Picture of women's legs in running shoes walking up a staircase

 I am not a diet, nutrition, or fitness influencer. 

Social media is overflowing with people who claim to fit one of these categories. Some are qualified to teach others, but many are not.  But I have lived my entire life with PKU, a rare disease with an entire treatment centered around strict management of food and protein intake. (If you want to read more about my journey, I wrote an article about what it was like growing up with PKU before current day medical advances).

Although my very strict diet is probably unrelatable to anyone without a metabolic disorder, it made me very conscious of macronutrients and health quality of various foods. And health is likely to be at the top of your mind at the beginning of this new year. 

PKU taught me a LOT about getting back on track. Being perfect with any diet is a nearly impossible task. When a person is successful with a highly regimented diet, there is also a great possibility that their internal mental dialogue is highly self-critical. Since my diet was medically necessary, I knew quite a bit about starting over when I did not meet my own expectations. Eating well is a matter of mindset. Eating well does not mean you reach a specific weight goal. It does mean you fuel your body in a way that allows you to function optimally.

Feeling well can go a long way toward helping you do well in your personal priorities and objectives.

Focus on the first three days of your journey.

I do not remember who taught me this trick, but it came from one of the many dieticians in my past. This strategy is one that I have tried many times, with success.  It takes about three days for your body to begin the initial stages of ridding your body of a food substance that you regularly eat. If you are trying to cut sugar, focus on cutting out sugar for just three days. If you want to quit caffeine, trying quitting it for three days. It is much easier to plan for success for three days than it is for a lifetime. Once you pass the first three days, the hurdle of food cravings is much easier to tackle. You may still have some withdrawal symptoms, but after three days your need for a particular type of food will be more psychological than physiological. This means – you are more likely to go back to the food item because of positive associations with it than because your body is craving it.

Keep tempting foods out of sight.

No food should be off-limits. Almost everything has a place in a healthy diet in the right portions. However, it is much easier to eliminate overeating if junk food is kept out of sight. Most people have a food they are likely to binge if it is readily available, so keep it out of your pantry or your desk at work. This is definitely harder if you have family members bringing choices in the house you have a hard time staying away from (but refer to the previous tip – it has helped me cut potato chips and soda out of my diet entirely). What this looks like – make a trigger food item something you either 1) eat at restaurants or celebrations 2) have to run to the store to go buy a single serving when you really want something or 3) make a healthier version or make it from scratch at home.

The healing power of food matters.

Healthy food is more fun when you consider what it does for your body. You don’t need a nutrition degree to Google the health benefits of any particular food you choose. When you are shopping in the grocery store, take a look at the fresh herbs – fresh parsley, tarragon, oregano, basil, cilantro, and rosemary are all subtle additions to your main dishes that have multiple benefits.  Fruits and vegetables are full of antioxidants, and it is possible to find a way to prepare something in a way you like. You may find you like roasted veggies better than boiled, or riced cauliflower in a sauce better than roasted cauliflower.

Take a few seconds to go on your phone or device and search the nutritional profile of something healthy you are about to consume. It inspires you when you realize you are doing something good for your body. I don’t advocate a particular style of eating because I believe in a concept called bio-individuality. Some people feel better on grain free diets, some feel better on vegan diets, and others feel better eating paleo diets. All well-known diets include food options with health benefits.  Pay attention to how a particular food makes you feel after you eat it to discover what works best for you.

Have non-weight related goals.  

You can’t always control your weight, and you definitely can’t control your body type. Personally, I have wrestled with medication related weight gain over the last few years. If you have been struggling to lose weight no matter how hard you try, it may be worthwhile to visit a medical professional and get basic lab work done in order to reveal whether you have any hormonal or nutrition deficiencies that may make weight loss more difficult. While losing weight if it is something you desire is a good goal, it is important that is not the only goal. A healthy life is more comprehensive than what the scale says.

You can also set goals around fitness. I challenged myself to be able to do 100 consecutive push-ups within three months and felt proud when I accomplished a set. A fitness goal doesn’t have to be daunting; it can also be simple movement such as taking a twenty minute walk after dinner.

You can also set goals around experimenting with new foods, taking a cooking class, or creating a healthy dessert. You may find a barrier around a particular goal is related to a missing skill set. Everyone starts somewhere. If healthy food doesn’t taste good (yet), challenge yourself to prepare dishes that nourish your body rather than just provide calories.

 You can feel good again! It doesn’t matter whether you got off track because of a recent holiday binge, or have been eating in a way that doesn’t fuel you well for some time. Every day and every moment is another opportunity to start over. Last year’s story does not have to be this year’s story.


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