cup of soft drink each day and replace with water—sparkling water with a squeeze of fresh lime is a delicious replacement!
- If you want something a bit sweet to drink, experiment with Kombucha instead
- Use condiments that are lower in sugar
- Increase your vegetable intake—you’ll feel fuller for longer as well as gobble up a bucketload more valuable vitamins and minerals
- Replace instant coffee with real coffee—nothing beats the real thing anyway!
- Use organic milk in your coffee or tea
- Replace white bread, white rice or pasta with wholegrain products
- Change your snacks to nuts, vegetable sticks, fruit, healthy smoothies, yoghurt, etc.
- Drink water instead of juice, cordial or soft drink
- Try to make foods from scratch such as biscuits, meals and sauces—This means less preservatives and is a great way of seeing exactly how much sugar,oil and salt goes into the foods we eat.
The Bottom Line
Healthy changes do not have to be a struggle. When you start opting for the healthier option, it will soon become second-nature and eventually a habit that can last a lifetime. Don’t be discouraged by seemingly small changes. Every small change can have a snowball effect which make drastic improvements to your health long-term. You will soon be on the road to the healthier life you’ve always wanted!