Not too long ago, just after I had arrived at boarding school I went to dinner at a family friends’ house. As she was preparing the lovely gluten free meal for me (moroccan chicken with broccoli and quinoa pilaff) we chatted away about my rather new and sudden diet changes. One thing she was very interested to know was how I made such a big change so quickly and how I stuck to it so well. The truth is a big lifestyle change is actually very hard to do all at once, and I realised that my method was lots of small steps, each one another step towards better health. I remembered how even back before I went gluten free I had been making small changes, taking baby steps, gradually moving towards my goal of health.
The ‘steps’ I took were smaller goals, and often isolated to one bad habit or food group, often triggered by my own reading and delving into the nutrition world. For example, the first change I ever remember making was learning to love green tea. I kept reading about how wonderful it was and how beneficial it can be to longevity, so I promised myself I will learn to love green tea and drink it every day. My first cup was pure awful, I managed to make it through about half before having to tip the herbal horror down the drain. But I didn’t give up, I persisted, cringing my way through at least 20 or 30 more cups of tea over a two month period before I even began to enjoy it. But the day does come, I gradually accepted the taste, and then a bit later began enjoying it. Now green tea is an essential part of my morning routine and I even take a tea thermos full of it to school for recess each day. The benefits didn’t end there…I began experimenting with various herbal teas, all of which have their own health benefits and now I am a total tea addict (with the exception of black tea…I don’t handle caffeine very well). But you can see that such a small change can grow into a big difference.
When creating a new step for yourself, I would try to focus on the adding or the positives, not what you ‘can’t have’ or ‘aren’t allowed’. Focus on the addition of new vegetables, rather than the lack of deep fried nasties. One way to eliminate bad foods from your diet is to add in so many good foods that you don’t have room. Initially it’s all about adding the good food and without a lot of effort the bad will fade out. Another method for these small steps is replacing, and this is particularly good for making healthier choices within food groups. My example of this is swapping processed cheese slices for the more natural and healthier feta (goat’s) cheese. Perhaps you want to replace white rice with brown rice, or replace soft drink with bubbly mineral water. The final method is more of a goal process, in which you set a time for how long you must abide by this new eating habit. This is what I did when eliminating gluten from my diet, first it was just one day, then one week, then a month, and then for life! This made it a gradual transition and was especially good for cravings, so instead of waking up and saying “I will never consume a molecule of gluten again” I would just go as long as possible without caving, until I felt ready to make the commitment the real deal (I have been permanently gluten free since January 2012 :)
There are also plenty of people out there who find going cold turkey is the best approach. I found this for sugar was best, because even small amounts of sugar in your body produce wild cravings, making the job overall a lot harder for you. My first stint was about 4 weeks without sugar, cold turkey. The first few days were really bad, I wanted to eat everything with sugar in it! But eventually it subsided and I felt a lot better for it. When I did break after the four weeks my body went wild and so I was sugar free again within a matter of days. I am still not 100% sugar free, but I am working on it. The intention is in me to become totally sugar free one day, but I like to focus on the wins, rather than losses.
A few examples of these small steps that I have taken are:
- Switching from gluten-addict to gluten-free in a few shorter stints (as explained above).
- Learning to love green tea.
- Going sugar free in small stints also.
- Switching from soft drink to natural mineral water.
- From the processed peanut butter to the 100% organic peanut butter.
- Switching from processed cheese to feta cheese.
- Adding super foods to my diet (still a work in progress, but achieved similarly to green tea).
- Choosing raw over cooked vegetable whenever possible.
- Drinking enough water (by carrying a water bottle with my 24/7).
- Margarine and processed butter to organic butter.
- Canola oil to olive oil and other nut oils.
- Learning to love almonds, walnuts, pepitas and sunflower seeds over dried fruits.
- Adding natural and herbal supplements to my boost nutrition in my diet.
So, next time you want big change in your life, think small. Identify some small thing you can change and just focus on that until you have mastered it. Once you feel you have mastered that, move on to the next small thing. Some will be quick, others slow, but persist and before long all the small changes will add up to one hugely beneficial lifestyle change and equal a healthier, happier you!
Good luck and please let me know, what are the small changes you have or are going to make in your life? :)