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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?

Ten Commandments of Eating for Life

10 Commandments of Eating for Life

1. Eat whole, minimally processed foods whenever possible

Nature knows best. Eating foods in a form that resembles the state in which they were harvested is a good bet for optimizing a food’s nutritional value. “Whole” means that the food’s original nutritional potential is substantially present by the time they get in your mouth. “Whole” refers to the basic foodstuffs from nature. The nutritional value and quality of basic foodstuffs depends upon many things, including:

1) the genetics of the foodstuff (plant, animal, fungus, or variety thereof);
2) the inputs which make food grow, such as soil, water, air, sun, and fertilizer (and feed for animal foods); and
3) the larger ecology, including weather, symbiotic organisms, weeds, or pests.

“Minimally processed” means that the food is processed only as much as is necessary to:

1) enhance nutritional availability;
2) prevent the loss of nutritional value;
3) assure that the food is safe; and
4) make the food palatable.

Food processing generally encompasses:

1) removing, refining, altering food components;
2) food storage or preservation methods;
3) adding/combining ingredients; and
4) cooking methods.

2. Eat a wide variety of wholesome foods.

Your body requires a wide variety of nutrients. Meeting your body’s nutrient requirements is best achieved by eating a wide variety of wholesome foods. Mix it up! Many compounds in our diets interact with one another, often with great synergy. Mixing it up can make the sum greater than the parts. Be wary of fad diets that greatly restrict your food variety or focus on a small number of foods or nutrients. Your body is awesome at maintaining “homeostasis” — a fancy word for balance — it just needs a sensible input of wholesome foods.

3. Eat mostly plant foods.

Plant foods offer a wider variety and better mix of health-forming nutrients than animal foods. Much of this is due to a large number and quantity of positively bioactive phytonutrients present in plants. However, animal foods also contain substantial components which are disease-forming. Also, foods higher up the food chain, i.e., all animal foods, tend to bioaccumulate toxins such as heavy metals and fat-soluble chemicals. In modern, industrialized diets, higher animal food consumption is associated with poorer health.

4. Eat and drink in moderation.

Moderation is a close relative of variety. Moderation and variety are practices that support balance. For most people, balance means eating more good foods and less “bad” foods. If indulging in “bad” foods, do so in moderation. Eliminating your favorite foods may do more harm than good, if it does not allow you to make sustainable changes to your diet. Small changes over time add up! And, even with the best foods, it is possible to get too much of a good thing. As they say, “The dose makes the poison.”

5. Eat regular meals.

Your body functions better when your food intake is spread out across three meals a day. Breakfast is key to priming your metabolism and getting an energetic start to your day. Snacking between meals probably adds little additional benefit, and may be detrimental to oral health. Drinking water between meals may be a good habit to stay hydrated (unsweetened, plain coffee/tea can be a healthy source of antioxidants — though you may want to avoid caffeine 10 hours before bedtime).

6. Eat ecologically-sustainable foods.

All life is interdependent. What we eat not only affects our nutritional status, it affects our planet and all life that depends on it. Ecologically-sustainable foods are part of a healthy, sustainable food system. A healthy, sustainable food system emphasizes, strengthens, and makes visible the interdependent and inseparable relationships between individual sectors (from production to waste disposal) and system characteristics (health-promoting, sustainable, resilient, diverse, fair, economically balanced, and transparent). This benefits all farmers, workers and eaters involved, as well as the planet and its other inhabitants.  Explore more at Eating Ecologically.

7. Pay attention to what you eat.

Paying attention, or mindfulness, is key to actively participating as a just eater on an interdependent planet. Mindfulness is the foundation for accurately assessing what you actually eat. Once you know what you are eating, then you can properly evaluate what impact your food has on you and your planet.

8. Pay attention to your eating habits.

Just eating is way more than just knowing the nutritional value of what you are eating. Where does your food come from? How does it get to you? Where did you buy it? How much does it cost? Where do you eat it? How was it prepared? What are your regular eating habits? Why do you eat the way you do? Being mindful of your eating habits can give you important clues to what improvements may be made.

9. Pay attention to the feedback of your body (and mind).

Your body is amazing! Whether you are paying attention or not, your body is busy processing the food you eat and the nutrients it absorbs. Your body is orchestrating gazillions of chemical reactions every second to keep in you balance. Return the favor and pay attention to your body (and mind)! This can help you decipher signals and cues related to taste, hunger, thirst, alertness, fatigue, and emotional state that can impact your food choices. Teaming up with your body can be the beginning of a long and healthy relationship.

10. Enjoy your food!

Food is one of the great pleasures in life! If food and nutrition become a chore, then you may be missing the point. Health is for life. Life is for enjoying! Becoming enlightened about food and nutrition may “ruin” some eating habits for you. There is a certain amount effort and even distress involved in disciplines leading to enlightenment. Nonetheless, the payoff can be greater harmony within yourself and your environment. This is a cause for joy!