Making any kind of change in the way you live your daily life is like being on a path. The path leads to success. Here are the first steps on that path:
- Have your own reason for healthier eating. Do it because you want to, not because someone else wants you to. You are more likely to have success.
- Set goals. Include long-term goals as well as short-term goals that you can measure easily.
- Think about what might get in your way, and prepare for slip-ups.
- Get support from your family, your doctor, your friends-and from yourself.
- Keep track of your progress. It can help motivate you to do more and help encourage you when you feel discouraged.
1. Have your own reason for healthier eating.
Your reason for healthy eating is really important. Don't do it just because your spouse, friend, or someone else wants you to. What makes you want to change how you eat?
- Want to feel better and have more energy?
- Want to improve your health?
- Want to prevent or treat health problems, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes?
- Have another reason for wanting to do this?
Whatever your reason, you may already know what areas you want to work on. Maybe you want to cut back on high-fat snacks or eat more high-fiber foods.
If you aren't sure where to start, keeping a food diary(What is a PDF document?) can help. For a week or two, write down everything you eat. It will help you see which foods you need to eat more of and which foods you're eating too much of. Then compare what you are eating to the food-serving recommendations from the USDA food guide.
2. Set goals you can reach.
Ask yourself if you feel ready to begin taking steps toward big goals. If you're not ready yet, try to pick a date when you will start making small changes. Any healthy change-no matter how small-is a good start.
When you are clear about your reasons for wanting to make a change, it's time to set your goals.
- Long-term goals: These are goals that you want to reach in 6 to 12 months. A long-term goal might be to eat 7 servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
- Short-term goals: You may not be ready for 7 servings a day just yet. What are the short-term goals that will help you get there? Your first small goal might be to eat 1 serving of fruit at breakfast each day. As soon as you've reached that goal, you can set a new one by adding a serving of fruits or vegetables to your lunch or dinner. Or you could try eating a piece of fruit as a snack every day.
- Updated goals: It will help you stay motivated if you track your progress and update your goals as you move forward.
Tips for setting goals
- Focus on small goals. This will help you reach larger goals over time. With smaller goals, you'll have success more often, which will help you stay with it.
- Write down your goals. This will help you remember, and you'll have a clearer idea of what you want to achieve. Make a personal action plan(What is a PDF document?) where you can record your goals. Hang up your plan where you will see it often. It will remind you of what you're trying to do.
- Make your goals specific. Specific goals help you measure your progress and adjust your plan. For example, setting a goal to eat 2 servings of vegetables each day is better than a general goal to "eat more vegetables."
- Focus on one goal at a time. By doing this, you're less likely to feel overwhelmed and then give up.
- As soon as you reach a goal, set a new one.
One Woman's Story:
"I didn't try to completely redo my whole diet. I focused on things that seemed reasonable at the time."-Dawn
3. Prepare for slip-ups.
It's perfectly normal to try to change a habit, go along fine for a while, and then have a setback. Lots of people try and try again before they reach their goals.
What are the things that might cause a setback for you? If you've tried to make lifestyle changes before, think about what helped you and what got in your way.
By thinking about these barriers now, you'll be better prepared to deal with them if they happen.
"It takes a lot of time to prepare vegetables."
"Fruits and vegetables are expensive."
"I eat out a lot at restaurants."
One Man's Story:
"I know the things that I like to eat, like baked goods, cookies, and stuff like that. I know that I'm never going to stop liking those."-Jeremy
4. Get support
The more support you have for eating healthier, the easier it is to make the change.
Tips for getting support
- Get a partner. It will motivate you to know that your partner is doing the same thing and may be counting on you to help him or her succeed. That person can also remind you how far you've come.
- Get friends and family involved. Don't be afraid to tell them that their encouragement makes a big difference to you.
- Give yourself positive reinforcement. When you feel like giving up, don't waste energy feeling bad about yourself. Remember your reason for wanting to change, think about the progress you've made, and give yourself a pep talk and a pat on the back.
One Woman's Story:
"It does help to have partners and buddies that are going through this."-Loralie
5. Keep track of your progress.
Keeping track of your progress helps you see how far you've come. It can help motivate you to do more and help encourage you when you get off track.
- Use a notebook, journal, or calendar to keep track of the healthy things you do. Look this over when you begin to doubt yourself or feel discouraged.
- Pay attention to how you feel. Can you notice any difference when you are eating better?
- Notice whether your desire for certain foods changes. As you change how you eat, you'll learn to like new foods. You may lose your taste for some of the foods you ate before.
- If you follow a specific healthy eating plan because of a health problem, look over any lab tests or other health measurements you might have. You may notice improvements.
- If you have diabetes, blood sugar tests will tell you if healthier eating is helping you manage your diabetes.
- If you have high cholesterol, a blood test can measure if healthy eating is improving your cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
- If you have high blood pressure, frequent checks will let you know if it is improving.
- Every time you meet a goal, reward yourself. See a movie, buy a new book, or do something else you love.