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Published on May 11, 2018

How to Find a Healthy Eating Plan That Actually Works for You

How to Find a Healthy Eating Plan That Actually Works for You

So many of us want to lose a little bit of that extra weight and maybe fit into those pants from a couple of years ago. Every year, we make a resolution to eat healthier but somehow each time we end up losing our motivation.

This is not a question of our willpower or discipline though. The biggest reason we are not able to stick to our resolutions is because we make change too hard for ourselves.

I understand first-hand how hard this can be. I yo-yo dieted for years, each time seemingly gaining more weight than I had lost. I finally found success when I realized that I had to find a way of eating that personally worked for me, not just some diet program in the news or a cleanse that my friend was doing.

In this article, I’ll show you the 4-step process to design your own personalized healthy eating plan, one that actually works for you.

What is a healthy eating plan?

The first step in designing your personalized eating plan is to understand what “healthy” looks and feels like.

Eating healthy should help us feel stronger, happier and more vibrant. A healthy eating plan should help us feel good in our bodies and at peace in our relationship with food.

Feel good physically

When we eat in a way that is right for us, we feel more energetic and satisfied.

Eating healthy gives us the fuel to sustain our energy levels on a busy day. It makes us feel mentally alert with no mid-afternoon slumps making our mind feel foggy or clouded.

We feel satisfied with the food we eat and have no cravings. We also feel strong without any physical or mental lethargy. It gives us the energy to move in a way that we love, be it walking, dancing or lifting weights.

Feel good mentally

Healthy eating also means having a healthy relationship with food.

We feel happy when we eat instead of worrying about gaining weight or feeling guilty for eating “bad” foods.

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We stop trying to have the perfect diet days where we eat only “good” foods and try to control ourselves from eating sweets, chips or chocolates.

We have a healthy love-love relationship with food. We find eating to be an intuitive, easy and natural process – just a part of our day – not something to fight with ourselves over.

We feel relaxed and at peace around food, without any obsessive or intrusive cravings popping into our mind.

Feel healthy overall

People with a healthy relationship with food talk about eating healthy in a completely different way versus dieters. They say:

  • “I just don’t obsess about the number on the scale any more. I just try to eat well, live healthy and go by the fit of my clothes.”
  • “I try to focus more on giving myself what I need than on how much I weigh.”
  • “I’m not very intense about food anymore. I still eat candy and drink sodas sometimes. It’s not good for me but I enjoy eating it and I like it this way because it is stress free.”

Notice how this is not about just weight – more of what successful people address is how they feel free and relaxed around food. This, more than fitting into a certain size, makes them happy and healthy from the inside out.

What is NOT a healthy eating plan?

A plan that prioritizes physical well-being at any cost is not healthy. Many people do this by going on restrictive diets again and again until they develop a love-hate relationship with food.

This leads to:

Emotional or binge eating

When we severely restrict foods like many diets do, our minds start to crave the foods we cannot have (like chocolate, chips and cookies). Studies have shown how cravings are a result of dieting and how dieters crave foods they cannot eat (like chocolate) more than non-dieters.[1]

When our cravings get too strong, they take over our minds and we end up binging on sweets or chips. This hurts our confidence and makes us feel guilty. When this happens over and over again, we risk it becoming a habit that we feel like we have no control over.

P.S.: A lot of us today don’t diet but we try to eat healthy – in doing so, we are still engaging in the same restrictive behaviors and labelling food as “good” and “bad”. This is why we end up binging on the foods we cannot have and feel like we are sabotaging ourselves.

Judging our self-worth based on our body size or weight

Because we struggle so much with staying at our happy weight, we make weight loss our most important life project. We get so involved and think about it so much that it starts to take over our lives.

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We judge ourselves based on how much weight we lost, we punish ourselves if we don’t and our self-esteem revolves around the size of our clothes rather than our life’s achievements.

Thinking about food this way takes away our mental peace. We lose confidence in our own abilities and we get depressed – the complete opposite of the happiness we were aiming for in the first place.

A healthy eating plan focuses equally on how you look and how you feel – it doesn’t involve eating boring foods or cutting out the foods we love. It doesn’t promise magical weight loss results like “lose 40 lbs in 4 weeks”.

Eating healthy is a way of living life, and we need to love it to make it a part of our lives.

