The top 5 things that you need to do in order to stick to a healthy diet (Hint: none of them is willpower)

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Many of us today are constantly trying to find ways either to lose excess weight or to maintain our weight. Either way, unfortunately for many of us, it is often a losing battle. Lack of healthy eating habits is one of the biggest reasons why so many of us struggle to achieve our health and wellness goals. Also, as I remind my clients often, weight loss is just one small part of becoming healthy. But this is not to say that we are all to blame for this. Infact, the actual reason is often the most overlooked one- our environment (and this is what I have written about in this post). 

(My earlier post was on HOW we eat and why it matters, click HERE to read it. Also, as far as losing weight is concerned, I've got you covered- please check out one of my earlier posts on this topic-What is holding you back from losing weight?)

Healthy eating habits are at the very core of any sustainable health and wellness goals which includes weight loss. What I find, however (both in my personal as well as professional life) is that just by knowing what foods to eat, focusing on the quality of the foods and the way we eat them is NOT ENOUGH. The missing piece of this puzzle is our external environment which can easily hijack our attempts in very subtle as well as more obvious manner.

An unfortunate reality in our modern world is that there are many external forces at play here which can make it really difficult for us to make healthy choices when it comes to buying food. And unless we are aware of these forces and have a strategy in place to counteract them, we are often at their mercy. And we pay a price for this in terms of our own health as well as our children's health. What makes it even more difficult for us to appreciate the magnitude of this issue is that the effects of our daily choices are only visible mostly in the long run.

But before you start blaming yourself, read what Dr Mark Hyman has to say about the way the food industry works today

Our taste buds have been hijacked by the food and diet industry. We are programmed to like sweet, salt, and fat tastes. And those slick combinations of sugar, fat and salt in junk and processed food have hijacked our taste buds, our brain chemistry, and our metabolism. These foods are biologically addictive. We are held hostage by the food industry and we blame ourselves.

The good thing is that we can take back our health by taking back our kitchen. We can use real, fresh, unprocessed and wholesome foods to undo the effects of our external world. I know that if I can educate women like you to make the right choices, everyone benefits- one family at a time. An example of how this can work in real life is one that I would like to share from my own life.

Recently, in the building complex that I reside in Mumbai, two grocery stores have opened up recently to serve about 400 odd families. While I am really happy about the convenience and ease this has brought to my life, I am also apprehensive about the effects that it will have on our health and that of our children in particular. Nowadays, I often see younger and older children purchasing artificially coloured and flavoured, highly processed and refined foods or “edible food-like substances” (as the author/journalist/activist Micael Pollan calls these foods) on a regular basis.

Fortunately for me, my children have been made well aware of the connection between the foods that they eat and how it affects their mood, body and energy levels and it protects them from the temptation to a large extent. But it is still quite difficult for them to resist the allure when they see their friends having these foods. 

Many people are simply not aware of the dangers of these nutrient poor foods which can wreak havoc due to the presence of additives (like artificial flavourings and colourings). These are neurotoxic, damage gut health and are filled with hidden sugars contributing to inflammation and/or obesity.

However, the good news is that once we are made aware of these hidden dangers, we can do a LOT about a situation like this. We can come together and have a say in the types of foods that we want our children to be exposed to on a regular basis in their external environment. (This is something that I intend to work on with a few other mothers in the near future).

And indeed, designing our environment to help us inculcate healthy eating habits is the first of 5 tips that I would like to share with you.

Read on to find out more.

1.Design your environment

We can design our environment so that we do can avoid using our willpower to resist temptation. Willpower is vastly overrated and I have written an entire blog post about this, read it HERE. In order to stick to a healthy diet we need to ensure that we are not surrounded by the very foods we are trying to avoid. If you are tired at the end of a long day and reach for a snack, you are extremely likely to reach for sweets, cookies and other sweet goodies that you have in your house.

Similarly, if you do not want your child to eat something that you know is unhealthy, do not get it into your house. It is that simple.

2. Make a list and then choose 1 or 2 

There are many things that we may need to do in order to eat healthily and often this entire process can become quite overwhelming for most people. You may be one of those women who is juggling responsibilities at work, caring for your child (or children) and managing your home. There hardly seems to be any time or even energy left for you stick to a healthy diet for your self.

