Whether we are advised to remove foods due to a medical condition such as pre-diabetes or celiac disease, or we make a commitment to a specific diet such as Paleo, dietary shifts are rarely easy. Beyond mere sustenance, food is part of our culture and our social existence; it is embedded in our daily habits and is a source of pleasure and comfort. When we make changes to our diet, we inevitably make changes to our lives.
If you are confronting the need to eliminate foods from your diet or to follow a specific dietary plan, the following steps can support your journey.
1. Allow Yourself to Mourn
In accordance with the intensity of dietary change you are making, recognize the challenges you will face as you adjust to the new regime. Yes, it will be difficult to say goodbye to favorite foods and long-established habits – so don’t pretend otherwise. Allow yourself to mourn your once favorite foods and habits as a first step in developing new habits and discovering new treats.
Although it is immensely rational to reject the health-robbing Standard American Diet of sugary snacks, processed foods, and factory-farmed meat, by diverging from the norm, you are stepping outside of the mainstream. You may feel left out when your co-workers meet at Dunkin’ Donuts for breakfast or your family or friends want to split a pizza from Pizza Hut for dinner. The ability to grab food on the go declines when you raise the requirements of what constitutes food. It is not easy to reject the ease and convenience of fast food and packaged food in a culture that embraces it.
2. Create a Game Plan
Radical change does not happen without planning and preparation. Sourcing high quality food is a priority when your health dictates your diet, and making the time and allocating the funds to organic, unprocessed, whole foods demands effort. Read recipe blogs, talk to like-minded friends, research restaurants and allow yourself time to integrate necessary changes into your life.
Reversing years of dietary habits will require you to shop differently, cook differently, eat out differently and plan your days differently. Sunday brunch may no longer be so enjoyable when the waffles and pancakes are off the diet plan and Friday night bar-hopping may not be as appealing without a drink in hand.
Can you find an alternate meeting place for brunch or re-think weekend gatherings? Mealtimes are a wonderful way to come together with friends and family but they are not the only way. Try meeting in the park for a walk, a game of tennis, or a bike ride; or going to a sporting event, a concert or a show; or simply meeting at a café for tea instead of at a bar or restaurant.
Try cooking at home more often and inviting friends and family to enjoy your new, healthful way of eating.
3. Build Self-Awareness
The more you understand about your health condition and your reasons to make changes to your diet, the easier it will be to persist with the new program. When you truly understand why the changes are required you are more likely to commit. Ask your doctor or practitioner for additional resources and recommended reading; Dr. Google can be very helpful as can friends and families who have walked the same or a similar path.
The knowledge and insight you gain through research can support the early stages of adaptation, which are the most challenging. Over time, as your health improves and your symptoms diminish, you will be naturally inspired to continue the program.
4. Recognize Breakthroughs
Over time, your new habits will become old habits and the way of life that goes with your new diet won’t feel so difficult anymore. Day by day, you are integrating the new diet and lifestyle into your daily experience and it becomes part of who you are. There will be a time when you no longer mourn the foods and lifestyle you left behind. In fact, you will wonder why you didn’t make this shift earlier! Your increased energy and vitality and the reduction of your symptoms will be your reward for the changes you have successfully made. Congratulations!