Diets, detoxes, cleanses. All great, but all designed to not last. So many people commit to eating healthily, they overhaul their diet, and they cut out all garbage from their food. They cook delicious nutrient packed foods. The food takes longer to prepare, but they can manage. They have a hard day and decide to have take out. That happens again, and again, and again.
3 weeks later, they are eating with the exact same bad habits as before.
This is also true with intense crash diets that promise that you will “lose 20 pounds in 20 days”. Once the diet is over, pizza, coca cola and other goodies are back in the house.
What is the problem?
Why is it impossible for most people to stick to a diet long term? Or to eat healthily overall?
There are two main problems that cause people to fail.
- Diets. In general, if you want to go on a diet, it is good. You will learn things about your body, your food, and see some benefits. However, the problem with a “28 day diet” or something similar, is that psychologically it is seen as a temporary solution. Most people will say “I am going to keep it up after”, but that rarely happens. In some cases it can change some eating habits which is great, but in general the approach will just cause you to go back to eating as you once did.
- Too much too soon. Some eager people benefit from a healthy dose of motivation, and what results is a frenzy of healthy eating. All the bad foods are thrown away, chicken breast and fish are eaten at all meals, water with lemon, tonnes of vegetables etc. The issue with this is that the person will have long ingrained poor eating habits. What will happen is that the person will creep back in to their old eating habits slowly, or they will burn out, resulting in a three day ice cream and kebab frenzy.
How To Eat Clean Long Term
It is annoying that in the modern western world, the majority of the food we are given is processed, chemical laced and nutritionally deficient. This food is addictive, sugar is addictive, and it is hard to just flip a switch and start eating right.
There are two important aspects that are needed to create a long term healthy eating lifestyle.
- You need a motivation.
- You need good habits.
This isn’t something you can get from watching an epic youtube video with ripped people running around, and throbbing classical music with a movie character shouting about “being the best”. You need true motivation, something that doesn’t just last for 10 minutes. You need to ask yourself why you want to eat well.
Take a pen and paper, and answer the following questions.
a) Why do you need to eat healthily? Answers about it being “good for you” and “recommended” aren’t good enough. Do you want to have good health when your grandchildren are born? Do you want to be able to climb mountains and see world? Do you want to have more energy and be more successful? You 3 things that are important to you, deeply important. These are now why you are eating properly.
b) What will happen if you don’t eat healthily? Write in detail about the consequences. You are at higher risk of disease, you may not be able to interact with your grandchildren, the top of that mountain or any great adventure is not possible. You will be sluggish and low energy, not fulfilling your dreams. Become terrified of these outcomes. Scare yourself.
These need to be remembered, retained, repeated whenever you are feeling like you want to give it all up. There are good reasons for eating well, they go beyond the small reasons you have been telling yourself. Make these compelling, and use them to help you.
This is where the science of clean eating really comes in. You have to eat at least three meals per day. This is three times where your old habits are firmly established, these are the battlegrounds for your new clean eating habits. For more on the science of habit formation check out this article.
So the way for us to get in to good habits is to change them gradually. Trying to change everything at once is very difficult to make work. So let’s go on to a practical, achievable way to rewire your eating, and start eating clean.
The Three Month Process
Firstly there will need to be an honest appraisal with your eating habits. Get a food diary, or use an app (MyFitnessPal works well) and track what you eat. For one week, eat normally and see what your average diet is like.
There are three areas that most people struggle on that we are going to focus on changing.
- Bad Food Choice (Take out, processed, etc)
- Bad Snacks
- Bad Drinks
These are going to be the battlegrounds for your health and eating habits. Each time you just need to follow the process for 28 days. After three lots of 28 days, you will have revolutionized your eating.
The first 28 days
Take a bottle of water with you wherever you go. Drink it often. Don’t get thirsty.
Don’t take sugar in your tea or coffee (yes this includes syrups from the coffee shop)
Limit your soda/juice intake to 4 times per week
From Monday – Thursday swap out your sugary unhealthy snacks for some fruit, nuts or seeds.
Pick one meal per day. For that one meal you are going to eat healthily. Make it the same meal every day. Breakfast is a good place to start. So eat a healthy breakfast everyday. Focus on enjoying these meals, making them interesting and tasty.
Take out food should be limited to no more than 3 times in this period.
Follow this for 28 days.
28 Days Later
At this point you should be well adjusted to the small changes you have made. So now we are going to make a few more.
Keep the water with you, keep drinking it.
Keep not having sugar in your tea and coffee.
Now, limit your soda/sweet drink intake to 2 times per week.
From Sunday – Thursday you will not graze on unhealthy snacks, they will be replaced by nuts, fruits and seeds.
Now you can pick another meal of the day to make healthy every day. This will mean that you are now eating healthy 2/3 meals per day. This is great progress. Again, get used to cooking and enjoying the new healthy foods, focus on having fun, and creating tasty food.
Take out food should go down to maximum twice in this period.
Another 28 days later
Now you will drop your sugary drinks down to one per week. You can really look forward to this and use it as a treat.
You should now be in a good habit of drinking water regularly. Keep this going, as it will serve you well in the coming years.
You should now snack healthily from Sunday – Friday. Nuts, fruits and seeds.
You now should shift to eating healthy food for 3 meals per day. This doesn’t mean that you cannot indulge once per week in a “cheat meal”, but you are now in the habit of regularly eating well three times per day. This is huge progress!
Keep take out food and processed garbage for once per month.
This should now give you a good foundation to move forward from. Remember, this isn’t a 3 month diet to lose weight. This is a process of habit creation.
Once you have done the three lots of 28 days, you are in a great position. You will be able to experiment, change your macro nutrients, choose your micro nutrients differently. All within this framework of healthy eating.
And now a cheesy motivational picture of a woman jumping to celebrate your new lifestyle!