What I find works really well for my clients is that we first discuss and make a list of things that they need to do in order to eat healthily

  • Buy and switch to groceries which are healthier alternatives to the ones they are buying currently
  • Make healthy, nutrient dense foods like salads, soups, smoothies
  • Meal planning for themselves and their families
  • Take out the  time to enjoy and savour their meals

Once we have made this list, my clients choose 1 to 2 (maximum) that they would like to prioritise and take action on FIRST. They know that this needs to be done on a consistent basis and it really does not matter how small this step is. What is more important is that they once they have decided, they need to take action on a consistent basis.

3. Adopt a proper eating hygiene

Eating hygiene is often an overlooked and neglected aspect of having a healthy eating habit. And even though I have written a separate blog post about it (you can read it HERE) it is important enough to be included in this post as well. Infact, this is often the place I start with most of my clients. While eating the right foods is extremely important, HOW we eat is instrumental in determining how well our digestion and absorption processes will work. 

So switch off your TV (screen or gadget) and put away your smart phones every time you sit down to have a meal. Take the time to savour your food and enjoy this time with your family (if possible) and see the difference that it makes.

4. Use smaller and dark coloured plates when trying to lose weight

This is a very simple yet effective weight for controlling the portion of food that you are consuming especially if you are trying to curb overeating. The smaller plate will make the amount of food look larger to your mind due to a powerful optical illusion called Delboeuf Illusion. This illusion makes us think things are smaller than they are when compared to things which are larger. 

The second part is all about high contrasting colours between your plate and your food. If you use dark coloured plates like red or green, it can prevent you from taking an extra helping, especially if the colour of your food does not match that of the plate. This way you do not have to depend entirely on your motivation and willpower to stick to a healthy diet.

5. Create a new identity

According to the author of Atomic Habits by James Clear, one of the most important things we can do for ourselves when trying to change our habits is to create a new identity. Believing new things about ourselves is key in sticking to healthy habits. Our thoughts shape the beliefs that we have about the type of person we are and in turn, this determines our behaviour. It follows that if we want to build new habits we should carve out new identities to help us do that.

As James Clear says

“Many people begin the process of changing their habits by focusing on what they want to achieve. This leads us to outcome-based habits. The alternative is to build identity-based habits. With this approach, we start by focusing on who we wish to become.”

When we start believing in the person that we would like to be, we can often find the steps that we need to take in order to be that person. If you are trying to stick to a healthy diet or to lose weight, you need to be clear on what your values are and what you stand for as a person. A bit of self awareness is key here as it will give you the clarity you need to visualise the changes that you want to see in your life.

In other words, if you would like to

create healthy eating habits, the identity that you may want to identify with is that you are the kind of person who chooses whole, unprocessed foods over refined, packaged and processed ones.

 become fitter, you may wish to identify yourself as the kind of person who moves every single day- no matter what. Whether it is for 10 min or 60 minutes, you are the person who takes the time out for yourself.

 lose weight, you may wish to identify yourself as the kind of person who pays attention to the foods that you eat as well as your body’s requirement for nutritious food.

One key aspect of this last point, however, is that is also important to celebrate every small bit of progress that you make. It is these small wins that will help you build momentum and keep you going. 

There you have it! My top 5 tips for sticking to a healthy diet by which will ultimately mover you closer towards your own health and wellness goals.  It all starts with becoming aware of where you stand and then taking one step at a time, repeating it every single day. 

As Wayne Dyer had said

"Healthy habits are learned the same way as unhealthy ones- through practice".

What you are NOT asking about healthy eating but definitely should (especially if you are struggling with weight issues)

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Are you struggling to lose weight?

Are you struggling to maintain your weight in spite of watching everything you eat and making sure it is healthy and wholesome?

Are you interested in going beyond healthy foods and the right “diet” to improve your health outcomes?

If you answered YES to any of these questions then this blog post is for you

These are some common health issues that my clients face. We address these as a part of complex chronic health conditions in my health coaching practice every single day. 

