Barriers to healthy eating and staying on track.

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So, you have decided to embark on a healthy eating plan. You have calculated your calorie intake; set your deficit and planned your meals. You are all set to do this.

Once you set your mind to it and follow up your ideas with actions, it can be quite a motivating experience. Setting up a clear pathway toward your goal is a huge step and sets you up with a higher chance of achieving it. Your high motivation will likely lead you to success.

There are some influences however, that can sabotage even the most motivated and focused person. These influences tend to be external and unless you identify them and have a clear plan for tackling them, they may lead you off track.

Bad feelings

This is coming up first on the list because this can sabotage you fast. Feelings of guilt. Diets and the mentality of dieting have become a source of perfection. If we eat healthy food we can feel better about ourselves than if we eat so-called “bad food”. The concept of eating “bad food” has become a source of guilt and shame and quite a powerful one.

Healthy eating is about mental wellness too. It is vital to enjoy your food and to measure food on a scale. Food is not good or bad, it is more or less nutritionally valuable to you.

If you have packed in some awesome nutrition and decide you are going to have a bowl of ice cream or some chocolate, why not? If you can do this in line with your goals then do. Even if you decide that today, you are just going to add a few calories to your day and maintain your weight for today, so what?

What is important here is your feelings toward these choices. There is no need for guilt and shame. Even if you fall off-track and land with a hard bump, get back up and go again. Realise that relapse is part of a change, there will be times you might take a step back from your goals, but that does not discount the twenty steps you already took towards them.

Factor in some treats. Treats can also be healthy, but even if they are not, they will keep you sane and help you stay on track to your goal.

Time

We are busy people. We have jobs; families; hobbies and well, just life and all of its demands. We are all becoming busier, as individuals and as a society.

Time, or lack of it, can ruin even the most well-laid plans. All it takes is for something to over-run or an unexpected issue and plans to cook are sacrificed for a quick fix meal.

Take some control of the time element:

Plan meals that you can cook quickly, such as stir-fries, and easy cook meats, grains, and vegetables.
Cook larger portions and freeze some backup meals for those crazier days.
Invest in a slow cooker, and throw together meals that you can leave to cook all day.
Prepare the foods you can the night before ready to cook when you need them.

Other people

Other people can sabotage your healthy eating habits, whether it be the cake and biscuit pusher at work; the friend who always wants to eat out, or even family members who want different foods. Other people can be a challenge.

Tell sugar pushers you are intolerant to certain ingredients, that it upsets your stomach or makes you sick. Just remember to comment on how you are going to “pay for it later” on the odd time you might indulge.

Stand your ground. If you do use this approach, be prepared to repeat yourself and stand strong.

If you are eating out, suggest trying different places that offer some healthier foods, or just look for the healthy options on the menu. Most food places offer a few healthier options now. Eating out is also quite expensive, so saying no because of financial reasons is usually accepted.

When it comes to feeding other people in the same household, the best approach is to avoid labeling your new way of eating. This is a life-long approach. Eventually “healthy eating” just becomes eating. It becomes normal to you. When families hear about diets, they tend to think of restrictions and limits and want no part of it. We are not about restricting, we are opening up our variety of foods and making choices to eat nutritious food. We also have the option to eat less nutritional foods too and from time to time we will do this, guilt-free.

Support

These points bring us to your support. How well supported are you? Do you have people around you that will encourage you or are you facing resistance

Usually, people show resistance when someone changes or progresses because it provides a mirror to their own lives. Your new eating habits may cause them to think about changes they may need to make but are not yet ready to action. This can lead to uncomfortable feelings and realisations.

You have created one source of support by joining the group. You have a group of other, like-minded people who are ready to share your experience and support you. This is why we have the Facebook group too, so you can keep in regular contact with others. If you can, aim to seek out supportive people in your social and work life too. Surrounding yourself with the motivation of others will help keep you on track to reach your goals.

Convenience and routine

It is very easy to slip back to old routines and habit patterns. It takes time to form new habits and embed them as practice. Initially, you will feel like you have to put in some effort to shop differently, prepare food differently and at different times, and eat differently. Initially, change requires your awareness, but just like driving, it will become familiar and you will do it on auto-pilot.

Sleep and stress

Sleep is the only time when your body gets to carry out repair and maintenance work, so is vital to your health. If you do not get enough sleep for a few nights, this backlog of maintenance and repair starts to show. Physically, you have little energy, your skin and hair become dull and your mental function starts to deteriorate. This is because your body is struggling to function in a state of disrepair.

Stress can have a similar effect. When you are stressed, you spend a lot of energy on anxiety. Your thought processing increases and you tend to hold tension in your body. Stress can also disrupt sleep causing a double-whammy to your energy levels.

In both of these situations, your body needs more energy. it is trying to keep you functioning and it is trying to tackle the dead cells and toxins still floating around the body which is more than it should be dealing with. It will inevitably ask you for more energy, and this can only come from food. Whatsmore, it is likely to make you crave fast-energy food, such as sugar and refined carbs as well as energy-dense fats because it needs energy now and it will stockpile in case this situation lasts a while.

Prioritise your sleep and try to encourage yourself to relax through the day. Even in stressful and fast-paced situations, you can act fast but remain calm inside. Try and focus on reducing that adrenaline response, the feeling of acting on panic, and instead realise that most stressful situations just take a level-head with a clear plan of action to resolve. Refuse to buy into the drama of a situation unless it truly warrants it.

Likes and dislikes

The only way that you will sustain your healthier eating pattern is if you enjoy it. This is why it is so important for you to know the principles and make decisions about which foods you are going to eat. There is no point in forcing down foods you dislike.

That being said, it is a good idea to open your mind to trying different foods. There may be a food you have avoided for a very long time, been since childhood, but your taste can change so it is worth giving things a go before you dismiss them.

Allergies and dietary requirements

Allergies and dietary needs are a priority. It may be that you need to eat certain foods because of medical issues, medications, allergies, or intolerances. If this is the case, always follow medical advice over this information. In an ideal world, we aim to eat a varied and balanced diet, but if our health demands otherwise, we may need to restrict or avoid certain foods to be healthy and well.