Small changes are the key to new healthy habits

Often when we decide it is time to shake things up a bit and make some healthy habits with new changes to our daily routine, we can get a bit carried away. We end up following the latest crazy fad diet, or setting ourselves goals and challenges that we will be come the leanest, fittest, healthiest versions of ourselves, or in social media talk – we aim to ‘live our best life’.

What’s wrong with just good enough?

Most of us have daily habits, or weekly rituals around food that we do without even thinking. Maybe you have created a good habit around breakfast, so that you eat your healthy, nourishing porridge/overnight oats/low sugar granola/eggs without a second thought, or perhaps you always have a water bottle handy so that you can keep well hydrated throughout the day.

No matter how small or insignificant these little things seem, added together, they contribute enormously to your nutritional intake, and ultimately your health.

So what if we could create a couple of new daily habits that would just make us feel ever so slightly better tomorrow, than we do today? Without having to go on a diet, feel hungry and deprived of our favourite foods, or cheesed off if we don’t stick rigidly to our plan. Wouldn’t that be great?

Start small

It is well documented that small changes in diet and lifestyle are the route to successful and long-term weight loss. Not a quick fix, not a get-thin-quick plan, but rather more balanced approach of small, achievable changes that slowly but surely become part of our daily routine. Changes that stick with us for the long haul.

So where do we start, and how do we make these changes?

One of the best ways to get started is to keep a food diary for a week. Don’t change anything, to start with. Just write down everything you eat and drink and then you can work out what would be easy to add into your diet without too much effort.

If you have ever kept a food diary and felt guilty about what you are eating, then think about it a different way. Usually when we look at our own habits, we are a bit hard on ourselves and identify all the crap we are eating, the things we need to change and the bits that are missing from our diet.

This time, imagine that you are looking at someone else’s food diary – this way it is easier to take a more positive spin on your habits. Notice what you already do that is good for you.

It could be that you eat a couple of portions of fruit and two or three portions of veg every day, or you only eat red meat once a week. Then take a look at what would be easy to change. Could you swap out one coffee for a herbal tea, or eat one extra portion of vegetables a day?

Make one small change.

Using your food diary, identify one small, simple change you could make to your diet over the next seven days. Make it something you will enjoy and don’t cut anything out of your diet. An example might be that you decide to eat a handful of nuts every day. That’s all you need to do – just one thing.

At the end of the week you will probably notice that one small change has had a knock-on effect on something else (maybe that little extra portion of nuts means you are eating one less biscuit, for example).

Repeat this each week for four to six weeks and you will slowly, but surely adopt brand new, healthy habits that stick with you long term.

This blog post first appeared as my column in The Irish News on Saturday 29 February 2020.