One of the questions that I get asked a lot at work and elsewhere is about which foods should one be eating or which particular “diet” they should be following. Since nutrition is a major part of my coaching practice, I discuss this in great details with my clients and come up with customised food plan solutions for each individual based on what their body needs at that time to heal. 

However, what I am most certainly NOT asked is about HOW they should be eating. We all know that the right type of foods makes a huge difference in our health outcomes but what we may not realise that it is equally important HOW we are eating and WHEN.

In this post, I have decided to share with you some of the key interventions that I introduce early in my coaching sessions regarding how we should all be eating in order to ensure maximum absorption of nutrients. This is often the missing piece in terms of seeing the health outcomes that my clients have been seeking for many years. This is particularly true for those who have been struggling to lose weight in spite of being focussed on eating healthy and wholesome foods. 

When hungry, just eat

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Except that many of us are struggling with knowing what to eat and when and have quite a complicated relationship with food. As infants and young children, we know intuitively what and how much to eat to satisfy our hunger. However, pretty soon as we start growing up food starts to serve many other purposes- to soothe, to distract, to entertain, to numb, to reward and even to punish. 

What was once a healthy, meaningful and simple relationship gets entangled in all sorts of thoughts and emotions many of which are not constructive.

Our simple cues of hunger and satisfaction get hijacked by our conditioning and our minds. Where we were once completely tuned in to our bodies and used our intuition to guide us to healthy eating habits and food choices, we struggle to do so once we become adults.

What we need to keep in mind here is that it is not constructive and fruitful to assign blame to people and situations that led us to this place. It is, however extremely empowering for us to realise that we have the power within ourselves to first become aware of this conditioning and then do what is necessary to change our habits and negative patterns that have become a way of life.

One bite (or sip) at a time

How many times have you sat down to eat your food while watching your favourite show or while doing something on your phone only to finish your food without any real recollection of the taste, smell and any real sense of satisfaction?

We have a cardinal rule in our house: no phones at the table. At all.

This applies to our guests and all the family members. With a 13 yo and an almost 10 yo it becomes extremely critical for my husband and me to portray what kind of habits we want them to develop while eating. It doesn't really matter how young or old our children may be, as parents we are most certainly  ROLE MODELS for our children and we need to lead by example.

The point I am making is this. Whether we are working on our own health issues or trying to inculcate good habits in our children, the process is really the same. And it all starts by developing awareness. And this does not need to extremely complicated. Start by taking a small step today.

“Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best,” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called."

A. A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner

 

Do this: when you have your first cup of tea (or coffee) in the morning, take your time to really savour it. Take a few extra moments and notice the colour and the aroma of the tea. Feel the liquid in your mouth and throat as you take a small sip. Notice the warmth as it goes down your throat and allow it to fill your body with its warmth and flavour. Repeat this till the cup is empty. If possible, take a moment to thank the people and the process behind the cup of tea that you hold in your hand.

 

A mind (not food) journal  

You may already be aware of the concept of keeping a food journal or using some kind of tracker to track the number of calories or even the categories of foods you are consuming. This is usually quite common in most of the traditional “diets”, especially where weight loss is concerned.  

We eat to satisfy many types of hunger beyond the obvious physiological needs that we have as living beings. We eat to feed the hunger of our eyes, our hunger for aroma, for sensations and our minds.

We eat when we are....

Lonely

Sad

Heartbroken

However, you must understand that no matter how much food we put in our stomach, it can never satisfy or ease the emptiness in our hearts. This is where a mood journal can help you to understand why you eat. While doing this it is very important to use a compassionate and kind voice and not judge yourself for the choices that you are making right now as this process can become counterproductive otherwise. Remember, this is to help you to become more aware and in tune with your eating habits.

The mood journal can be written using the various prompts given below. 

Track the foods that you are eating for a month and write down how they affect your mind, body, thoughts, and feelings

What foods do you eat when you are sad or lonely? (make a list of foods)

When you feel like having a snack or a drink in between meals, what were your thoughts and feelings just before you decided to have one?

You may find that some patterns emerge as a common threat across different situations that help you to understand your eating habits. In time you may also learn to make healthy substitutions and find alternatives to take care of yourself without using food as a crutch. Sometimes overeating and mindless eating are just tips of the iceberg. Food is more easily obtainable and more socially acceptable than other types of addiction and since we must eat every day it can be really easy to become a slave to our need for food.

