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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".