When it comes to developing healthy habits, as with everything else, real change has to come from within. For it to last over the long-term, eating healthy has to be organic.
Making Changes to Your Diet
When trying to alter your diet, you cannot impose a regime on yourself, or your family, before you have changed on the inside first. No system will work if applied like that.
We are so influenced by the diet culture that we think changing our eating habits is merely a question of being sufficiently disciplined, or having enough willpower. But this approach is forced and things that are forced will not last.
It Starts With Understanding
First, you have to really understand something. Then it clicks with you and then and only then, do you want to embrace something new. When you change to healthy eating habits in this way, you never feel like you are ‘giving up’ something, or even following a regime.
You are not being disciplined, you are merely following your heart. You feel you are giving yourself a gift, because you are doing what you know is right and good for yourself and your family.
This is the only type of change to eating habits that will last and not turn out to be just another fad or failed attempt. This is why the late Allen Carr’s programme on how to stop smoking, is so successful. His genius was in making people understand that they weren’t really giving up anything by deciding not to smoke anymore. On the contrary, they were giving themselves the gift of good health and long life. So, give yourself the gift of good health and long life with good food!
Healthy Eating Habits Are Enjoyable!
Making healthy changes to your eating habits an enjoyable change for yourself and your family. Don’t introduce the negative notion that any of you are ‘giving up’ anything. Self-denial is for puritans. Children seek pleasure and delight in everything they do and are not very good at self-denial. Make meal-times joyous and celebratory.
Having healthier eating habits does not mean you have to be puritanical, it is a pleasure and a delight, a gift to yourself and your family. Even if you understand something theoretically and think you would like to change something in your life for the better, it won’t work unless your heart is in it too. You need to be fired up with true passion and enthusiasm for what you are about to embark on, in order to last the journey and overcome any obstacles that present themselves.
Then you truly have ‘God’s speed’ with you and the angels on your side! Sometimes it takes a while for the energies of your heart to gather themselves, so wait until you really want to do something and then you will find it is easy, because you won’t be fighting yourself and the whole of your being will want the change to happen. Then you can embrace healthy eating habits wholeheartedly.
How to Change Your Lifestyle to Be Healthier
Your approach to changing your family lifestyle is crucial to your success. I think many people rush into making dietary changes well before they are ready to do so and in an all-or-nothing-way that sets them up for failure.
Changing how you eat will not be done on impulse, overnight. It takes thought, preparation, and planning, both psychological and practical. You need, first of all, to allow time to ruminate on the new ideas about food that you would like to incorporate into your life. Allow them percolate in your mind and gather their own momentum. Allow them to become uniquely personalised to you, so that they are not just a system you have adopted wholesale from somebody else.
In this way, they will pick up your energy and become imbued with your passion. Think about how changing to healthy food could benefit you and your family. Consider all the ways and levels that your life could become happier and richer as a result. Think about how this could help you all become the people you really want to be and live the life you would like to live. If you are not convinced of this, you may not yet be ready to embark on new eating habits.
You need to be convinced, that by changing what and how you eat, you are doing something valuable and important. You need to be convinced that you will be coming closer to the kind of life you desire. This is the motivational stage. With good motivation, you can harness the soul-energy you will need to overcome obstacles and achieve your vision.
The good times, and the bad…
There are good times for change and bad times for change, so pick your time well. Changing the way your family eats is quite a radical thing. Choose a time when no one in the family is under particular pressure, such as the sitting of exams etc.
It is a good idea to have a lead-in period—-start talking about what you are going to do beforehand. Explain to your children how you have all gotten into bad food habits and that soon you are going to be changing to healthier eating habits. Include them in the process, allow them time to adjust to the idea and prepare for it.
When everyone is mentally prepared and well-informed, it won’t be such a shock to the system. The summer holidays are a good time to change how you eat, if you are not away from home. You are more likely to be relaxed and not under time-pressure when you have a break from the treadmill of your normal routine.
