Updated: Sep 10, 2021
Most of us feel the pressure to look a certain way, eat certain foods and keep a vigorous exercise routine. At the heart of this is the pressure to live a healthier lifestyle. All of these things require specific lifestyle and habit changes. Change is good, it's what helps us experience new things, allowing us to learn and grow as individuals. Change is also a challenge.
I've tried; raw foods, juicing & smoothies, all organic ...even the Del Taco & In-n-Out diet. I've food shamed myself (and sometimes others), hated parts of my body, and have been lazy and unmotivated. The relationship we have with food is so much more complicated than just using it as fuel. It's private but also emotionally and socially involved in our lives. Navigating this complicated relationship with food can be tricky and involved. For me as a Nutritionist, the challenge lies not only in keeping up with the science of nutrition but finding tools to address the emotional and social ties with food.
Diet changes do not have to come in one big swoop. Changes can be small steps, little by little make adjustments and better choices, how long you take to get to your goal is irrelevant. Getting there, having a real sustainable habit change is priceless. Our bodies are machines that want to function well. They just need the right fuel from the right sources. We use food to celebrate birthdays, share memories with our loved ones, to comfort ourselves during heartbreak, and to deal with our emotions and stress. Every person's journey will be unique and will take time, patience, experimenting and learning.
Here's a few tips to help you stay on track:
Meal Planning and Prepping: A little planning and prepping can save time and money. Having lunch and work snacks all set to go can help you avoid food from the vending machine and meals from local fast food restaurants (loaded with sugar, fat and sodium). Prepare a grocery list that contains foods you enjoy and support the health that you desire. Try to stay away from foods that you know are not supportive of your goals. Some food staples can be prepared ahead of time for the week; chicken, veggies (always nice to have some ready to go),rice and other grains. Another strategy is to prepare extra portions when cooking dinner that can be used for lunch the following day.
Food Tracking: While a bit tedious, this is a very useful tool. You can use one of the many food/calorie apps out there, a simple google doc on your phone or get old school with a paper journal. It is easy to forget what we have had throughout the day, and easy to assume portions and calories. Keeping a record of these things provides clarity; know what you’re working with! Make sure to include portion sizes as well as the time of day when tracking food intake. It takes time and practice to be able to properly estimate portions and calories. Until you get more familiar you may want to use a food scale or measuring cup. Time of day tracking can help you change your meal times to build the habit of small frequent meals/snacks (a method I love and live by!).
Activity Tracking: While tracking food and calories is beneficial, you also need to account for the calories you expend. You can use a Fitbit, iWatch or a heart rate monitor belt. While these devices are not an exact science, they are useful indicators for your tracking purposes. It is easy to get wrapped up in work, social obligations and family commitments making a regular workout routine fall by the wayside. One strategy that can help maintain an exercise routine is scheduling in that time for yourself. Plan a few weeks in advance for any social events, meetings, work obligations, and your exercise time. Start with small sessions, 30 minutes 3 times a week, and build from there. Thanks to many online resources, finding time and a space to workout has become much easier. You can workout in your garage, back yard, living room, nearby park, wherever you'd like to be!
Social Support: Social support can include having a community of people going through a similar journey to share challenges and struggles with. Tackling any lifestyle change can be daunting, difficult and isolating at times. Having this supportive community can help keep you motivated and moving forward. There are many ways to find a community; online groups, social media communities, local gyms and your Nutritionist. Social support also includes the support from your friends and family. There are many social occasions that include enjoyment of food and meals (birthdays, holidays, going out to restaurants for fun etc..). When your friends and family are aware of your goal for better nutrition, those social engagements become easier to navigate. They may ask what they can do to accommodate your food plan or just support you deciding to avoid specific foods at the gathering.
I have used these strategies along my own journey. Having accountability has been a major driving factor to keep me going despite many setbacks over the years. Ultimately we are accountable for ourselves and responsible for taking the necessary actions to reach our goals.
The journey toward improved health and balanced nutrition is not a linear process, you will have set backs and that is normal. You have a good day, a few good days or week and then you might have a couple bad weeks. You cannot get discouraged, keep moving forward. It is when we no longer move forward that we become stuck in the same place. We should not deprive ourselves of the chance to enjoy the successes of our hard work and determination. It's a journey that takes time, practice and patience. My role is to guide and support you in navigating this journey so that you can eat well and feel good.
Aida Sadeghi, MS, CNS
Photo: The left is from August 2017 and the right from August 2019, almost exactly 2 years apart by one day. It was difficult for me to even find a picture of myself from a few years ago where I wasn't using a filter or 'angles' or hiding behind someone to cover my body. My journey has not ended, but I can feel and see how far I've come.
August 2017 / August 2019
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