3 principles of a healthy eating plan

Bringing together all that we know about physical and mental health, there are 3 key principles to keep in mind as we build your healthy eating plan.

Principle #1 – Balance physical and mental health

The first principle is to prioritize mental happiness over physical happiness. We can think of our relationship with food as a spectrum between a hate-hate relationship and a love-love relationship.

At one end, we might be feeling anxious and guilty around food, questioning our eating choices all the time. We may binge eat once in a while and overeating to soothe ourselves may be common. If you are at this end of the spectrum, focus on developing a healthier emotional connection with food before embarking on your weight loss journey.[2]

    If you feel like you have an okay relationship with food but are letting your weight or clothes size determine your happiness, you may be more susceptible to developing binge or emotional eating. Before making health all about weight loss, realistically assess how important weight loss is in your overall happiness – if you had an amazing family, friends and career, should losing weight determine how you feel about yourself so much? If not, then why are you letting your weight lower your self-worth?

    If you have a positive relationship with food, then you are ready to move onto the next step.

    Principle #2 – Long term and sustainable

    The second principle is to design a plan that you can incorporate into your day to day life that is easy to do and doesn’t require too much willpower.

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    None of us want to keep dieting for the rest of our lives. We just want to find a way of eating and living that works for us. The only way to do this is to fit it into our already busy lives instead of trying to re-design our entire lives around food. This is why following a weight loss plan off the internet isn’t sustainable. Creating a customized plan for yourself is your best shot of finding a method that actually works for you.

    We’ve learned to expect that eating right has to be difficult and that without a lot of effort, we can never succeed. Weight loss companies and social media have made millions of dollars selling us these beliefs (the diet industry is worth $70 billion in the United States alone).

    In fact, the key to successfully eating healthy now and forever is to make it so simple that it fits right into our everyday lives.

    Principle #3 – Minimize deprivation

    The third and one of the most important principles is to minimize feelings of deprivation. This means eating everything we love like cookies, chocolates and chips without any restrictions and without feeling guilty. It means eating out at restaurants, going out with friends and having Friday night drinks.

    Food is so much more than physical fuel for the body. Food brings people together and using food in this way helps us feel happier. Food that we love (like grandma’s apple pie for instance) refreshes us emotionally and makes us happier. It’s only by embracing all the loving aspects of food can we be successful in having a healthy and happy life.

    Your personalized healthy eating plan

    Putting the 3 principles to use, let’s design a healthy eating plan that works for you.

    1. Rate your relationship with food with the following questions:

    • Do you think about food — what to eat, what not to eat and have cravings more times than not?
    • Do you feel guilty when you eat cake, chocolate or chips and do you try to punish yourself by trying to diet even more strictly the next day?
    • Do you feel out of control around food and regularly overeat past fullness?
    • Do you wake up wondering when you can lose that tummy and does your mood depend on how well your pants fit for the day?

    If you answered yes to 2 or more of these questions, then learn how to feel more relaxed and happy around food first before you move onto the following steps.

    2. To feel good in your body and eat healthy, use the ancient principle of “Hara hachi Bu” or “Eat up to 80% full”.

    Many Asian cultures like Japanese, Chinese and Indian practice this habit of eating until they are just satisfied. Transition from where you are today to 80% full by getting in touch with your physical hunger and fullness cues. Start by eating slowly and noticing how full your stomach feels and stop before you are too full (or until just satisfied).

    P.S.: This can be difficult when you start out and will be even more so for emotional or binge eaters who use food to soothe themselves. Trying to practice 80% full before establishing peace with food will only worsen the binge eating.

    3. Build a healthy and happy diet with foods you love.

    Start with a balanced plate for main meals consisting of:

    • 1-2 palm-sized servings of protein
    • 2 fist-size portions colorful vegetables
    • 1-2 cupped-hand size portion of grains or fruits.

    Women can start at the lower number while men can start at the higher end. If you get to 80% full before being able to finish the food in your plate, then just pack them up as leftovers.

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    Here’s an infographic to show you how to do it:[3]

      Allow room for snacks depending on your fullness – feel like eating a muffin? Go for it. Craving some chocolate – don’t hold yourself back. Enjoy what you’re eating instead of feeling guilty and you’ll automatically find yourself feeling satisfied with fewer bites.

