How to progress from a healthy diet to a lifestyle change
A healthy diet and a lifestyle change can be similar but they are not the same thing. If you confuse the two, it can leave you feeling uncertain about what your actual goal is.
Switching to a healthy diet is something you would usually do if you had a specific goal, such as weight loss. Often though, once you reach that goal, you will find yourself returning to your previous eating habits. A lifestyle change however, is a more long-term approach that sees you adopting better eating habits overall, for better health and long-term weight management. Furthermore, diet is concerned only with the intake of food, whereas a lifestyle change would look at other factors that affect your health and your weight, such as the amount of physical activity you are getting.
Why are lifestyle changes so difficult?
Embarking on a healthy eating plan or making the decision to actively follow a healthy diet is great, but as with anything new, it can be difficult to maintain without dedication and commitment. This is partly because there can be a number of things to distract us from continuing on with a newfound healthy eating plan – lack of time, temptation from unhealthy foods and food cravings being just a few of them, but also because scientifically, it’s actually quite difficult to make a lifestyle change. Studies have shown that it takes 66 days on average for a new behaviour – such as healthy eating – to become automatic, and in some cases it can take as many as 254 days!1
The long-term benefits of a lifestyle change
One of the best ways to have long-term success with a new healthy eating programme is to think of the bigger picture and consider the long-term benefits. Why did you decide to eat more healthily in the first place? Was it to lose weight? A healthy diet will help with that, but a lifestyle change will help you to keep the weight off. Was it to feel in better health overall? Again, a healthy diet will do this, but if you stop and return to your old habits, you will soon start feeling sluggish again. So how do you make these changes? You could try using smaller plates, so that even if you do eat something unhealthy you won’t be eating as much of it or you could put out a fruit bowl so that if you are tempted to snack there’s something healthy on hand.
Lifestyle goes beyond your diet
The most important thing to remember is that a lifestyle change is about adapting more than just your eating habits. A number of other factors also constitute a healthy lifestyle:
Both mental and physical health are strongly influenced by the amount of sleep we get, with studies showing that lack of sleep can contribute to depression and mood disorders, as well as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.2 To get the optimal amount of sleep, try to establish a regular bedtime routine – go to bed at the same time, avoid the blue light of mobile phones and screen, and make your bedroom a fresh, clean and comfortable place to be.
Daily physical exercise will keep your cardiovascular and muscular system in good health and has also been shown to have positive mental health benefits too. Studies show that exercise can help improve stress, anxiety and depression, as well as reduce inflammation which can lead to physical health conditions.3
Eating a healthy diet while ensuring you get enough sleep and exercise will help you handle stress more easily, but there are other things you can do that will help with stress management too, such as meditation, yoga or even mindfulness activities such as colouring in or drawing.
Lifestyle changes based on your goals
Lifestyle changes often start with following a new diet, but there are a number of different diet plans out there. So how do you know which one is best for you and which you will be able to stick with in the long term? For the best results, you need to consider your goals. While weight loss as an overriding goal will generally focus on diet, a lifestyle change can include smaller, yet often more sustainable goals that will likely have a greater effect in the long-term and be easier to stick to. They will differ according to your current habits but could include attending a new exercise class once a week, walking 10,000 steps a day, cutting back on sugar or making an effort to eat more fruit each day, for example.