Ditch the Fads, Here Are Ways to Make Sustainable Diet Changes

Have you ever gone on a diet? Whether it was medically prescribed or a fad diet you read about online, the answer is most likely a resounding yes. Whether it was a diet to lose weight (most common) or an elimination diet (getting more common), there was probably something that motivated you to make a complete overhaul of your diet. But why? Did this diet stick?

Most likely, the answer to this is no. There are numerous reasons why these complete overhauls don’t tend to last: it could be that an individual lacks motivation, the rules of the diet are too strict or the diet is not individualized. To help you understand a better way of making dietary changes, we are going through the steps on how to move away from the diet overhauls by improving self-reflection, staying true to yourself, and building healthy behaviors for life.

Follow these 4 steps:

Step 1: Reflect on what you would like to change and assess your readiness to make that change

The first step of making a change is to have a good understanding of what and why you want to make that change. For example, say you have been noticing you do not like how you feel throughout the week when you drink alcohol and would like to decrease your intake. The first step is to recognize what you want to change (decrease alcohol intake), when you want to start (I am ready right now!) and what benefits you get from the change (more energy, less unnecessary calories and no hangovers). Having a good understanding of why you want to make a dietary change and the suspected outcomes is important when making the change because it will be a reflection of your own values and motivators and not those of an outside source.

Step 2: Build self-efficacy and prepare

Now that you have determined what you would like to change about your diet and why, it is time to prepare yourself for success. Building the confidence to know that you have all you need to make a change is self-efficacy. To build self-efficacy, you may do a series of different things to prepare yourself for the change. You may set up an appointment with a dietitian to help you explore specific strategies to make your change, you may take cooking classes, or you may read up on specific tools such as carbohydrate counting. Whatever you do, whether it’s learning a technique or giving yourself general education, will give you the confidence to make the change and sustain it. If we use our first example of having less alcohol, building self-efficacy would be learning to make mocktails to have at home, recognizing when you may be tempted to drink alcohol and making a list of things to do instead of drinking when the urge arises.

Step 3: Form SMART goals and build upon them

When building your plan of action to achieve your long-term goal or diet change, it is important to start small and set up actionable steps that you can build upon. Research shows that diet plans with multiple components and changes overwhelm people and lead to poor outcomes. There’s also evidence that starting with 1-2 specific goals at a time around changing your diet can lead to much higher success. Whether it is every week or every 4 weeks, form goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based.

Let’s take our long-term goal of decreasing alcohol intake. A specific goal for the month could be, “I will limit my alcohol intake to two glasses of wine per week and only drink on the weekends.” This can be easy to apply and can be something you build upon each month if you see fit. Another way of applying this is just focusing on one improvement area at a time. If you have a list of different areas that could be improved, take it one at a time and build upon it. For example, one month could be solely focused on increasing fiber and the next could be adding in more plant-based proteins. The specific focus and attention to one area of improvement will strengthen your ability to stick to those changes in the long run.

Step 4: Once you build a habit, form new goals

According to research, it takes roughly 60 days to build a habit which is far more than what people tend to believe (21 days). So, if you feel like after three weeks some of your changes are quite a habit, keep at it! Once you do feel like certain changes have turned into habits, then reassess and build new ones once you feel ready. Just like our exercise routines, our nutrition habits can be reassessed frequently and changed when new long-term goals arise.

Now that you are equipped with all the steps to make sustainable changes, start reflecting! Start with your long-term goal, then your motivators and ways to be successful, and come up with your plan. You will be on your way to a permanent lifestyle change in no time.

Gabriella is a registered dietitian living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She currently works in corporate wellness as a dietitian and overall wellness coach. She also runs a food blog called Macrobalanced, where she shows people that healthy and balanced eating can be interesting and tasty! She enjoys all things fitness from lifting heavy weights in the gym to hitting the barre. Nothing is off limits as long as sweat is involved. When she is not cooking or sweating, she is playing with her dog Maui, a lively German Shepherd. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook.