How often have we started a new diet (cabbage soup anyone?), committed to new year’s resolutions, or promised ourselves we’re going to completely revamp our entire lifestyles, only to find a week or two later we’re right back where we started? Change is flippin’ hard.
One of the reasons we can feel like we’re failing when it comes to healthy eating is because we put too much pressure on ourselves to be ‘perfect’. Often, we set unattainable goals and then when we have a slip, give up completely.
Starting to make your diet healthier can be hard, but reducing the pressure on yourself can make it easier.
So, let’s try a different approach. Let’s ditch the diets, the quick fixes, and the impossible striving for perfection, and make a few gradual changes. Acknowledge that we don’t have to be perfect all the time and that our best is good enough.
Big, drastic goals are tempting to set (I’m going to lose 5 stone in the next month!) but they’re harder to stick to. Small changes tend to have a much greater impact over time. So, let’s start small.
What little things can we begin to change? For example, we might have two sugars in our tea, and the thought of going cold-turkey and cutting it out makes us feel utterly queasy. Can we reduce it by a quarter of a teaspoon at a time? That way the taste won’t change so dramatically, and we’re more likely to stick with it.
Cook one new recipe each week
Pondering what to have for dinner, especially when we’re feeding a family, can be a constant source of exasperation, which is why so many of us tend to use the same recipes over and over again. How many of us have been cooking chilli-con-carne, spaghetti bolognaise, or Balti curry on autopilot for years?
Aim to try cooking a new healthy recipe just once a week. This can give us more variety, increase our nutritional intake, and add some new recipes to our repertoire. Alternatively, we could make a healthier version of our favourite recipe (five-bean chilli. Nom!).
Eat the rainbow!
Eating the rainbow, unfortunately, doesn’t mean chowing down on Skittles or M&Ms (sorry!). It means eating a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables. Each colour in plant-based food indicates an abundance of specific nutrients, which our bodies need to thrive. Choosing a diverse assortment of colourful veg and fruits is an easy way to ensure we’re getting a complete range of health-boosting vitamins and minerals.
Try adding in extra coloured vegetables or make a meal that uses every colour – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, white, and brown (kids may love this idea too). The more colours we paint our plate with, the more variation we’re getting nutrient-wise.
Focus on ‘good’ fats
Our diets in the western world are usually full of processed vegetable and seed oils. These are very high in omega-6 fatty acids, but not so high in omega-3s. Eating too much omega-6 and too little omega-3 has been linked to inflammation and chronic diseases, such as osteoporosis, autoimmune diseases, heart disease, and cancer. Scary stuff!
Reducing the amount of deep-fried foods we consume, swapping processed oils for healthier alternatives, such as extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, cold-pressed rapeseed oil and eating oily fish (salmon, trout, herring, sardines, pilchards, and mackerel) can make a huge difference.
The NHS says we should “aim for a least 2 portions of fish every week, 1 of which should be oily, such as salmon or mackerel.”
If we’d rather have a poke in the eye than eat fish, we should consider taking an omega-3 supplement.
Following on from our fishy-theme, if we’re big meat-eaters we could also adopt ‘meat-free Mondays’, which has been gaining traction over the last few years. The idea is simple. Every Monday choose meat-free meals. Not only is eating less meat good for our health but it’s also good for the environment, helping to slow the rates of climate change and deforestation.
"We don't need to go vegetarian to look after ourselves and our planet – but we do need to cut down on meat." Craig Bennett, Friends of the Earth Policy Director
In 2010, a study carried out by Oxford University for Friends of the Earth, found that eating meat no more than three times a week could prevent 31,000 deaths from heart disease, 9,000 deaths from cancer and 5,000 deaths from stroke, as well as save the NHS £1.2 billion in costs each year. Gosh! 
Eating should be a positive experience. If eating a bowl of steamed kale is our idea of hell then let’s not force ourselves to eat it. We’re more likely to stick to new habits if we’re enjoying ourselves. What foods taste good for us? What are our favourite vegetables and fruits? Can we pack in more flavour using chillies, spices, and fresh herbs? Eat slowly, chew lovingly (and well), and enjoy every bite.
Want to eat that piece of chocolate or ice lolly? Eat it! Savour it and be glad. Focusing too much on eating “right” can be a slippery slope to obsession. Healthy eating, like so much of life, is all about balance.
Let's be honest: Habits take time to develop. Forming healthy eating habits doesn’t happen overnight. Let’s sack off striving for perfection and remember that one slip doesn’t “blow” a whole day or weeks’ worth of healthy habits. We can do this! One day at a time!
Healthy Planet Eating Report (2010). Friends of the Earth.