Sara writes: "I'm trying to ease back into healthy eating (I do pretty well with exercise) and want to focus on one thing for the next week since I usually try to do an overhaul all at once and it backfires. What would you suggest? Smaller portion sizes? Dessert only on the weekend? Eating a certain amount of fruits and veggies a day? Something else? I'll try to add one thing each week after, but where do I start that will make the most difference right away to keep me motivated? "
Sara, you're smart to realize that baby steps are better when it comes to getting your mojo back! Spending a week really concentrating on establishing one good habit is better than overreaching and burning out when all the restrictions become too overwhelming. So where should you start?
Well, you could decide which single item is the most challenging, the one thing that you can pinpoint as your biggest downfall, and then break it down into microgoals, trying to concentrate on achieving one most of the time each week.
I wouldn't set a specific deadline as to how much time you'd take to achieve each goal. You might need longer than a week. It's not something you want to beat yourself up about.
Here's another idea, and probably what I would try: I would start working on the psychological aspects before I did anything else, because that is what makes the difference in whether you stick to your plan or not. I might start off by not restricting myself at all, but working on awareness. First, I would simply insist that on keeping a food plan every single day. I would write out what I planned to eat the night before, and my goal would be to read the food plan over before I put anything at all in my mouth, and not to deviate from that plan. This serves the purpose of making you aware of what you're eating, and how much. If you eat something that you didn't plan, write it down. Remember, you can have whatever you want, but you have to plan ahead for it.
After the food plan was comfortably established, my next goal would simply to be aware of how much I was eating. In addition to planning what I would eat, I would make it my goal to measure every portion that went in my mouth. Again, still placing no restrictions, but not letting a morsel pass my lips until it had been measured. I would record how much I ate. After that, I would start planning how much I'd eat along with what I was going to eat.
Then, assuming that's going well, next I would start to take a look at what exactly I was eating and how much of it. I would use a calorie calculator to figure out about how many calories I should be consuming in order to lose weight, and then I'd figure out a plan. If you don't want to count calories, count points or educate yourself about appropriate portion sizes. Decide what kind of diet works best for you and plan your food accordingly.
You can ease into that, too. If you need dessert regularly, maybe you can plan to have it a couple of times a week, but also plan a small treat every day. (Mine is a small piece of very good dark chocolate, or half a cup of fruit sorbet). If you have a hard time getting enough veggies in, maybe you can spend the first couple of weeks concentrating on that. Just give yourself time and be patient. Remind yourself frequently why you want to eat this way --- especially whenever you're tempted to give in "just this once".
Here's another way to go, and what's been working for me. Spend a week or so eating very simply. Don't cook fancy recipes or eat out. Eat good, plain food like salads, tuna, cottage cheese and yogurt, fresh veggies, fruit, and whole grains. Limit stuff like bread to once a day. I find this "resets" my palate if I've been having too many indulgences, and helps me come back to the kind of eating I need to do on a day to day basis. Once I'm firmly back on track, I find that I can add in the occasional indulgence.
Oh. And keep up the exercise, Sara. Kick it up a notch if you can. That will help you maximize any efforts you're making with your healthy eating. Good luck!