      P.S.: Eating this way does two things. First, getting sufficient protein and vegetables helps you stay alert and avoid the fogginess so common after 3pm. Second, when you stop trying to control the so-called “bad” foods, you stop craving them and you are not likely to binge.

      4. Start small and build on

      If transitioning to step 2 and step 3 is a huge jump from where you are, don’t try to make the leap in one step. The key to successful healthy living is to add on small healthy habits that slowly build on each other.

      Start with adding some vegetables next to your lunch sandwich and two weeks later, start eating some eggs with your breakfast instead of muffins. Don’t force yourself to cook, just buy a chopped salad at the supermarket instead.

      Remember, make healthy living easy and it will become part of your daily life.

      Summing it up

      Eating healthy doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated. Health is not about eating the latest super foods or enjoying avocado toast while doing yoga. The basics of healthy living are simple, things even our grandparents can do.

      Make change easy for yourself and fit healthy eating into your everyday life. Focus on feeling good physically and mentally, eat all the foods you want (vegetables and cake alike!) and live your life happy with who you are.

      Featured photo credit: Kaboompics via kaboompics.com

      Reference

      [1](James A.K. Erskine, Division of Mental Health, St George’s, University of London  & George J. Georgiou, School of Psychology, University of Hertfordshire, U.K.: Effects of thought suppression on eating behaviour in restrained and non-restrained eaters.
      [2]My Spoonful of Soul: Weight Loss & Freedom From Obsessive Food Thoughts – Can You Have Both?
      [3]Precision Nutrition: The best calorie control guide. [Infographic]

      More by this author

      Sai Khanna

      Hi, I’m Sai and I I know first hand what it feels like to turn to food to cope with life, especially when it takes away time and energy to do the things we most want - like being a better mom, chasing our passions and living a more complete life. My mission is to help you enjoy food without obsessing over it, to help you deal with stress better and to empower you with the tools and mindsets so you can chase your dreams. Start your journey today by getting my free guide on how to stop overeating at http://www.myspoonfulofsoul.com/lifehack. See you on the other side!

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      How to Control Your Thoughts and Become the Master of Your Mind

      How to Control Your Thoughts and Become the Master of Your Mind

      Your mind is the most powerful tool you have for the creation of good in your life, but if not used correctly, can also be the most destructive force in your life.

      Your mind, more specifically, your thoughts, affect your perception and therefore, your interpretation of reality.

      I have heard that the average person thinks around 70,000 thoughts a day. That’s a lot, especially if they are unproductive, self-abusive and just a general waste of energy.

      You can let your thoughts run amok, but why would you? It is your mind, your thoughts; isn’t it time to take your power back? Isn’t it time to take control?

      Choose to be the person who is actively, consciously thinking your thoughts. Become the master of your mind.

      When you change your thoughts, you will change your feelings as well, and you will also eliminate the triggers that set off those feelings. Both of these outcomes provide you with a greater level of peace in your mind.

      I currently have few thoughts that are not of my own choosing or a response from my reprogramming. I am the master of my mind, so now my mind is quite peaceful. Yours can be too!

      Who Is Thinking My Thoughts?

      Before you can become the master of your mind, you must recognize that you are currently at the mercy of several unwanted “squatters” living in your mind, and they are in charge of your thoughts. If you want to be the boss of them, you must know who they are and what their motivation is, and then you can take charge and evict them.

      Here are four of the “squatters” in your head that create the most unhealthy and unproductive thoughts:

      1. The Inner Critic

      This is your constant abuser. He is often a conglomeration of:

      • Other people’s words; many times your parents.
      • Thoughts you have created based on your own or other peoples expectations.
      • Comparing yourself to other people, including those in the media.
      • The things you told yourself as a result of painful experiences such as betrayal and rejection. Your interpretation creates your self-doubt and self-blame, which are most likely undeserved in cases of rejection and betrayal.

      He is motivated by pain, low self-esteem, lack of self-acceptance and lack of self-love.

      Why else would he abuse you? And since “he” is actually you– why else would you abuse yourself? Why would you let anyone treat you this badly?

      2. The Worrier

      This person lives in the future; in the world of “what ifs.”

      He is motivated by fear which is often irrational and with no basis for it.

      Occasionally, he is motivated by fear that what happened in the past will happen again.

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      3. The Reactor or Trouble-Maker

      He is the one that triggers anger, frustration and pain. These triggers stem from unhealed wounds of the past. Any experience that is even closely related to a past wound will set him off.

