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Top 10 tips to keep your diet on track

By Matt O'Neill, MSc(Nut&Diet), APD

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What would make healthy eating easier for you? Here are the top ten suggestions from SmartShape subscribers in our November survey, with ideas for how you can make these work for you. Some of these suggestions will be overly simple for you, but others will be extremely important.

Many of these tips are not directly food-related, and may require attention to other areas to make your diet work. However, feeling energised with nourishing food and being comfortable with your dietary balance will boost your wellbeing. The evidence is clear on this.

Tip No. 1 - More time or a less demanding lifestyle

This indicates that time management and priority setting are of paramount importance to keep subscribers' diets on track. If you can't easily “find time” in your day by cutting back on time wasters like too much television, you'll need to “make time” by placing other activities further down your priority list.

  • Make a list of benefits you get from healthy eating and why these are important to you. Reaffirming why you make the effort can motivate you to make more time to eat well.
  • Identify and cut back on time wasters. You could surprise yourself with the time you can make available.
  • Recruit other people to help with the tasks you need to get done to give yourself more time.
  • Make an honest assessment of all the demands on your time - work, family, friends, hobbies and time out for yourself. Be realistic about where achieving the perfect diet fits in.
  • Assess the compatibility of your job with staying well and looking after yourself. In some circumstances a change of career is a wise choice.
  • Read a book about time management, sign up for a course or get someone to coach you.
Tip No. 2 - Planning

That old saying is true, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Having a plan of what you are going to eat reduces the likelihood that surprises will side track your efforts. You certainly don't want to rid your diet of spontaneity, but some structure works wonders.

  • Plan your evening meals a week in advance and shop once for all the ingredients you'll need.
  • Make a shopping list of healthy foods and make the favourites your “always in the house” items. Mine are bananas and instant vanilla custard. As long as I've got these at home, I've always got a healthy snack available.
  • In addition to planning what you will eat, plan when and where you will eat. This reduces the chances you'll forget to eat and arrive home ravenous.
Tip No. 3 - Greater availability of healthy foods

Prioritising and planning will do your part to make healthy foods more available. The retail food industry is doing its part by offering a wider range of healthy choices.

  • Many convenience stores and service stations now have `light' microwave meals, low-fat dairy products, fruit snacks and other choices you wouldn't have seen ten years ago. Healthy food is now available 24/7.
  • Salads are taking off in a big way at fast food outlets. If you've always avoided these places, you may now want to pop in for a low-calorie salad. Supermarkets also have a choice of instant salads, great for packed lunches.
  • When ordering food at restaurants or take-way bars, be bold and ask for a healthy version. For example, if you say “heavy on the salad and light on the meat” at a kebab shop, you'll get a tasty beef or chicken salad roll.
Tip No. 4 - More support from family and friends

It's hard doing it on your own, especially when family or friends sabotage your efforts.

  • Don't assume people will support you. Let them know how they can help. For example, not offering you cookies or agreeing to eat salads with evening meals are things you may need to negotiate.
  • Find a buddy who also wants to get into shape. When your motivation dips their commitment will pull you along.
  • Be prepared to lead by example, ignore the hecklers and you may convince others you are onto something good.
Tip No. 5 - Dealing with cravings and emotional eating
  • Most of our survey respondents said their diet was healthy except for when they get cravings. This is a complex area, and often requires identification of the emotional triggers for cravings.
  • Try to eliminate or reduce the trigger. If driving past a fast food outlet triggers you, go another way home where possible.
  • If you overeat when stressed, find other ways to release the stress. A big plug for physical activity here!
  • If you overeat when bored, find more things to do that stimulate you.
  • If it's chocolate you crave, consider this. Do you crave 100g of chocolate or just a chocolate fix? Sometimes it's just a fix you need, and a low-fat chocolate mouse or a diet chocolate drink will do it for you.
  • It's hard to avoid sometimes, but not dwelling on binges will get you back on track a lot sooner.
Tip No. 6 - A full-time cook

I'm not sure if Oprah is using her chef at present? Yes, this would be wonderful but it's not possible for everyone to employ a live-in cook. While you save up for this, try the following:

  • Plan time to prepare food. This suggestion was rated as more important by subscribers.
  • Share the cooking where possible. Others may need to help out.
  • If you “culinarily challenged” sign up for a cooking course. Search the web and you'll find beginner classes.
  • Make a short-list of quick healthy meals you can make and post this on your fridge. It's a useful prompt when you've got 40,000 recipe books in the cupboard, but don't know what to cook.
Tip No. 7 - Cheaper healthy foods

Prepared salads and sandwiches are not always cheap, but the expense may be worth it if you find yourself eating rubbish anyway and at the same price.

  • Buy raw ingredients to make your own gourmet sandwiches to take to work.
  • Take your pantry to work. Lean ham, tomatoes, a salad bag and bread can create a sandwich. Taking left-overs from home will also save you plenty.
  • Pool your ingredients with your workmates. Other people may want to join in and save money.
  • Look out for weekly food specials. They're in the supermarket catalogues in your mail box.
Tip No. 8 - A plan to stick to

This needs less explanation, given the above points.

  • Set a definite time to start your healthy eating plan.
  • Follow menus in magazines and diet books as a starting point food plan.
  • Sign up for a program, where you will invest some time and money with the motivation to see a pay off.
  • Keep an eating diary. Not necessarily of everything you eat for weeks, but at least a few days to discover what you really eat.
  • Start an exercise program first. When you start moving you may more naturally feel like fuelling your body with healthy foods.
Tip No. 9 - More healthy recipes

Bookstores, newsagents and supermarkets now have a wider selection of healthy recipe books. When you are next in these places, see what's on offer.

  • Cut recipes out of Sunday newspapers and magazines.
  • Check food packets for serving suggestions.
  • Ask your family and friends for a copy of their favourite healthy recipes.
Tip No. 10 - Managing eating triggers

Feeling hungry, social situations and your own emotions can easily trigger the desire to eat. Next time you eat something you later think you shouldn't have, think about the series of thoughts or feelings that preceded eating. By simply rasing your awareness you can sometimes find your own solutions.

There are two ways to manage eating triggers. Eliminate the trigger or change your reaction to the trigger. Eliminating the presence of junk food as a trigger is easier. Simply don't have it in the house. Eliminating your partner as a trigger is more difficult. You have to have them in the house, so changing your reaction to how they make you feel is often required. Again, it's not always easy, but it could be really important to try.

A big thank you to all who completed the survey and your fantastic responses that triggered this article.



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