The New Year is a great time to change your diet, whether to lose weight, reduce heath problems caused by food intolerances and allergies, go vegetarian or vegan, or just feel better about what you eat. Dietary changes are one of the most popular New Year's resolutions, and like most resolutions, they usually last about two seconds. Here are a few pointers to help you stay on track:
Give it time
Your body and mind will need to adjust. You may miss certain foods at first, but eventually you will stop craving them. When I first went vegetarian seven years ago, I wanted bacon more than anything else, to the extent that I literally dreamed about eating it. However, I don't anymore. In fact, it's been so long since I've eaten bacon that it almost does not even cross my mind as being edible. Your life without sugar/cheese/hamburgers/bread might seem incomplete at the moment, but several months down the road you won't notice their absence-- really.
Do it right
Make sure you are consuming sufficient amounts of vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber, and calories. Completely cutting out certain foods, like dairy, meat, fruits, or vegetables, can leave nutritional gaps, which is a sure-fire way for a diet to fail-- and definitely not healthy. For instance, you can't just stop eating meat and continue on with your diet as usual without replacing it with protein from plant-based sources, such as tofu, seitan, tempeh, legumes, nuts and grains. Be sure to consult your doctor before making any drastic changes.
Swap out foods for tastier foods
Eating should never feel like punishment; if you don't enjoy what you put in your mouth, your diet is doomed to fail. Substitutions like meat analogues, fat-free cheese, or gluten-free beer often disappoint, so think of the dishes you enjoy that already fit your diet instead of crafting unsatisfactory replicas of dishes that don't. A Boca burger might not cut it when you want a quarter-pounder with cheese, but perhaps a delicious falafel sandwich would whet your appetite. Instead of crying into your gluten-free beer, learn how to make fancy cocktails. Raw vegetables are bland, but minestrone soup transforms them into something delicious. You can enjoy your food, no matter what your diet-- it just might take a little extra effort to find recipes that suit your taste buds.
Look beyond stir-fry
Stir-fry is one of the easiest meals on the planet: chop vegetables, throw them into a pan, add protein of choice, season, saute for a few minutes, throw on a plate and eat. It's quick, simple, relatively healthy, easily accomplished with whatever is in the crisper, and adaptable to almost any diet. However, it gets really boring after a while. Get creative in the kitchen! Use this as an exciting opportunity to discover new food blogs, sample new cuisines and explore beyond your comfort zone.
Join a community/support group
A dietary change can be much more effective when done in the company of other individuals experiencing the same emotions and frustrations, as well as a chance to learn from their experiences. Clubs, Meetup groups, and online forums can be great sources of support.
Remember why you are doing it
Are you hoping to reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes? Fit into a smaller dress size? Be kinder to animals and the environment? Whether for health, appearance, ethics, or whatever purpose, you have a good reason to be on your new diet. That hamburger you are craving so badly at the moment is just a hindrance to your long-term goal.
But... Don't beat yourself up if you accidentally cheat
Mistakes happen. You will slip up, either consciously or subconsciously. Accept your mistakes, then try not to make them again.
Do you have any tips to add to this list? Other people's experiences sticking to their diets:
- My Life as a Vegan: Tips for Going Vegan
- Gluten-free Goddess: The Gluten-Free Diet Cheat-Sheet: How to Go G-Free
- Chris Perillo: 50 Wight-loss Tips