      He can be set off by words or feelings. He can even be set off by sounds and smells.

      He has no real motivation; he has poor impulse control and is run by past programming that no longer serves you, if it ever did.

      4. The Sleep Depriver

      This can be a combination of any number of different squatters including the inner planner, the rehasher, and the ruminator, along with the inner critic and the worrier.

      His motivation can be:

      • As a reaction to silence, which he fights against
      • Taking care of the business you neglected during the day
      • Self-doubt, low self-esteem, insecurity and generalized anxiety
      • As listed above for the inner critic and worrier

      How can you control these squatters?

      How to Master Your Mind

      You are the thinker and the observer of your thoughts. You must pay attention to your thoughts so you can identify “who” is running the show; this will determine which technique you will want to use.

      Begin each day with the intention of paying attention to your thoughts and catching yourself when you are thinking undesirable thoughts.

      There are two ways to control your thoughts:

      • Technique A – Interrupt and replace them
      • Technique B – Eliminate them altogether

      This second option is what is known as peace of mind!

      The technique of interrupting and replacing is a means of reprogramming your subconscious mind. Eventually, the replacement thoughts will become the “go to” thoughts in the applicable situations.

      Use Technique A with the Inner Critic and Worrier and Technique B with the Reactor and Sleep Depriver.

      For the Inner Critic

      When you catch yourself thinking something negative about yourself (calling yourself names, disrespecting yourself, or berating yourself), interrupt it.

      You can yell (in your mind), “Stop! No!” or, “Enough! I’m in control now.” Then, whatever your negative thought was about yourself, replace it with an opposite or counter thought or an affirmation that begins with “I am.”

      For example, if your thought is, “I’m such a loser,” you can replace it with, “I am a Divine Creation of the Universal Spirit. I am a perfect spiritual being learning to master the human experience. I am a being of energy, light, and matter. I am magnificent, brilliant, and beautiful. I love and approve of myself just as I am.”

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      You can also have a dialogue with yourself with the intention of discrediting the ‘voice’ that created the thought, if you know whose voice it is:

      “Just because so-and-so said I was a loser doesn’t make it true. It was his or her opinion, not a statement of fact. Or maybe they were joking and I took it seriously because I’m insecure.”

      If you recognize that you have recurring self-critical thoughts, you can write out or pre-plan your counter thoughts or affirmation so you can be ready. This is the first squatter you should evict, forcefully, if necessary:

      • He riles up the Worrier.
      • The names you call yourself become triggers when called those names by others, so he also maintains the presence of the Reactor.
      • He is often present when you try to fall asleep so he perpetuates the Sleep Depriver.
      • He is a bully and is verbally and emotionally abusive.
      • He is the destroyer of self-esteem. He convinces you that you’re not worthy. He’s a liar! In the interest of your self-worth, get him out!

      Eliminate your worst critic and you will also diminish the presence of the other three squatters.

      Replace him with your new best friend who supports, encourages, and enhances your life. This is a presence you want in your mind.

      For the Worrier

      Prolonged anxiety is mentally, emotionally and physically unhealthy. It can have long-term health implications.

      Fear initiates the fight or flight response, creates worry in the mind and creates anxiety in the body.

      You should be able to recognize a “worry thought” immediately by how you feel. The physiological signs that the fight or flight response of fear has kicked in are:

      • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, or surge of adrenaline
      • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
      • Muscles tense

      Use the above stated method to interrupt any thought of worry and then replace it. But this time you will replace your thoughts of worry with thoughts of gratitude for the outcome you wish for.

      If you believe in a higher power, this is the time to engage with it. Here is an example:

      Instead of worrying about my loved ones traveling in bad weather, I say the following (I call it a prayer):

      “Thank you great spirit for watching over _______. Thank you for watching over his/her car and keeping it safe, road-worthy, and free of maintenance issues without warning. Thank you for surrounding him/her with only safe, conscientious, and alert drivers. And thank you for keeping him/her safe, conscientious, and alert.”

      Smile when you think about it or say it aloud, and phrase it in the present tense; both of these will help you feel it and possibly even start to believe it.

      If you can visualize what you are praying for, the visualization will enhance the feeling so you will increase the impact in your vibrational field.

      Now take a calming breath, slowly in through your nose, and slowly out through the mouth. Take as many as you like!

