You’re time-pressed and on the run, so you grab something “quick and easy” (and usually not the healthiest). A short time later, you’re feeling lousy, either from regret or because whatever you ate is sitting like a lump of lead in your stomach. You might think to yourself, “That wasn’t such a great choice.” Why, then, did you make that choice? What were you thinking? The truth is, you may not have been thinking much at all beyond “I need some food.” As Bono of the band U2 has sung, you were caught in a moment — either from actual physical hunger or driven by an emotional need — and couldn’t get out of it.
To break free of such traps, and to make smarter choices, the key is to think about your goal. When you’re working on changing your eating behavior — whether it’s to lose weight, revise your diet due to a medical condition or simply increase your well-being — the choices can seem rather overwhelming. It may feel like you have to be conscious of every little thing — and to a certain extent, you do. To stay on track, you need a goal. “Every choice you’re faced with, ask yourself, ‘Will this get me to my goal?’” recommends Jane Ehrman, MEd, CHES, a mind-body medicine specialist at the Center for Integrative Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. “After a while, the choices become automatic.”
Those goals, by the way, should be concrete and doable; your choices will become clearer if you lay out specific tactics and benchmarks instead of a vague, pie-in-the-sky mega-target. For instance, instead of announcing, “I’m going to lose 20 pounds!” make it a goal to eat a healthy breakfast each day (research shows having breakfast, particularly one that’s low in fat and high in fiber and lean protein, sets you up for both weight loss and long-term maintenance). Or set a target of eating five fruits and vegetables every day, or taking a walk every night.
Be Prepared With a Plan
Even with a goal in mind, making choices continually on the fly can be difficult for most of us. That’s why Ehrman highlights the importance of planning. By thinking ahead, you empower yourself to be prepared and avoid traps that can deter your goal.
For instance, take that goal of eating a healthy breakfast each day. Don’t just say, “I’m going to eat a good breakfast” and hope that the choice will become apparent at seven o’clock each morning. Sit down and write out a week’s worth of meals, prepare your shopping list and stock your cabinets and fridge with the items you’ll need. Set a time to have that breakfast every day. If you know you have to be out the door extra-early one morning, plan a healthy but portable option for that day and prepare it the night before.
Keep Track of Your Success
To help reinforce your choices, many experts recommend keeping a food journal or diary. Doing so does two things: It holds you accountable for your choices (do you really want to have to confess to yourself that you ate the Mega-Muffin Sandwich for breakfast on Tuesday?), and it lets you review your growing success over time. Don’t forget to reward yourself for good choices, by the way — a week of healthy mornings? Treat yourself to a new book or iTunes download!
As you get more practiced at making smart choices in one area, you’ll find your confidence will grows and you’ll be able to take on new areas — and be on your way to making the many smart decisions that add up to overall wellness.