Let’s say you want to make some changes to the way you eat. Perhaps your doctor is threatening meds for that unchecked cholesterol. Or you’ve finally resolved to deal with that leftover baby weight. Maybe you’d like to actually finish that race you signed up for. Whatever the reason, changing your eating habits can be both challenging and overwhelming. How do you even begin to tackle such a feat–especially if it really involves some lifestyle overhaul?
You’ve got to start with where you’re standing…and how did you get here? Your eating habits are very much intertwined with every other aspect of your life, including your upbringing. Nothing occurs in a void. While you could definitely print off some meal plan and dive right in, odds have it you won’t last long and worse, you’ll almost assuredly regain every pound you lost and then some. So instead of adopting some temporary means to a temporary end, why not do a little prep work and change for good?
It all begins with taking inventory…and to do this, you’ve got to start a food journal. Yes, it is a pain. But, if you are serious about making change, it is an essential (and eye-opening) first step. Food journaling can be as simple as recording what foods and beverages you’ve had throughout the day, a great approach for someone wanting to make broad changes to their eating habits. If, however, you’re wanting more specifics regarding your calorie and nutrient intake, you’ll need to put in some due diligence. More detailed food journaling would entail not only recording what you eat and drink, but also how much, when, and why. Fortunately, there are plenty of tools out there that make food journaling much easier than it used to be. While you can definitely go the pen and paper route (most book stores sell food journals in the dieting section, or find one on amazon.com), there are several apps and websites that do all the tracking and number crunching for you–for free.
Below are a few such apps and websites worth checking out. Again, they’re free so you can explore each one and pick the one that suits you best.
- Sparkpeople (app available)
- Calorie Count (app available)
- MyFitnessPal (app available)
- Calorie Counter: Diets & Activities by Arawella (app)
Commit to food journaling for two weeks. In that time, you will begin to see patterns take shape; you’ll start to notice not only what foods you eat on a daily basis, but also which foods you’re not eating. Take a look at all of this excellent information you’ve compiled and ask yourself some questions, such as:
- Am I eating regular meals? If not, why?
- Do I get in a variety of foods from the different food groups (grains/beans/starchy vegetables, fruits, nonstarchy veggies, dairy, protein choices, fats and oils)?
- Do I rely heavily on processed food, fast food, or take-out?
- What am I drinking? How much fat and sugar am I getting from beverages?
- What am I snacking on?
- Do I find myself ravenous at certain times during the day (or night)?
- How do my emotions affect my food choices?
Once you’ve had a chance to take an honest look at the way you eat and have answered these (and other) questions, you can now create some concrete steps toward change. Pick one or two things at a time. Feel free to enlist your friendly, neighborhood dietitian if you feel like you need more help and guidance (don’t we all?). Lifestyle change starts with today. Take it one step at a time and you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish.