A common challenge for many of my clients is the initial grind of sticking to special diets. While each diet holds the promise of helping people feel better, lose weight, or live a healthier life, the changes demanded can be difficult to stomach.
As a wellness coach, I am always helping clients walk the fine line between making progress, and pushing too hard. Going too hard, of course, can cause people to become discouraged before they even start.
In my experience, the following four steps can help you get into the groove of a new diet, after which it becomes easier to remain on track.
Step 1: Focus on what you CAN eat.
Have you noticed that focusing on what you can’t eat often leads to the binge eating of those very things? What silly minds we humans have! Instead, try focusing on what you can eat.
Start with the list of foods in your special diet that you can eat. Then, highlight the ones that are already favorites.
Next, many diets list foods that are new to you, so try them, and add any you like to your list of favorites.
Finally, most foods that need to be eliminated from a person’s diet have yummy substitutes. Yes, it’s true! So, make sure you identify these and add them to your list.
Once you have done that, it is likely you will have quite a list of foods that you can look forward to and incorporate into new dishes and recipes.
Step 2: Focus on the positive effects you EXPECT from your special diet
Why are you considering a special diet in the first place? To lose weight? Relieve stomach pain? Eliminate an allergic or autoimmune response? Reduce the need for drugs? Boost your energy levels? Increase your focus and concentration?
These are common physical reasons for dieting. But what about the more heart-centered reasons for doing so? You may want to feel better so you can spend more time with family and friends; experience the special moments in your children’s lives; pursue your own personal dreams; feel more confident in front of others; give back more to others; or, just plain “be you” again.
Remembering the reasons why you are choosing to go on a special diet, and reminding yourself of them constantly, is a powerful way of staying motivated.
Step 3: Focus on making small changes first
There is an old saying that goes like this: “A confused mind does nothing”. This often happens when we try to implement radical dietary changes too suddenly. Once we feel overwhelmed, we then abandon the diet.
Instead of going too hard, too early, consider breaking down the diet into smaller changes that feel more doable. For instance, try switching one meal per day — say, breakfast — to the new diet. Or, make one food substitute first, such as switching almond milk for dairy milk.
The same applies for the food preparation process. Instead of making wholesale cooking changes, focus on one new diet-approved recipe, cooking it in bulk and freezing a portion of it for future meals.
By repeating these small changes, you can create lifetime habits.
Step 4: Maintain focus by seeking help from others
There are many resources to help you succeed with a new diet. There may be books by others who have successfully implemented the diet. A friend may want to make the same change and work through the challenges with you.
Facebook is a great online tool for finding others with similar challenges and identifying people who are willing to give you a lift when you need encouragement. Once things are working for you, you can do the same for others, creating an environment of positive reinforcement.
Or, you can hire a wellness coach to work closely with you, helping you through the challenges and moments where you feel like giving up.
Readying yourself for the challenges
It is rare for special diets to get started without challenges (and grumpiness!). But, if you go into a diet well-prepared, you can ensure you develop long-term habits, and are rewarded for your lifestyle changes.
By focusing on foods you love, reiterating your motivations for going on your diet, changing things a little at a time, and seeking help from others, you will be on your way to a diet of daily dedication, rather than one of drudgery.