Avoid dairy. Go gluten free. Drink all of your food – juice everything. Make your brownies out of black beans and everything else out of kale and coconut oil.
Sound familiar? Extremes are the name of the game lately when it comes to nutrition (hell, when it comes to life). Things are black or white, there is a right and a wrong. No in between. Besides the fact that most of these nutritional messages are just plain ridiculous (and many scientifically wrong), the implication is that if you aren’t doing something 100%, then you’ve failed.
And because we live our lives based on headlines and Instagram highlight reels, it’s hard to shake that mindset. But would you tell your best friend that she has failed because she only got a B on that exam? Or because she only ran the 5k instead of the 10k? Or because he only read 5 of the 8 books on whatever “You Have to Read These!” list popped up on his Facebook feed? I hope the answer is no – otherwise you’re kind of a crappy friend.
All of this extremeness ends up handicapping any chance of success you might have had. Consider this:
You decide to improve your eating habits. You tell yourself “no more dessert,” or “I’m cutting out all soda and tea,” or “I’m eating only fruits and veggies when I feel like snacking – no more cookies or chips.” Your plan is to avoid 100%. And then when you don’t (because social commitments, cravings, moods, and life happen), you tell yourself you’ve failed. And then you throw your plan of improving your eating habits out of the window – until “next Monday,” or “tomorrow,” or some other arbitrary day.
The problem isn’t your willpower or your follow-through ability. The problem is your approach to the goal. Improving eating habits (or sleep habits, or grades, or whatever) is a great goal. Telling yourself you’ll only achieve it if there’s a 100% change from what you’ve been doing is a bad plan. And it ends up ignoring any progress you’ve made.
The solution is to change your measuring stick. What would happen if you stayed true to the goal of improving? Every small change will be a success. And even when you have a setback, you haven’t negated all of the successes that you’ve already logged. Every meal or snack is an opportunity for a small change. And one missed opportunity doesn’t result in a failed project. Just look for the next opportunity. Count the successes, not the missed chances. Make small realistic changes. Repeat them over time. Watch your quality of life soar.Count the successes, not the missed chances. Click To Tweet
Here are 5 practical tips you can choose from to use every day to get off the all-or-nothing carousel. Pick a couple every day, more on days you feel like it. Don’t stress when you’ve missed a chance for one. Look for the next chance. Make small changes, repeat them over time.
- Eat breakfast. It can be small, and it can be quick. Grab an apple and a slice of toast with peanut butter on your way out the door. Cook a batch of plain oats (with milk for some protein) on Sunday and heat it up in the mornings during the week, then add some fruit. Scramble an egg and grab a banana. Easy. Quick. Done. You don’t have to start making fancy omelets or elaborate smoothies. Eat something in the morning.
- Start switching your grain to whole. Sandwich for lunch? Switch the bread to 100% whole grain. Pasta for dinner? Switch to whole wheat. (You’re not fooling anyone with that zoodles business. Zucchini is great – but it’s not pasta. So have the pasta. Make it whole wheat.) Having rice? Replace it with brown. Or mix 1/2 brown rice with 1/2 white rice if the idea of completely giving up white rice makes you cry. And you don’t have to do all of these in one day. Pick one. Eventually pick two. Small changes. Not all or nothing.
- Add one more serving of fruit or vegetables to your day. Just one more. Yeah, the goal is to get you to 7 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables each and every day. But damn, that’s a big goal if the idea of anything green makes you gag right now! So don’t aim for 7 to 9 right off the bat. Just aim for one more. And maybe next month you can add one more on top of that. And eventually fruits and veggies might actually sound appealing to you. Baby steps.
- Cut down the soda and other sweetened beverages. There’s nothing nutritionally beneficial about soda. Nada. Zilch. But if you like soda and are currently drinking a bottle a day, aiming to stop drinking all soda is an extreme change. If you can do it, awesome. But if that sounds daunting, just cut down for now. Buy the small cans of coke. Have only one a day. In a few weeks, try one every two days. Eventually reduce it to only occasionally. It’s ok to take time to change. This is the process of improving.
- Travel with a refillable water bottle. You won’t always drink it all. But it’ll be there with you and remind you to take a few sips. Eventually you’ll finish it in a day. And then one day you’ll refill it and drink some more. Don’t worry about exactly how many cups of water you’ve had in a day…just start drinking water. And then drink some more. Eventually drinking adequate water will be automatic, and a lot less stressful than counting and ticking boxes for 8-10 cups of water every day.
Changing behavior of any sort takes time and practice. You didn’t learn to walk or read in one day. You won’t change your tastes or preferences in one day. So quit beating yourself up over it. The only way you’ll fail is by giving up – which would be that all-or-nothing attitude again. Look at each meal, snack, or social gathering as a new opportunity to bank a success.
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