Breaking Bad was my favorite TV show. How does a mild-mannered science teacher like Walter White make the transition right in front of our eyes to evil drug lord, Heisenberg? It happens quite the same way as we make shifts in our lives, one small decision at a time.
If your holidays were filled with booze and biscuits rather than barbells and bananas, then the new year might feel like a fresh start, which is excellent. But be careful not to fall into the all-or-nothing trap. If you make a self-promise to live off of kale and carrots and swear off all sweets and indulgences for the rest of your life, you’re likely to fall back into bad habits faster than Jesse can say, “Science, B*****S!”
Extreme deprivation almost always leads to binging or failing at some point. If we strive for perfection and fall short of that unattainable goal (after a couple of days, weeks or months), we tend to give up entirely, until we’re ready to start the cycle over again.
If we start our year off with juice cleanses, restrictive fad diets, or a nutrition challenge that promotes unsustainable behaviors, we’re more likely to fall back into old patterns and end up worse than we started, because now on top of not doing what we said we would do, we feel bad too. But we didn’t fail, the diet, challenge or cleanse failed us. It made unrealistic promises. There’s a better way to break bad eating habits than to go to the extremes.
PROGRESS NOT PERFECTION
How do you break bad eating choices? Strive to make better bad choices. Let me explain.
Hubby and I resolved to reduce the number of restaurant meals we eat dramatically. Things got out of hand at the end of the year. We went from hardly ever eating out to eating out almost once a day over the holiday break. We knew we let this unhealthy habit get a little out of control, so we committed to scale way back and eat most of our meals at home, especially in January as we try to break our newly-formed bad habit.
We were in a routine of eating gyros for lunch after the gym on Friday so when the first Friday after the New Year rolled around, damn our resolution, I wanted gyros! We didn’t go out all week. We deserved it!
To strive for progress, not perfection, we chose to go to the gyro restaurant and order a gyro salad with dressing on the side and water. We reduced the calories by removing the pita bread, having dressing on the side, and drinking water. We still enjoyed the taste of gyros.
We got to enjoy our regular routine without feeling deprived. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a significant improvement on our weekly Friday lunch. It was a practical solution to not feeling deprived while working towards our goals. Maybe we’ll skip a week, and only go every other Friday, and eventually just occasionally. All of these steps are progress, even if they’re not perfect, but they help us stay on track for our goals without the extreme measures that often backfire.
If every time you sat down to eat a meal you thought, “How can I make this a little better” you’ll be well on your way to a sustainable, healthy lifestyle. Throw perfect out the window.
THE “DON’T BUY IT” DIET
My favorite strategy to reduce the amount of junk food I eat is the “don’t buy it” diet.
It means if you don’t buy it in the first place, it is not in the house you’re less likely to be tempted by unhealthy foods. If you make junk foods inconvenient, they are easier to resist. You may eat a cookie when your husband leaves the package out on the kitchen counter, but if you threaten his life if he brings cookies in the house, you don’t even miss them; The cookies, not the husband. (Kidding! Don’t threaten your spouse!)
You’ll reach for what is available and convenient, and this week in my house that is fruit, chopped veggies, and unsalted nuts. If you are really craving ice-cream at 10 PM will you put on your shoes and drive to the store or settle for what is your pantry? Usually, I am lazier than my craving is strong.
SWAP UNHEALTHY FOODS WITH HEALTHIER ALTERNATIVES
My third strategy to break bad eating choices is to replace unhealthy foods and drinks with healthier alternatives. If you have a unhealthy eating habit that you’d like to break, you don’t necessarily need to break the routine, only the food associated with it.
Enjoy pizza every Friday night? Make a homemade pizza loaded with veggies instead of ordering delivery.
Like soda with lunch? Try replacing your soda habit with fizzy seltzer water. Start with just one day of the week, then slowly increase the number of days you drink sparkling water instead of soda.
Try replacing your nightly glass of wine with a cup of hot (caffeine free) tea; both can feel relaxing to sip on in the evening. Start by reducing the number of nights you have the wine.
Replace ice-cream after dinner with plain Greek yogurt with fruit or berries (or a low calorie ice-cream alternative). Save the ice-cream for a special occasion when it means something to you.
Almost any food has a healthier alternative, especially when made from scratch at home. (Anyone have a good homemade gyro recipe?) It’s not about being perfect but looking to improve from where you are today.
If you have a new year’s resolution to eat healthier, the best way to achieve that goal is to aim to eat whole foods from nature, while allowing some grace for slip-ups and indulgences. No one is perfect. Extreme measures aren’t necessary (and they often backfire). Do the best you can with what is reasonably available and always strive for just a little bit better. It’s the sane and sustainable way to a healthy lifestyle.
If you think my taste is TV shows is outdated, you’ll like my next nutrition-based blog post called Games of Scones. Kidding! But seriously, I need some new TV show recommendations (you know, for the treadmill). Any ideas for me?
Did you like this post? Do you know someone who might benefit? It helps me when you share with your friends and followers.