Psychologists are still learning about willpower and our ability to resist short-term temptations in order to achieve long-term goals. To say ‘no thanks’ to the offer of cake to celebrate every colleague’s birthday, and instead stick to your plan to slim down for summer. The current thinking is that willpower can be depleted by constant challenges. Think of it as a muscle that will eventually get tired from overuse. Sure, we can probably build it up with regular mental exercise but in the meantime, let’s give our willpower a well-deserved rest.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by opportunities to eat too much or eat the wrong types of food, here are five simple and easy steps you can take to get your healthy diet back on track.
1. Shop around the sides
Change up your shopping habits by circumnavigating most of the processed and energy dense foods in the middle of the supermarket. Instead, stick to the outside and choose your healthy diet food for the week from the fruit and veg, dairy and meat sections. You’ll find most of the ingredients you need for breakfast, lunch, dinner and some healthy snacks. Don’t think it’s possible? Keep it simple or get creative. There’s more than enough goodness and taste here for you and your family - fruit and yoghurt combos; crunchy salads; an old-fashioned roast dinner. By avoiding the centre aisles, you’ll also avoid filling up the trolley with impulse buys including biscuits, high sugar cereals, chips and chocolate.
2. Make your own salad bar
Override the need to exercise self-control every day at the work canteen by bringing your own lunch from home. A small amount of preparation can set you up from Monday to Friday with a variety of healthy lunches. Salad leaves alone are not enough. Make these hearty, satisfying meals by incorporating loads of vegetables or legumes. Five serves of vegies a day is the goal. Prepare for the week by roasting a variety of veg such as pumpkin and sweet potato. These can be tossed with green salad ingredients for a more substantial meal. Grate up some carrots and raw beetroot for a colourful vegie salad. Soak and boil some dried beans or chickpeas. They can be frozen in small batches and pulled out as required to supercharge your lunch box pack with more fibre and protein. The more ingredients you have ready to go, the easy it is to make healthy diet choices.
3. Grow your own food
What better way to kick start your healthy diet than by starting your own kitchen garden? This can be in a small patch of garden, or in smart planter pots on your balcony. Start off with some hardy, easy-grow herbs such as parsley, basil and rosemary and then gradually expand into larger pots or out into the garden. There is something wonderful about nurturing tiny seedlings to maturity, harvesting your crop and feeding your family healthy, homegrown, home-cooked food. The kids will love it too. Send them out into the garden to pick some rocket leaves, cherry tomatoes and beans before dinner and you’ve almost guaranteed they will want to eat that salad. The fresh air, sunshine and physical activity involved in gardening are just a bonus.
4. Celebrate the fruit bowl
Show off the amazing variety of fruit we enjoy in Australia but keeping fresh seasonal fruit on the kitchen bench. Citrus, tropical fruits, stone fruits or berries - the first thing anyone should see when they walk into your kitchen is a bowl of in-season, ready-to-eat fruit. These vitamin-packed snacks are an important part of a healthy diet, so make them visible and the obvious healthy snack choice. Australian dietary guidelines recommend two serves of fruit each day, but about half of us aren’t even managing to eat that modest amount. Create a healthy diet habit of regularly eating fruit and be a role model for others. Always choose fresh, whole fruit over dried fruits or fruit juice, which are more energy dense and not good for your teeth.
5. Re-arrange the pantry
What do you see first when you open the pantry? If it’s a basket of muesli bars or a biscuit jar, chances are these will become the default for after-school or after-work snacks. Out of sight is out of mind so make a point of pushing any sweets and other treats to the back of your pantry. Store healthier food options such as nuts and seeds in clear canisters at the front of the pantry. Ingredients to build sandwiches should live at the front too, such as wholemeal bread and tinned salmon or tuna. Do the same switch for meal ingredients: refined foods to the back; wholegrain foods to the front. Install a whiteboard inside the pantry and write out the week’s healthy diet meal plan and a list of healthy snack ideas. Setting the decision-making to automatic will help avoid any last minute lapses in judgment about food choices.