MAKING BETTER FOOD CHOICES: Behavior Change Basics

MAKING BETTER FOOD CHOICES

Behavior Change Basics
To begin changing your behavior and habits, it helps to know where you are starting from. You need to pay attention to your current dietary habits and preferences. What are your dietary strengths to build on? What are your dietary weaknesses to shore up? Next, you need to familiarize yourself with what may be the best dietary practices suited to you. This needs to be a personalized blending of self-knowledge and credible dietary information. Sorting through and prioritizing potential changes is key, since you can’t change everything at once! In the end, to achieve a sustainable set of changes over the long haul, you need to maintain focus and rewards. Writing down your goals and celebrating your successes can carry you a long way in making better food choices. One thing successful people have in common is that they are very focused and strongly goal oriented. 

Behavior Change Basics

Practice Self-Awareness/Mindfulness — focus and attention is required for optimal behavior change. Mindfulness is simply paying attention to yourself and your surroundings. If you want to make realistic changes, it helps to be aware the actual realities within yourself and your environment. You can greatly facilitate the long process of behavior change by gaining ongoing, accurate assessment and feedback on your progress. The most direct way to sustain focus and attention is to write your goals down, put them up where they will be visible to you, and make note of your progress. Also, sharing your plans and getting feedback from a trusted friend can be another source of grounding yourself in reality and getting support.

Get Credible Information — There is a lot of different and conflicting information about diet and nutrition. When sorting through information, consider the source’s expertise, perspective, and bias. Here are some questions to consider:

What is the author’s relevant education, training, or experience?
What types of sources does the author cite?
Is the information current, state-of-the-art?
Is the author affiliated with a reputable organization or group?
What is the purpose, philosophy, or ideology associated with the information?
Is there a commercial or financial interest tied into the information?
Are all sides of an issue presented fairly?
Are appeals made on emotions (such as fear)?
Are unrealistic claims made?

Set Effective Goals — effective goals are only the one’s that you get accomplished. Here are some tips for setting goals that work for you:

Keep It Meaningful — the most meaningful goals are the one’s that will get you the biggest dietary payoff for the least effort. Of course, your goals should address the values that are most relevant to you: what aspects of diet and nutrition are most important to you?
Focus on the Positive — begin by building on your strengths. Do more of something you are already pretty good at. Focus on adding good foods and dietary practices rather than eliminating or depriving yourself.
Set Challenging But Attainable Goals — Avoid setting too many goals or too large goals, which may set yourself up for failures. Break large goals into smaller steps. Challenge yourself when your motivation is high. However, recognize that motivation will have its ups and downs in the long term, and plan accordingly.
Write Your Goals Down — writing down goals crystallizes your commitments and provides a tangible tool to most effectively guide your efforts.
Put Your Goals Up — place your written goals in places where you will see them regularly. Planting reminders in places nearby when you buy food, prepare food, or eat food can be particularly helpful for keeping on track.
Make Your Goals Specific & Measurable — your goals should be specific enough so that you know if you have reached them.
Include Time-Frames in Your Goals — adding time-frames to your goals gives you a more robust framework to measure your goals and serves as a tool to break larger goals into smaller, realistic steps. Deadlines may boost motivation as well.
Build in Rewards for Success — celebrate successes along the way. Identify what rewards will help you celebrate your success and motivate you even more. Set specific times to review your progress. Put it on your calendar and/or tie your progress review to regular events such as before grocery shopping, Monday’s lunch, or any other at least weekly routine.
Keep It Simple — Don’t get bogged down with too many goals. If you have too many goals, start with a few simple ones. If you start with goals with shorter time-frames, you can build early successes and perhaps move on more quickly to your other goals.
Prioritize — You can’t do everything at once. Not everything is of equal importance or effectiveness. What dietary practices will improve your quality of life the most for the least time and effort? Make your short list and focus your efforts on that.
Keep It Flexible — Things change. Adjust to changing circumstances and follow emerging motivations or new information. After all, they are your goals and they should serve you, not the other way around.

Landmarks in Food Choices

Ultimately, the goal of addressing your food choices is to better align your own values, thoughts, attitudes, feelings, and behaviors with one another. Hopefully, by leveraging the positive attributes in your life, you can build on your assets and shore up weak spots, to live a balanced and healthy life — for yourself, the people around you, and the planet which feeds us. One way to help navigate such an enterprise is to reflect on the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How of food-related choices. Consider these questions:

WHO?

Who grows my food?
Who processes/prepares my food?
Who do I buy, cook, and/or eat food with?
Who influences my eating habits the most?
Who profits from the food I eat?
Who may be harmed in the process of me getting my food?

WHAT?

What foods do I eat regularly?
What are the nutrient densities of the foods I eat regularly?
What eating habits can I change that will offer the biggest benefit?
What plans do I have to help me make positive food changes?

WHEN?

When do I eat typically eat my meals/snacks?
When do I find my eating choices are most compromised?

WHERE?

Where does my food originate from:
Geographically?
Ecologically/Biologically?
Politically/Economically?

WHY?

Why is nutrition and/or food justice important to me?

HOW?

How is my food grown and harvested?
How is the nutritional value of my food changed from farm to table? What is added/removed/modified?
How much variety do I get in my diet?
How often do I try new recipes or new foods?
How much do I enjoy each bite of food I eat?
How ecologically-sustainable are the foods I eat?
How much food do I waste?
How much waste results from packaging and eating of my foods?
How much time am I willing to invest to improve my eating habits?
How much nutritional value do I get for my food dollar?
How accurate, balanced, and unbiased is the food and nutrition information that I use?
How balanced are my food and nutrition practices relative to my other health practices and values in life?

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