Not Everything Runs Right, First Time
Don’t expect everything to run smoothly—-expect difficulties and set-backs. They are an inevitable part of the story of change. Tailor the speed of your change to how well you think you will be able to cope with the stress it will cause. Small, steady, incremental changes may turn out to be more lasting than a speedy overhaul. Then work out the practicalities, such as where you are going to do your shopping and how you are going to make time in your day for home-cooking.
When your new eating regime is up and running, regard it as work in progress, and if you lapse, just start over again, perhaps at a slower pace. If, one evening, you have to resort to ordering a takeaway, don’t despair. When you have got over that particular stress-point, just go back to your plan.
Be gentle with yourself!
If it is difficult for you to change your family over to healthy eating, please don’t beat yourself up over it! Many of us have been there—exhausted, time-poor and depending on factory foods just to get through the week.
Begin to work towards change as much as you can, given your life circumstances. Some of us have harder lives than others do and we can’t all change at the same rate. You don’t have to be perfect. All we can do is our best.
We are all, in a sense, politicians of our own lives, practising the art of the possible, as opposed to the absolute, or the ideal. When we accept this, we can make more progress. When we impose absolutism on ourselves, we paralyse ourselves with the impossibility of what we are trying to do. And then we do nothing! As Jungian psychologist, Marion Woodman, discussed in her profound book ‘Addicted to Perfection’, as women, we are particularly prone to this paralysis of perfectionism and it is frequently our undoing.
When you decide to set new habits, you don’t have to insist on a purist regime from Day One! Do what you can and you will find that your own primal, natural desire for wholesome food will be reawakened and, more and more, you will want to eat well. Introduce healthy habits as much as you are able, and don’t feel guilty about the rest. If it’s hard to prepare wholesome foods for your family all the time, don’t give up and ‘throw the book at it’. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. As Sam Beckett would say, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Gradually, I expect, that once you take the first few heartfelt steps towards change, your journey will take on its own momentum and you and your family will become used to good food and not want to eat junk at all. But before you reach that stage, remember that many good intentions fail because people falter at the first hurdle and then give up.
Once you start to work your new habits into your everyday routine, you will find it gets easier to eat this way all the time. You will reach a tipping point where you don’t have to think about healthy eating anymore, it’s just what you do—it becomes your newly acquired habit.
How Long Does it Take to Form New Healthy Eating Habits?
Habits take a while to form and bed down. Expect to fail several times before your new habits take root in your life. This is par for the course. Psychologists say you have do something all the time for at least three months before it becomes a habit. I think that changing long-established eating habits probably takes even longer. Apparently, children have to taste a new food 17 times before it stops tasting odd to them.
If you have to make big changes in order to start eating well, expect vehement protests from your family at first, but be calm! Don’t harangue your children, or try to force them to eat. Just serve the food and if they are hungry they will make some attempt to eat something from the plate, if there is nothing else available. If you offer them a factory pizza when they refuse to eat what you have cooked, you will never change your family to eating healthy.
But the good news is that the more you eat healthily, the less effort it takes. You will become familiar with a group of recipes that you like best and you will probably find yourself cooking them most of the time. When you cook and shop for healthy food all the time, there is an economy of routine. ‘Eating well’ is no longer an issue, it is just part of how you live.
Don’t be Obsessive
Above all, don’t be obsessive. Being obsessive about food is not healthy. You don’t want to pass on food paranoia to your children. Food is to be enjoyed and celebrated. It should not be measured out in calories and guilt.
I have, at various times in my life, been interested in different eating habits, diets, regimes and food philosophies—from the stone age diet, to macrobiotic cooking, to Ayurveda. They all have a lot to recommend them, but I have seen a lot of unhappy people following one regime or another, in a worried, obsessive way and there seemed to be little that was healthy in that way of living.
The Good Foodie philosophy is that, above all, the experience of good food should be a joyful one. To paraphrase Deepak Chopra, it is as important to add life to your years, as years to your life! Keep this in mind as you change your habits!