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      Replacing fearful thoughts with gratitude will decrease reactionary behavior, taking the steam out of the Reactor.

      For example:

      If your child gets lost in the mall, the typical parental reaction that follows the fearful thoughts when finding them is to yell at them.

      “I told you never to leave my sight.” This reaction just adds to the child’s fear level from being lost in the first place. Plus, it also teaches them that mom and/or dad will get mad when he or she makes a mistake, which may make them lie to you or not tell you things in the future.

      Change those fearful thoughts when they happen:

      “Thank You (your choice of Higher Power) for watching over my child and keeping him safe. Thank you for helping me find him soon.”

      Then, when you see your child after this thought process, your only reaction will be gratitude, and that seems like a better alternative for all people involved.

      For the Trouble-Maker, Reactor or Over-Reactor

      Permanently eliminating this squatter will take a bit more attention and reflection after the fact to identify and heal the causes of the triggers; but until then, you can prevent the Reactor from getting out of control by initiating conscious breathing as soon as you recognize his presence.

      The Reactor’s thoughts or feelings activate the fight or flight response just like with the Worrier. The physiological signs of his presence will be the same. With a little attention, you should be able to tell the difference between anxiety, anger, frustration, or pain:

      • Increased heart rate and blood pressure; surge of adrenaline
      • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
      • Muscles tension

      I’m sure you’ve heard the suggestion to count to ten when you get angry—well, you can make those ten seconds much more productive if you are breathing consciously during that time.

      Conscious breathing is as simple as it sounds; just be conscious of your breathing. Pay attention to the air going in and coming out.

      Breathe in through your nose:

      • Feel the air entering your nostrils.
      • Feel your lungs filling and expanding.
      • Focus on your belly rising.

      Breathe out through your nose:

      • Feel your lungs emptying.
      • Focus on your belly falling.
      • Feel the air exiting your nostrils.

      Do this for as long as you like. Leave the situation if you want. This gives the adrenaline time to normalize.

      Now you can address the situation with a calmer, more rational perspective and avoid damaging behavior.

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      One of the troubles this squatter causes is that it adds to the sleep depriver’s issues. By evicting, or at least controlling the Reactor, you will decrease reactionary behavior, which will decrease the need for the rehashing and ruminating that may keep you from falling asleep.

      Master your mind and stop the Reactor from bringing stress to you and your relationships!

      For the Sleep Depriver

      (He’s made up of the Inner Planner, the Rehasher and the Ruminator, along with the Inner Critic and the Worrier.)

      I was plagued with a very common problem: not being able to turn off my mind at bedtime. This inability prevented me from falling asleep and thus, getting a restful and restorative night’s sleep.

      Here’s how I mastered my mind and evicted the Sleep Depriver and all his cronies.

      1. I started by focusing on my breathing—paying attention to the rise and fall of my belly—but that didn’t keep the thoughts out for long. (Actually, I now start with checking my at-rest mouth position to keep me from clenching.)
      2. Then I came up with replacement strategy that eliminated uncontrolled thinking—imagining the word in while breathing in and thinking the word out when breathing out. I would (and do) elongate the word to match the length of my breath.

      When I catch myself thinking, I shift back to in, out. With this technique, I am still thinking, sort of, but the wheels are no longer spinning out of control. I am in control of my mind and I choose quiet.

      From the first time I tried this method I started to yawn after only a few cycles and am usually asleep within ten minutes.

      For really difficult nights, I add an increase of attention by holding my eyes in a looking-up position (Closed, of course!). Sometimes I try to look toward my third eye but that really hurts my eyes.

      If you have trouble falling asleep because you can’t shut off your mind, I strongly recommend you try this technique. I still use it every night. You can start sleeping better tonight!

      You can also use this technique any time you want to:

      • Fall back to sleep if you wake up too soon.
      • Shut down your thinking.
      • Calm your feelings.
      • Simply focus on the present moment. 

      Becoming the Master of Your Mind

      Your mind is a tool, and like any other tool, it can be used for constructive purposes or for destructive purposes.

      You can allow your mind to be occupied by unwanted, undesirable and destructive tenants, or you can choose desirable tenants like peace, gratitude, compassion, love, and joy.

      Your mind can become your best friend, your biggest supporter, and someone you can count on to be there and encourage you. The choice is yours!

      Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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