How to adjust to a healthier diet
Change often requires an adjustment period. Men and women who switch jobs may need a few weeks before they feel fully comfortable in a new office, while students changing schools may also need some time to adapt to their new surroundings.
An adjustment period is also common when people decide to adopt healthier diets. Diet is often habit-forming, and men and women will need some time to adjust as they kick some bad dietary habits in favor of healthier fare. The following are some simple ways to make that adjustment period a little easier to swallow.
- Go slowly. Some people are capable of going cold turkey when adjusting to a new diet, while others must take a more gradual approach. Unless a health condition that requires immediate change is driving your dietary changes, take things slowly so your body acclimates to its new diet over time. Such an approach may make your efforts more successful over the long haul than making more sudden, drastic changes. For example, suddenly cutting your daily calorie intake in half may force you into old, unhealthy habits when hunger pangs inevitably arise. But gradually reducing your caloric intake over time may make it easier for your body to adjust, decreasing the likelihood that you will relapse into bad habits.
- Explain your motivation to loved ones. Adults, especially married men and women and parents, may find adjusting to a new diet especially difficult unless their spouses and/or families are making similar adjustments. If you are the only member of your household who will be adjusting to a new diet, explain your efforts and motivation to your loved ones. Such an explanation will make them less likely to bring unhealthy foods into your home. In addition, your loved ones can prove an invaluable source of support as you make this big adjustment in your life.
- Embrace positive results, even if they are initially underwhelming. Just because you have adopted a new diet does not mean you will see immediate results. Fad diets meant to last just a few weeks may produce immediate results, but such results likely will not withstand the test of time, and you may even gain weight when you revert to some of your old eating habits. The right diet will produce long-lasting results, but you must allow for some time before such diets lead to significant weight loss. In the meantime, place more emphasis on how you feel than the figure that shows up on your bathroom scale each morning. Upon adopting a healthier diet, you will start to notice how much better you feel than you felt when eating a diet filled with fatty, unhealthy foods. Remind yourself of this extra hop in your step as you continue on the path to a healthier lifestyle.
- Don’t give up. Your adjustment period will require some discipline, and there may be moments when you backslide into bad habits. If that happens, don’t allow it to derail all of the progress you have made since switching to a healthier diet. Just accept that you had a setback and resolve to do your best to avoid having another one. The sooner you get back on a healthier track, the better you will feel.
Nourishing advice on low-sodium diets
Parents have been spicing up their nutrition knowledge by asking me lots of questions about the amount of salt in their children’s diets. Let me see if I can add some flavorful tips to this important topic.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, about nine in 10 children are eating more sodium than recommended, with most sodium in the form of salt being eaten when children eat processed foods.
In fact, while Americans eat the equivalent of anywhere from one to three teaspoons of salt per day, a child needs no more than a half a teaspoon of salt daily. Why is too much salt a problem? Because a high-sodium or high-salt diet can lead to high blood pressure, even in childhood, and high blood pressure can be a set-up for heart disease and stroke in adulthood.
So the name of the game is to find ways to reduce the amount of salt in your children’s diets. How can you do this?
First, parents should know that the saltiest foods around are processed foods such as pizza, bread and rolls, cold cuts, cheese, chicken nuggets, pasta dishes and soups.
To reduce the amount of salt in your child’s diet:
- Consider using fresh rather than packaged or processed items.
- Try different spices, herbs, lemon juice and vegetables instead of salt to add flavor to foods.
- Keep the salt shaker off the table and taste foods before you add salt since they may be salty enough.
- Read food labels with your child and note the sodium or salt content. Best choices are foods with less than 120 mg of sodium per serving and the poorest choices are when there are more than 600 mg in a serving.
Parents, you can be a good role model as well by eating low-salt diets rich in fruits and vegetables without added sodium, something we call the “salternative” diet.
Hopefully tips like this will shake out well when it comes to keeping the salt in the salt shaker rather than on your child’s plate.
Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children’s Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.