While I can’t say I nommed on raw grains and garden-fresh veggies for every meal, I can honestly tell you that I eat better now than ever before.
So, how did I go from being a junk food addict to a health food enthusiast? I’m happy to let you in on my not-so-little secret. It starts with this simple fact. It’s a pretty long process, with loads of focus on the little steps in between.
In my experience, it’s often key to have multiple checkpoints before reaching that ultimate goal, but let’s just focus on healthier eating habits for now.
Today, I’m a vegan (generally vegetarian). I eat lots of fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, and nuts/seeds. I’ll admit I eat the occasional burger, but they’re veggie-based alternatives (not greasy hamburgers). I normally have them with whole-grain buns and top them with loads of fresh veggies. Instead of using mayo, though, I use Veganaise, which makes a healthy world of difference.
I still eat pizza, but with veggies instead of meat toppings. My burritos are filled with veggies and low-fat beans instead of high-fat ingredients. I also love soy-based yogurts, fresh berries, and other healthier but flavorful alternatives.
I say all this to show that I don’t deny myself my favorite foods. Instead, I find ways to make them healthier and more nutritious. Personally, I don’t particularly miss meats, but ultimately the key to shifting your eating habits is in the small steps.
The Power of Small Changes
The title of this article may be deceiving, I’ll admit. Often times, people may pair a “12-step program” with AA or similar groups, but that’s not what this healthy eating program is about by any stretch of the imagination.
Instead, the 8 steps I’ve come up with are designed to support you bit by bit as you strive to start eating better. Gradual steps. Small changes. The wonderful thing about gradual change is that over time these little shifts become new habits and then you don’t even have to consciously think about doing them. These steps can become your new normal and you likely won’t feel as though you’re denying yourself of anything.
Take beef for example. Imagine you’re forced to suddenly become a vegetarian and meat was completely cut out of your diet all at once. You’d likely (and understandably) feel deprived and may struggle with this sudden change. Not many people would be motivated to keep going, and there’s a much higher chance of quitting the diet altogether and maybe even feeling guilty. Now, imagine instead that you slowly cut back on specific meats over the course of 14 days or so.
Let’s begin with reducing your beef intake. Instead of having hamburgers for dinner tonight, switch it out for chicken, fish, turkey, or pork — all stuff you may typically eat. After about two weeks’ time, you likely wouldn’t notice how little burger you’re eating and probably wouldn’t miss it much.
Next, repeat that process with pork, and so on. Before long, you’ll find that you’ve cut red meats from your diet altogether — unless you also eat a lot of venison, wild ox, otter meat, or something… that could take a little more time. After the red meats, work on reducing chicken by replacing it with fish. This could be a little more challenging, but after about a month it’ll be easy peasy. Next, you’d work fish out of your diet, and voila! You’re a veggie lover like me who doesn’t miss meats.
OK, so I’m not saying you have to transform into a vegetarian or vegan overnight. That’s not the goal. Rather, step by little step, the process of healthy eating becomes easier. So far, I’ve used this process for eliminating meat, fried food, and desserts from my diet and it’s worked without fail.
Over time, you’ll find that these changes become your new normal.
The 8-Step Program
This 8-step program isn’t a rigid process that you HAVE to follow exactly, but rather it’s a framework that you can use, tweak, and update as you see fit.
- Implement each change, one at a time, over the course of three to four weeks each. This is a slow process, but it’ll be easier to maintain.
- Again, focus on each change for at least a few weeks at a time. Give yourself enough time to completely adjust to each change before adding the next.
- Overwhelmed by a step? Break it into smaller pieces. For example, if cutting out all sweets is too rough, cut out one category of sweets (like donuts) at a time. Small steps create manageable goals.
- Don’t replace unhealthy foods with foods you hate. Find healthy alternatives you actually enjoy. If you don’t love what you’re eating, you won’t be able to maintain your new habits.
OK, so here’s an example of how this step-by-step process could work:
- Replace unhealthy foods with fruits and other unprocessed snacks.
- Replace soda or sugary-based beverages with water.
- Replace white bread with whole-grain variations. Avoid enriched wheat flour and HFCS.
- Include fresh vegetables at every meal, but especially at dinner.
- Replace red meats with poultry and fish.
- Opt for homemade pizza instead of ordering out. You can control the toppings and create a just-as-tasty but much healthier alternative.
- Snack on nuts (unsalted) instead of potato chips.
- Switch to a less fattier milk product, and consider replacing regular cow’s milk with soymilk.
There you have it, folks. I hope that you find this 8-step program to be a wonderful guide for your journey to healthier eating.