If you are Thinking of Making a Diet Change this Year, You Need to Read This

Picture of fruit, vegetables and a skipping rope. Diet and exercise.

(HealthCastle.com)  Resolutions - you might be thinking about change as we start 2013 - changes in your relationship, activity level and/or changes in what foods you choose and in how you eat.  For me, there are certain "touch points" I use throughout the year to reassess where I am in my life - am I "living my best life?" - and New Years is one of these times.  A new year signals the possibility for new beginnings.  

Are you thinking about change? If so, I have some wisdom to share.  This past November, I attended a workshop for dietitians in Saskatoon called "Moving toward change through Self Management" by the amazing Dr Michael Vallis, a psychologist based out of Nova Scotia with expertise in lifestyle change for health improvement.  The session reviewed what we know about making lifestyle change, what makes change hard and skills that health professionals need to help facilitate change.  It is from this session that I want to share a pearl of wisdom.

If you want to change, you need "distress tolerance"

Change. Is. Hard.  As a dietitian, many people assume that I think change is easy.  Not true.  Changing or altering the foods you choose and how you eat is not easy.  While there are absolutely strategies you can use to help fine-tune your lifestyle, the truth remains that this is hard and requires you to become more conscious and aware of what it is that you do and how you live.

Remember when you first learned to drive a car?  You had to think about everything you were doing!  You:

  • Studied what the different road signs meant
  • You studied for your learners permit test
  • Practiced driving a vehicle
  • Paid attention to all signs, traffic, what was going on around you  
  • Made mistakes
  • Learned from your mistakes
  • Became more confident and more experienced the more you practiced.  

As a result of the process, your driving behaviour became a bit more automatic, where you didn't need to think as intensely about driving as you did when you first started.  

The same process can happen with the foods we choose and how we eat.  We have automatic behaviours around food and eating:

  • When we come home, do we head straight for the kitchen?  
  • When we watch TV, do we automatically have food in hand?  
  • When we reach for a snack, do we automatically grab the box of crackers?  

Part of changing what we do involves becoming more conscious, more aware of the environment in which we live, and what we are doing around the very behaviour we are trying to change. Just like learning to drive, learning to do something different in what foods you choose and how you eat means that you need do some work - you may need to:

  • Become aware of your habits.  When do you make the choices you want to make? When do you tend to make the choices you do not want to make?
  • Learn new information 
  • Learn new skills 
  • Practice making a new choice in an unfamiliar setting.
  • Make mistakes from which you can learn what works, what does not work.

From this work, we can create an environment that sets us up to make the change we wish.  Doing this kind of work and consciously changing what we do is similar to learning to drive a car - we need to have tolerance for distress or discomfort as we are trying to make different choices.  

We need to be prepared for this "distress", and ask ourselves, are we really ready for this?  If you are not ready at this moment in time, not much will happen.  This is okay - the behaviour that might benefit from changing will be there waiting for you for when you are ready.  There is nothing magical about New Years, other than it is a popular time for when people think about making changes.  Change can happen at any time of the year, when you are ready.

Happy New Year!  Let me finish this post with a quote: “All positive change in the world comes from our ideas of what we believe is possible.” ~Alexandra Jamieson  

What do you believe is possible for you in 2013?

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