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion”

—Dalai Lama

The solution, however, is not to judge or criticise ourselves every time you overeat or eat foods that you know are not good for you. A very important part of changing your eating habits is to first change the way you talk to yourself. This is often the most difficult part of the journey for my clients. However, self compassion is indeed the way out to break free from the vicious cycle of overeating, self criticism and shame.

Given below are 5 steps that you can take today to practice self awareness and tap into your intuition to guide you to make healthier choices-

Sit down at the table for each and every meal including all snacks so that you can slow down every time you eat

Notice how you are eating- fast or slow? Mindlessly munching or enjoying each bite?

Stop multitasking and focus on the food in front of you (having a conversation with loved ones however, is not a distraction)

Notice how “hungry” you really are on a scale of 1 to 10 and try and eat accordingly

Bring into your awareness feelings of gratitude for those who were involved in bringing this food to your table (right from the farmer to the cook)

As you do this exercise you may notice your relationship with food changes over time. You may find that as you become more tuned in to your body, you start making healthier choices and start to develop healthy eating habits. You may also find that you are able to stop using food to satisfy your needs and are finally free to find other ways of soothing and taking care of yourself. Most importantly, you are able to let go of following a certain "diet" and start eating what is right for YOU. 

(However, in today’s modern world there are many external triggers and forces at play which are capable of drowning out these inner voices of wisdom and intuition. In the follow up post next week I focus on these external aspects of eating by redesigning our environment and putting in place some strategies that have been shown to work.)

What is holding you back from losing weight?

Reading Time: 7 minutes

(In this article I cover the basics of the underlying mechanism beneath weight gain as well as the confusion regarding choosing the right "diet". In the second part of this article, I will share some of the simple and effective ways that can help you focus on the right "diet" for you which is an integral part of the weight loss process)

 

I had done a recent survey about the health and wellness goals that people have these days. The objective was to uncover the most common goals that people want to work towards as well as the major obstacles that usually come in the way of meeting them. While the sample size was small (under 50), this was the first time I had directly reached out to people like you so that I could fine tune my services and offerings in line with what most of you are struggling with.

Once I analysed the results of the survey, I realised that I had seen similar issues being raised in many other groups and communities that I am a part of around the world. The health issues that we are facing in our societies and communities are not really unique to any particular country or location. Weight loss (in a healthy and sustainable manner) came out as the number one issue on most people's minds everywhere. This is also corroborated by the fact that there is a multibillion-dollar global industry with different "diets", "pills", books, gym memberships and other resources to help us lose weight.

However, as most of us may realise, inspite of all the awareness about exercise and "healthy" diets, there is something missing here, something that is not right. This approach is simply NOT working for most of us. Otherwise, there would not be more people (including children) who are overweight and in many cases, chronically ill.

There would be much less!

Weight loss is usually NOT what I focus on with my clients as the main objective since there is always an underlying reason why your body is holding on to the weight. For our bodies weigh gain is usually a protective as well as a defensive mechanism in order to survive in the environment in which we are asking it to live in.

Many of us are leading a life that is inherently stressful due to

  • poor lifestyle choices like lack of restorative sleep and relaxation practices
  • sedentary lifestyle
  • poor food choices like sugary foods  including beverages, refined carbohydrates and edible food like substances

Is it any wonder that our bodies are struggling to keep us healthy given the circumstances?

In fact, one of the main reasons (there are others as well) that we put on weight in the first place is often a diet that is full of refined carbohydrates containing empty calories (think pasta, breads, pizza, sugary foods and beverages) due to the mechanism of a critical hormone called insulin.

You may not know that insulin

-is released from the pancreas when blood sugar rises

-escorts the sugar out of your blood and into the cells for energy

-promotes limited storage of glycogen (it provides the body with a readily available source of energy if blood glucose levels decrease) by the liver

-triggers fat storage in the body

As a result of the poor food choices mentioned above, many of us have chronic blood sugar spikes leading to cells becoming "insulin resistant" over a period of time making the pancreas work harder and harder to secrete more insulin to FORCE the cells to accept more sugar. Meanwhile, your cells suffer from both low energy and too much sugar as insulin ensures that first the excess glucose is converted into glycogen and stored in the liver and muscle tissue and the rest (excess sugar) as fat. What used to be a life saving mechanism in the distant past when food was scarce and sugar consumption was negligible is now working against us due to our modern lifestyle and diet.

