This week, I’m going to share a concept with you called “the list strategy.” This method is most valuable when you are trying to make changes to your diet for the purpose of eating healthier. However, it can also be a useful part of a weight loss plan, as the two often go hand-in-hand.
We all consume things as part of our diet out of habit, or sometimes simply because they are made available. An example might be having a soda with lunch each day or mindlessly snacking on a bowl of chips at a party. It is estimated that up to ninety-five percent of our behavior is habitual – meaning that we are on auto-pilot for a lot of our daily tasks, including eating and drinking.
The goal of this strategy is to raise your level of awareness when it comes to what you are eating and drinking. Then you can make better decisions about what you want to continue to have as a part of your diet and what you can cut back on or eliminate completely.
Here are four action steps to implement this strategy:
Step #1: Goal Setting
The first step is to decide what your goals are. Are you looking to reduce sources of saturated fat and cholesterol in your diet? Do you want to avoid processed foods? Is your goal to consume less empty calories each day? Having a specific goal is important for success. A goal such as “eating healthier” is a bit too vague and can make it challenging to complete this exercise.
Step #2: Tracking
The next step in this process is to keep track of what you are eating for at least a week. Two weeks would be better, but most people get sick of tracking by the end of week one. It’s nearly impossible to keep track of everything you eat in your head, so get a pad and pen, and write down everything you consume for a week. If it passes your lips, it goes on the list.
Step #3: Analyzing
After you track what you’ve been eating for a week (or two) it’s time to take a look at your diet objectively. The goal is to examine what you are eating on a regular basis and make a list of the things you must eat less often or eliminate in order to accomplish your goals from Step #1. Remember, items to be eliminated could also be condiments like sour cream, mayonnaise, etc.
Step #4: Experimenting
The goal in Step #4 is to start with just one item from your list and do without it for two weeks. If you find that you really didn’t miss it, perhaps you can eliminate that food or beverage completely. If you find that it is something you really enjoy having in your diet, choose to consume it less frequently (for example, no more than once per week). Repeat this practice until you complete it with all the items on your list.
Naturally, any kind of change, even when it is an improvement, can be uncomfortable. This causes many people to revert back to their old behaviors and fall short of their goals. Choosing what to focus on and using the concept of substitution are two methods that can help “soften the blow” when making improvements to your diet.
Consider choosing what to eat based on how you feel afterwards, rather than how you feel during the meal. For example, you might really enjoy eating a double cheeseburger, fries and a large soda for lunch, but how do you feel afterwards? Are you energized and ready for the second half of your day or do you feel tired and sluggish with indigestion? Concentrating on how you feel after a meal or a snack is a great way to view healthy eating in a proper perspective – focusing on what you are gaining (health & vitality) rather than what you may be losing (enjoyment from eating certain foods).
Another useful tool is the concept of substitution. For example, if your goal is to cut back on dairy products such as milk, perhaps you can try soy milk or almond milk as an alternative. You might find that you enjoy one of those products just as much as regular milk. It is much easier to replace a habit, rather than totally eliminate it.
Remember, the main objective of this strategy is to raise your level of awareness when it comes to what you are consuming on a regular basis and identify opportunities to improve your nutritional habits. The objective is not to completely eliminate all unhealthy foods and beverages that you enjoy, but rather to find a healthy balance between eating for pleasure and the benefits of a proper diet.