Sticking to Your New Meal Plan: Five Tips That Will Help You Eat Healthier for Life
Creating a meal plan is always an important step, but sticking to it is what really matters. You could spend many hours developing a health-enhancing meal plan only to fall back on old, bad eating habits within days or weeks.
Fortunately, there are some proven ways to improve the odds that you will stay true to your meal plan over the long term. Dietitians and behavioral therapists often put as much effort into helping patients keep to their meal plans as they do dispensing other forms of advice.
There is no need for most to seek professional help with abiding by a new meal plan, however. Keep the following five tips in mind and you should find yourself eating more healthfully far into the future.
1. Calibrate Your Expectations
Sitting down to design a meal plan after getting a planner often feels empowering. Every new meal plan seems to promise improved control over one of the most fundamental features of life.
When reality intrudes later on, such heightened expectations can prove dangerous. It can seem as if a handful of unplanned meals and snacks have doomed an entire meal plan to irrelevance.
Setting realistic expectations before putting your meal plan into practice will rule such demoralizing experiences out. Admit from the beginning that there will be times when you will stray from your new meal plan, whether because of circumstances or an invincible urge to eat something else.
At the same time, you also need to be aware that it takes discipline and determination to make any meal plan an established part of your life. You will need to demand much from yourself but also resist the temptation to feel defeated when you occasionally slip up.
2. Pare Down Your Pantry
Keeping too many tempting snacks and treats around is a surefire way to end up eating them regardless of what your meal plan says. Researchers have established that simple "proximity and visibility" make unhealthful foods like candy far more tempting to everyone in the area.1
Before you make your first planned meal, rummage through your cupboards, refrigerator, and freezer to identify items that need to go. Donate these to friends or family members who live elsewhere, and you will not need to worry about being tempted.
Having your new meal plan in hand will make this important chore easier. That will let you check whether the items you are getting rid of might be needed for dishes you plan to prepare in the future.
3. Bring Snacks With You When Out and About
Hunger can strike at unexpected times, and activity tends to promote it. One of the most common ways to fall off a meal plan is to buy something sweet or greasy while away from home. Bring some compact, healthful snacks along with you and this type of trouble will be easier to avoid. Eating a few walnuts rich in omega-3s, for example, might be all that it takes to resist the urge to down a sugary coffee drink or a sloppy slice of pizza.
If you love celery sticks and find them satisfying, then bring some along when you leave home in the morning. Many people find, though, that small quantities of protein-rich snacks like nuts, Greek yogurt, and even hard-boiled eggs keep hunger at bay without hurting the nutritional bottom line.
4. Plan to be Flexible
A rigid view of your meal plan might seem like the best default stance, but it can contribute to too much deviation and even abandonment. There will be nights when a meal you have planned just does not sound appealing, and there is nothing wrong with that.
You can switch some meals around to accommodate shifting preferences, and this will always be preferable to going off-plan entirely. Should you find yourself habitually avoiding a particular meal, it might make sense to adjust your plan by replacing it with a new one.
A meal plan that evolves over time and occasionally experiences some temporary adjustments is nothing to be ashamed of. Judicious, strategic flexibility is just as much of an asset when it comes to sticking to a meal plan as are traits like discipline and determination.
5. Savor Every Bite
Many people who develop unhealthful eating habits barely pay attention to the activity itself. Wolfing down a meal to avoid being late or out of simple distraction is never the right approach.
Become more mindful about each bite you take, and you will develop more control over the act of eating as time goes on.2 The effects of decades spent mindlessly chowing down, of course, can be difficult to overcome.
Do your best to allocate enough time to enjoy each of your meals to its fullest and without any interruptions. Chew each bite of food calmly and completely, focusing on the experience all the while.
Over time, this will help you develop a deeper, more concrete appreciation for the all-important act of eating. That will give you more control over what you eat and when, making it much easier to stick to your meal plan.
Think Often About the Many Rewards That Await
Just about everyone enjoys eating, although there are some notable exceptions.3 It can feel overly restrictive to reduce eating to a meal plan that seemingly rules out spontaneity and such. The best way to overcome such doubts is to remember that you created your meal plan for a reason. Whether you want to lose some weight or manage diabetes, your meal plan is the product of some truly worthy goals.
Making good use of the five tips above should help you stay on track to achieving everything you hoped for. That, in turn, will make your life richer and more rewarding in many ways. Reminding yourself of this is one of the most important things you can do on a daily basis.
There will still be times when you will feel resentful of your meal plan and possibly even wish you had never created it. Eventually, the successes you experience will help you build momentum that does away with such negative feelings. Stick to your meal plan for long enough and eating well will become just as much of a habit as anything else.
Jay Todtenbier is an original founder of SupplementRelief.com in 2010 and has operated the business ever since. He is also a tennis instructor and gospel musician. Formerly he spent 25 years in business development, technology and marketing with startups, and well-established organizations having gone through the tech boom of Silicon Valley in the 90s. He became passionate about, and began studying and practicing Wellness as a Lifestyle, after experiencing chronic, personal health challenges, including auto-immune diseases, and being overweight, that impacted his ability to live a healthy, vibrant life. Since then, he has been an advocate for healthier living encouraging others to live better through making small, gradual changes to lifestyle behaviors relating to whole-foods nutrition, stress management, reasonable exercise, proper sleep, and the use of targeted, high-quality supplements.
Learn more about Jay Todtenbier.
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