Many of the clients I work with have a pretty good handle on what they should be eating. They know which foods are the most nutritious, and they have the access and the resources to make good choices. What often gets in the way, however, is motivation; somewhere along the way the intentions to eat clean lose their “oomph.”
You might think it’s just simple temptation—the overwhelming allure of the donuts in the break room, for example. That’s part of it for sure, but in my experience the root of the problem is simply the way we think about what we eat. To lose weight for the long-run, many people have to change their entire relationship with food.
That’s easier said than done, I know. That’s why I put together a list of top food beliefs that interfere, along with the strategies for overcoming each one.
“Healthy foods are a chore to eat”
I agree that eating bland “diet” foods can be torture, but a healthy, balanced meal can easily be a feast for your senses.
In order to make clean eating a lifestyle rather than a diet, you have to find food you look forward to eating. This means finding foods and recipes that are healthy, but ones you’d enjoy even if they weren’t. Avocado, veggies roasted in olive oil, almond butter, dark chocolate, hummus, and juicy in-season fruits come to mind for me. It might take some experimenting for you to find yours, but it will be worth it once you do, trust me.
“I can’t get full from a healthy meal.”
Many people I counsel don’t actually know what a “healthy” amount of fullness feels like. Because of a tendency to overeat, a lot of people associate the feeling of being too full, or stuffed and sleepy with satisfaction, so meals that result in feeling “just right” seem lacking somehow.
To overcome this, you have to re-calibrate how you define satisfaction. After you eat, you should feel physically well afterwards, like you could go dancing, or for a long walk. At the same time re-classify your former notion of “satisfied” as excessive. This one shift can change what and how much you decide to eat, not due to rules or “shoulds,” but because of how you want to feel afterwards.
When “balanced” is your new “satisfied” you won’t want to overdo it.
“Food makes me happy”
We are practically taught from birth to use food to feel better emotionally. We use food to bond, show affection, reward, celebrate, and comfort. Many advertisements play up this connection, and it’s completely socially acceptable to gift the people you care about with food, commiserate over it, or eat as entertainment. Food truly is one of life’s greatest pleasures, and that’s totally normal.
What isn’t normal, though, is using food as your primary mood booster. I’ve seen clients pay a lot of money for healthy meal delivery services only to eat extras, not because they were hungry, but because they needed a boost after having a rough day at work. You can’t break this pattern overnight, but you can systematically change it.
Start by focusing on the moments you’re tempted to reach for food when you’re not hungry. Zero in on your emotions, and test out different non-food ways of addressing your feelings, whether that’s reaching for the phone to call a loved one or hitting the gym.
You may find that a total re-haul of your habits isn’t required. One of my clients who loved her ritual of brunching with friends to blow off steam learned to enjoy the experience just as much over healthier, lighter fare when she realized that spending time with friends was really what made her happy, not the stacks of pancakes or extra sides of bacon.
“I don’t have enough time”
I hear this a lot, and I can relate. As much as I love to cook and develop recipes I often only have a few minutes to make a meal. On these days, I don’t think about cooking, I think about how I can “assemble” something healthy and filling by combining a few shortcut ingredients.
One of my go-tos is a quick lean protein (like canned tuna or ready to eat vacuum sealed lentils from the produce section) tossed with a little Dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar, and dried Italian herb seasoning, over a bed of greens topped with either sliced avocado or chopped nuts and a side of fresh fruit. Even a smoothie can stand in for a meal if you don’t have time to cook. Stocking your freezer and pantry with items that require little prep can prevent you from resorting to pizza.
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“It’s too hard to be different”
One of the most challenging obstacles my clients face is feeling like healthy eating makes them an outsider, and it’s totally natural to feel this way. When everyone around you is eating whatever they want, as much as they want, it can feel isolating to be the only one with special requirements.
I’ve been in that boat many times, but what makes it OK is believing that what I’m getting out of the effort is more valuable than the comfort of going along with the crowd. The truth is the typical American diet just isn’t healthy. You don’t have to be the girl harping on that fact at the next get-together, but you can remind yourself in the moment that you are making choices that are right for you.
When you want to be healthy and feel well more than you want to be in “the norm” you won’t mind standing out from the crowd.
Cynthia Sass is a nutritionist and registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Yankees, previously worked with three other professional sports teams, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Cynthia is a three-time New York Times best-selling author, and her brand new book is Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches with Real Food, Real Fast. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.