Slowly Substitute Healthier Food Options (212/365)

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Anyone who has ever paid attention to their health, even a little, knows that there is some correlation between their personal health and well being and what they choose to eat. Eating a well-balanced and relatively low calorie diet is good for almost anyone (though you’ll find yourself getting into a lot of debate when you get more specific than that).

A change in your food habits that leads to a well-balanced and relatively low calorie diet will pay dividends both in your immediate food bill but also in your long term health costs, your personal energy level, and your appearance.

At the same time, anyone who has attempted to make radical changes to their diet all at once has found it very, very difficult to stick with. We are creatures of habit on both a mental and a biochemical level, and there is a very strong push to maintain our current diet.

So, what do we do? Yesterday, I talked about utilizing a “buddy” to help with adopting a positive new habit in your life. Today, we’re going to look at the benefits of taking it one step at a time.

Slowly Substitute Healthier Food Options (212/365)

For me – and for most of the peole I’ve interacted with in my life – the key to success with any challenging habit is to take steps that are sustainable above all else. If you can’t sustain a particular routine in your life, you’re going to revert back to your previous routine.

Buddies help you build sustainable routines, of course, but another strong tactic is to simply take it gradually. Adopt a single new tactic – or a very limited number of them – and focus entirely on making those work in your life.

That’s not to say that there aren’t situations where you can throw a bunch of new habits at your life at once and make it work. Sometimes, people are faced with a major shift in their lives that forces them to make changes – or there’s a major value shift that causes them to re-think everything.

Most of the time, though, shifting a bunch of habits at once is very difficult and incredibly hard to sustain.

I’ll give you a specific example from my own life. One of my major personal goals has been to drop weight in a sustainable fashion, and I have seen success over a long period of time. My weight today is a good thirty pounds lighter than it was when I started focusing on my health, and it’s sunstainably lower. Over time, it continues to inch downward.

How do I sustain that change? I usually focus on one specific change at a time, usually a diet-related change. I’ll focus on eliminating a particular food from my diet, for example, and I’ll use that as a reason to expose myself to new recipes and foods. During a period where I avoided wheat, for example, I discovered quinoa, which has become a food that I enjoy very much.

Gradually, my diet has become much healthier than it was before. I am naturally drawn to better choices because I now know a lot of healthy foods that I really like. Without making a lot of small steps, I wouldn’t have this repertoire of healthy foods and I wouldn’t find it natural to choose them.

Right now, my primary habit change is simply to establish that a day that includes a nice, long walk is a normal day, whereas a day without one is not a normal day. I’m doing this by slowly incorporating a morning walk into my routines. I’m not so much worried about distance or pace at this point, just the idea that a morning walk is what I normally do.

If you want to slowly change your diet to a more sustainable and healthy one, try changing one specific thing about your diet. For example, just decide that when you go out to eat, you’ll only order water for a beverage. Change nothing else and wait a bit until that feels normal. Then, you might change it so that whenever you order a salad, you order the dressing on the side and apply it yourself. You might decide to stop buying whatever the least healthy snack is that you keep in your home. You might decide to order one breakfast burrito instead of two each morning. You decide to fill up your drawer at work with a healthy snack (like nuts) instead of less-healthy ones. Aside from these changes, you change nothing else in your life.

Once one change feels normal and completely sustainable, add another. Keep doing this until you gradually begin seeing results while still being happy with the choices you’re making. It takes time, sure, but if you do it this way, it will be a permanent change, and that’s the kind of change thar eally earns long-term dividends.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

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