Here you are. You want to become a healthier person and you know your diet could use a major overhaul. But where do you start? Should you go cold turkey and give up all of your bad eating habits, or should you gradually make changes to your diet? If you're someone who is new to healthy eating, the task of transitioning from eating junk food every day to eating healthy meals and snacks can seem insurmountable. However, the hardest part is just getting started. After you make the decision that you're going to make healthy eating a priority in your life, it gets easier each day.
If you truly want to be successful at losing weight, you need to make gradual changes that you can sustain for a lifetime. Research has consistently shown that the slower you lose the weight, the more likely you are to actually keep it off for good. Smaller, realistic, achievable changes over time will ensure you can succeed without causing burnout or frustration.
Start by getting rid of just one to two unhealthy items at first--eliminating these foods for several weeks. Reassess your dietary habits every couple of weeks and see what new, small changes you can make. After several weeks, you'll see the number on the scale going down and it'll motivate you to make more changes, and you'll realize it doesn't have to be done all at once. Every two weeks, set a new goal, making small changes each time.
What Can Be Given Up?
A good starting point is giving up soda or any other high-calorie beverage. Frozen cappuccino, anyone? Since we don't feel as full from liquid calories as we do from solid foods, this is an easy way to cut calories from your diet (leading to weight loss) without making you feel like you're hungry all of the time.
An Easy Way to Cut Down Calories
Another way to ease into healthier eating is to cut back on the number of times you eat fast-food or restaurant meals. It's almost impossible to avoid dining out completely because it's often a social event, but you can make it less of a habit. However often you previously dined out (fast-food or restaurant), cut that frequency in half for several weeks. If you used to dine out four times a week, try only doing it twice a week for two to three weeks. Then, cut that frequency in half again--dining out only once a week. Continue this cycle and you'll likely lose weight while saving money too. Going out to eat should become more of a celebratory or special occasion experience rather than the norm.
If you have dessert after every dinner, try enjoying a dessert just once or twice a week. This will cut calories and you may find that you'll truly savor those once weekly desserts much more than when you had it every day.
High to Low
Consider slowly transitioning from a high-calorie version of a food to a lower-calorie version of that same food rather than avoiding it altogether. For example, if you always drank whole-milk, you're probably not going to switch over to skim milk and instantly love it. Instead, try drinking 2% milk for a few weeks and then transition over to 1% for a few weeks, and eventually switch to skim milk several weeks after that. Another example is switching over from full-fat cheese to a light or reduced-fat cheese. It'll still have enough fat to taste good and have a nice creamy texture, but it's not so low in fat (such as fat-free cheese) that it's unpalatable. You'll shave off calories without really noticing a taste difference.
Don't Overdo It
Finally, make sure you don't drastically cut your calories so low that you're hungry all of the time. Slowly reduce the number of the calories you have a day while still taking in enough to fuel your body. Fill up on low-calorie foods, like fruits and vegetables. Drink plenty of water, get a good night's sleep, and do some physical activity every day.
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Kari Hartel, RD, LD is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian and freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO. Kari is passionate about nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease through a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Kari holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and is committed to helping people lead healthy lives. She completed a yearlong dietetic internship at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, IL, where she worked with a multitude of clients and patients with complicated diagnoses. She planned, marketed, and implemented nutrition education programs and cooking demonstrations for the general public as well as for special populations, including patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, obesity, and school-aged children. Contact Kari at KariHartelRD@gmail.com.