As an (almost) holistic nutritionist I see many people struggling to maintain healthy habits. When you're on a restricted diet (like a gluten free diet) that doesn't automatically mean healthy. It's so easy to go on a restricted diet like a gluten free diet, paleo, aip or vegan and desperately try and replace our favourite foods.
So often I see recipes online like paleo oreos or vegan cookies. We go on these diets and then still find a way to eat high amounts of sugars and unhealthy fats. These foods (cookies, cakes, ice cream, ex.) are what's called hyperpalatable, this means that they exceed basic reward properties of traditional whole foods (like vegetables). These foods, even seemly healthy treats, light up the reward centers in your brain and give you a rush of happiness. Traditional foods on the other hand don't make you feel much of anything. Hyperpalatable foods stimulate the release of opioids and dopamine in the brain and have addictive potential. These healthier versions of treats are meant for special occasions, but it's easy to fall into the trap of eating them all the time.
The internet and the world is full of quick fixes. Eat this food and all your problems will be solved, 6 easy steps to (insert your end goal). Unfortunately in terms of health there is no quick fix, but why is it so hard to be healthy? Because being healthy isn't fun in the short term. It's great in the long term because you feel better, look better and live longer, but our brains don't work that way. Our brains are always looking for the short term gain over long term consequence.
Close your eyes and think about biting into your favorite dessert, then think about biting onto a celery stick. Feel the difference? Everyone knows being healthy is the right thing to do, but eating tasty junk food is a escape. No one is immune to this, even those on social media who make it look like they run 10 k every day and live off of organic vegetables. Were human beings, it's ok to be flawed, it's ok for eating healthy and being healthy to feel hard. It is for everyone!
When you start a diet whether it's for medical reasons like a gluten free diet for those with celiac disease or you're trying to manage a health condition, it's very tempting to just find ways to replace the foods you love. There are healthy replacements, but unhealthy food is still unhealthy food, even if it's missing grains, gluten, dairy or what ever you've eliminated. So how can you make sure you're adding in healthy habits that stick?
1. Start small
If you decide that you're going to make healthy changes don't jump all in. You'll more then likely quickly fall back into old habits. It's easy to get excited about your new motivation to change and tell yourself that you're going to run 5 days a week and eat 8 cups of vegetables a day. Try having a few healthier meals a week and going for a few 10 minute walks. Assess where you are with your health and make a tiny step in the right direction, then go from there.
2. Don't make end goals
This is about changing your lifestyle. If you say I want to have lost this amount of weight by summer, or i'm going on this diet for a month, you're setting end goals. You know what happens at the end? You go back to old habits. Starting a healthy lifestyle is about making forever changes not an end goal.
3. Expect it to be hard
Part of the reason I dislike these quick fix articles are that they set you up to have unrealistic expectations. If you think it's going to be easy you soon find out it isn't and all of a sudden you've given up. Expect it to be hard so when it is you have the strength to move forward and continue. So go into your health goals with the mindset that it will be tough, but you know what's coming, and have the strength to make those changes for good.
4. Listen to your body
There are always trendy diets and there always will be. We are all different and unique, what's healthy for someone may make another ill. Try an elimination diet and figure out what foods work with your body and what foods don't. Learning what healthy foods work best for you is the best thing you can do for your health.
5. Work though issues in your life
The reason you may be eating sugar and junky foods may have an emotional root cause. If you're masking something in your life with feel good foods, working through it may be the key to a healthier life. I truly believe that many of us self medicate with foods and then end up addicted. It's a slippery slope that so many of us find ourselves in. If you focus on your health from a holistic approach and give your mental health some much needed love and attention you many find making healthy choice that much easier.
6. Be kind to yourself
If you fall off the bandwagon and eat a box of cookies that's ok! Just hop right back on the horse and go back to your healthy habits. Don't use it as an excuse to eat a bunch more junk. Don't beat yourself up, it happens to the best of us. The other day after a very long week I ate half a container of dairy free ice cream. I was falling into the trap that we all fall into from time to time (tired, stressed and wanting some sugar). The key is to just start right back on that healthy lifestyle.
7. Use distraction
You know those times like after dinner when the food cravings hit hard, this is the perfect time for distraction. Sign up for a yoga class, go for a walk with a friend, or schedule an activity. You'll be distracting yourself through the craving plus you'll be getting exercise. It's a win win!
8. Focus on adding healthy foods in not eliminating unhealthy ones
Obviously you have eliminated these food groups for a reason. I'm not saying restrictive diets aren't necessary for some to live healthy lives. What i'm saying is focusing on adding more nutritious foods to every meal is just as important as eliminating what's making you sick.
Sure it isn't going to be easy and there will be so many bumps along the way. As I like to say, choose your hard. Being unhealthy leads to chronic illness (or exacerbates the one you have) and that's hard. So start small and before you know it a healthy lifestyle will become a part of your routine. Healthy living is a life long journey full of ups and downs and like most things in life it will be hard. You will make mistakes, you'll fall back into old habits here and there, but you'll learn what works for you and the benefits you see will give you all the motivation you need.