Building Healthy Habits
Friends, family, and even strangers ask me, “What is the best diet?”
I think they expect me, as a person who studied nutrition for so long, to have The Answer. Is it low-fat? Low-carb? Paleo? Keto? Vegetarian? Mediterranean? And while it would be easier if there was The One Diet to Rule Them All, unfortunately, there isn’t one. What a bummer! We like easy answers, but life so rarely works out that way.
This is the fourth entry in the Healthy Meals for Homeschoolers series. You can find the entire series at this link.
So what is the best diet? The one that includes enough safe and nutritious food for people to live healthy, actives lives. The best diet for you and your family is the one that works with your health goals, budget, culture, and preferences. It supports a healthy, happy home. And there’s no one way it should look!
Instead of recommending one formula that works for everyone, I suggest people try to make small, incremental changes to improve health. And the changes you make should be those which you can imagine doing for the rest of your life. You and your body have a long time to be together, I hope, and it is important to make healthy habits you can stick with in the long-run.
My favorite approach to making small, incremental changes is to set SMART goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-sensitive. To show you how it might work, let me tell you about an example of a recent SMART goal that I set. I wanted to increase my intake of fruits and vegetables. While this is an admirable goal, it is not a very actionable one.
Instead, here’s a SMART goal: During the month of October, I will eat at least 1 serving of fruits and/or vegetables at each meal (breakfast, lunch, and dinner). This goal is actionable. It specifies the healthy habit (eating fruits and vegetables). I can measure the outcome; I can write down the number of servings of fruits and vegetables I eat. Importantly, this goal is achievable. Depending on my current diet, it might be a stretch to add more fruits and vegetables, but it is definitely possible. The goal is realistic. There are endless varieties of fruits and vegetables I can incorporate into each meal - I won’t get bored. And it’s time-sensitive. I am going to do this during the month of October and at each of my three main meals.
A SMART goal is a plan of action. It is clear enough that I can tell you “yes” I did it, or “no” I did not. And I do not have to be perfect! It is achievable enough that I can miss a few meals and the “on-ramp” back to meeting the goal is pretty gentle. Learn more about writing SMART personal goals here.
Another beautiful thing about SMART goals is the opportunity to turn these practices into habits. After a month of eating at least a serving of fruits and/or vegetables at each meal, I am pretty used to it. I know what I need to buy at the grocery store, and which options work best for me. Once a healthy habit is established, it’s possible to take it to the next level and build more habits into your life.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, before setting any SMART goal and developing a healthy habit, it is crucial to understand the reason you want to make the change to start with. Our culture is obsessed with weight-loss and makes body fat into an issue of morality. So while yes, eating more fruits and vegetables may help someone to lose body fat, which can be an important step in a health journey, there are other great benefits which may be more realistic to focus on. Maybe you want to improve a chronic condition like diabetes or high blood pressure. Maybe you want to live a healthier life so that you can enjoy more time and activities with your family. Think deeply and broadly – a purpose-filled choice will keep you help keep you building healthy habits a lot longer than willpower alone.