Once you are able to grasp this concept, it becomes that much easier to work WITH our bodies to lose the excess weight rather than AGAINST it. When we finally understand that our body has been only trying to protect us all this while and needs to be given the attention and support that it needs to lose the excess weight, we can start going beyond fad diets and exercises that may not be suiting our unique body types and circumstances.

There is no ONE right "diet"

I come across many people in my practice and elsewhere who are thoroughly confused about what to eat (and what to feed their children). I cannot really blame them given the often contradictory views that are shared on the same topic by different experts and nutritionists. For eg. there is much controversy regarding whether ghee and coconut oil is good OR bad for you; whether we should be on a low carb, high fat or all the other combinations possible in this space and many more. No wonder many people simply give up trying to even make sense of it all! 

Going into all the reasons why there is so much of controversy is beyond the scope of this article, but I will share a few things that are foundational to figuring out the approach that is RIGHT for you. Our individual weight loss journeys are and always will be unique to each of us and needs to happen from a place of strength rather than deprivation or at war with our own bodies and selves. Nourishing our bodies and mind depends on focussing on fresh, plant based foods, healthy proteins and fats which contributes to our optimal weight leading to long term and lasting changes. There is no "calorie counting" which is required.

Please keep in mind that sustainable and healthy weight loss 

is NOT about starvation or deprivation but actually about maintaining good gut health so that our microbiome supports our weight loss endeavour by moving from a fat and sugar processing machine to a fat burning one (read this article to learn more)

depends on addressing chronic underlying inflammation due to insulin resistance and other health conditions; inflammation can also be due to hidden food sensitivities which creates chronic inflammation and prevents our body from shedding excess weight

depends on eating consistently instead of restrictively (calorie wise), our bodies may get the message that food is scarce and become more efficient in extracting more calories in order to ensure our survival

depends on good quality sleep since lack of sleep can increase hunger and food intake primarily due to the effects of the hunger-regulating hormone ghrelin

is difficult when there are nutritional imbalances due to a calorie rich and nutrient poor diet; low nutrition status leads to suboptimal metabolism due to lack of nutrients 

is difficult when we are constantly bombarded by environmental toxins which act as "obesogens" like BPA, phtalates, PFOA and PFTE (found in non stick coating)

What else is holding you back?

There may also be some other more subtle reasons some people are unable to lose weight in a healthy and sustainable manner. You may find that these mental traps are true for you as well.

You are looking at ways to hasten and shorten the process without actually putting in the time and effort required. Infact, I remind my clients that this kind of goal is like a marathon and not a sprint and takes patience, hard work and is best viewed as a transformative process where you are no longer the person you used to be

You dislike or even hate the body that you have right now. Due to the constant bombarding of messages conveyed to us by our society, advertising and media about having the perfect shape, size, skin tone etc many of us struggle with low body image and self esteem

You are trying to lose weight for the wrong reasons. Do your reasons for losing weight align with your internal value system and things that are important to you in your life? If you are losing weight to simply fit into some clothes or to become a "perfect" body size, you may not be able to sustain the weight loss. But if you want to lose weight to finally be able to do what you really want in life as you become healthy and vibrant, it frees you to explore endless possibilities available to you. As a result, you are able to consistently put in the time and effort required to reach your health goals

At the end of the day, a happy and healthy weight is so much more than a mere number on your weighing machine. It is an indication of a body and mind that lives in harmony 

Here is some food for thought which can help you figure out your "WHY"

why is it important for YOU to lose weight?

what is the ONE or TWO main things that have held you back from losing weight before?

What is the FIRST step that you can take today to get you started on your own health journey?

 

I would love to hear from you!

Please make sure that you take out some time to REALLY think through these questions and write them down. Better yet, you can either share your thoughts in the comment section below or connect with me on my FB page "Nourish Heal Connect"