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ASK THE NUTRITIONIST: How can I stick to my nutrition plan?

In her weekly column, orthomolecular nutritionist Nonie De Long shares some reasons you can’t stick to your nutrition plans and what you can do about it
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Dear readers,

This week’s question comes from a new client who came to me tired and frustrated. She told me, “I know what to do! I’ve been reading about keto for forever. I got all the stuff. You wouldn’t believe how much I spent! I just can’t seem to get into ketosis. What’s wrong with me?”

But there’s nothing wrong with her. The reality is many of us experience a disconnect between what we know and what we know how to DO. Today we’re going to look at why that is and how to fix it.

The top five reasons nutrition plans fail

1. Theory not action steps

Hands down, the top reason why we fail with our nutrition plans is that we have all this theoretical knowledge but it hasn’t been broken down into a step-by-step action plan that we can move through confidently. Breaking big tasks into doable steps that are spaced out appropriately with reinforcements is really important when making any lifestyle change. It helps us by not only giving us a road map, but also helps us stack new habits to make them stick. Never heard of habit stacking? Essentially this is when we piggyback a new habit onto one that is already ingrained. For example, I have my MCT powder/oil and B vitamins with my morning coffee. Simple. After a month of this I add a morning green blend with fiber before my coffee. After a month of that I add something to my afternoon coffee to benefit my health. It’s not that hard and it makes changes much more seamless and sticky. Stacking is just one trick lifestyle professionals use in their coaching arsenal.

That’s why it’s so important to work with a health professional who can give you a roadmap. Such professionals not only break goals down into steps you can do one at a time with clear guidance, they are pros at hacks to make the steps easier. And they know how to assess when extra support is needed for any particular step and how quickly and easily we should be moving through the steps. For example, even though the above steps are easy, if I add in five other things to do it’s going to get overwhelming. Slow and steady is the best way to ensure the changes we make are going to stay with us year after year. Even if we can do five things at a time and we know the steps and rush through them, we risk overwhelming ourselves and burning out. Then we fall back into old habits one day and let everything slide. Small, doable steps that we can stack make a huge difference in our ability to achieve our goals. Think about it. If, in grade 9 you were sat down and told you have to get to x profession instead of taken through the process step by step by educators, counselors, professional mentors and associations, how successfully would you arrive there? Would your success change if you were given a book telling you how it’s done? Not likely! Guidance each step of the way makes big goals doable! Without professional guidance and reinforcement, we would become overwhelmed and throw in the towel. That brings us to No. 2.

2. All-or-nothing thinking

The second most common reason we fail in our lifestyle and nutrition plans is all-or-nothing thinking. If we have a bad day and don’t follow our diet that day and don’t expect and prepare for that we either: a) don’t know what safe cheats are or b) mistakenly think we’ve failed.

As soon as we feel we’ve failed, all sorts of unnecessary negative emotions and self talk start to enter the equation. But emotion has no place in food. It’s just fuel! A coach knows how to help us remove the judgment and attachment to foods so we can experience the freedom of making decisions based on health criteria instead of forfeiting our power to choose via emotional reactions to our day or our perceived failures. A good coach will help us prepare for cheat days by giving us healthy cheats as part of our plan and help us see the big picture when we stumble. Just knowing we are going to have bad days and those days are not a failure can help a lot! Having a plan for when that happens minimizes the damage and keeps us motivated to keep going. Motivation is super important to incentivize us and keep our head in the right state to make the action steps doable.

3. White-knuckling

Many of us mistakenly think lifestyle changes come down to willpower. We feel we must white-knuckle through it and live without ‘insert foods’ for life. We imagine we will be forever craving said food and wishing for it. We stop ourselves from starting because we feel it will be too unpleasant a process or, if we do start and this is our mentality, we measure progress via a scale instead of measuring it by how vibrant and healthy and free we feel with food. We try to tell ourselves the scale is a good enough reason to deprive ourselves of the foods we desire.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The point isn’t to white-knuckle through dieting! And that’s why I don’t like the word dieting. The point is to be free of food addictions and compulsions to make healthy lifestyle choices on a regular basis - and to enjoy them! Over time, as we know what those choices are and how to prepare them to be pleasing to us, our taste buds actually change. The things that used to be delicious and tempting to us aren’t delicious and tempting any longer. The treat we used to savour is now sickeningly sweet and can even make us ill to consume. New things excite our senses. Folks, it’s just like music and clothing and other aspects of design. The things we like and prefer evolve as we are exposed to new things!  But this is a process and it doesn’t happen overnight. It happens by retraining our taste buds to enjoy new, healthier foods over a period of time. The best way to do it is obviously with professional nutrition guidance around which foods are healthiest so we know they will not trigger us and will make our efforts worthwhile. After all, nobody wants to make changes endlessly. We want to make sure the changes we make will be the healthiest changes we can make for life.

4. Inconsistency

Another reason we fail in our nutrition plans is being inconsistent. This can come about in a few ways.

Sometimes we have a jumble of information swimming around in our heads. If we’ve gone here and there for our information, it’s not really cohesive. Sometimes it’s downright contradictory so we try some of this and some of that but we aren’t consistent because we aren’t assured we’re doing it right! We keep meddling with it to try to get it right. This inconsistency is a huge problem and will sap the motivation out of anyone!

You see, starting things always takes more effort than continuing them. When we’re inconsistent we are always starting things but never getting the results we would achieve if we stuck to it. That is true of anything. And we’re putting in more effort! To get results from any effort we need to be consistent with it. With nutrition this means we need confidence in the steps we’re taking and some assurance that yes, these are going to pay off. Yes, results are going to come. A nutrition professional is the best way to ensure this.

Sometimes we are also going to be inconsistent because we think we can mix and match diets. We think we can do keto on the weekdays and binge a day or two on the weekends because we read somewhere that cheat days are okay. We then suffer from keto flu every week and can’t understand why we’re never getting results. Or do we splurge on weekends then fast on weekdays because isn’t fasting the best way to get results? The problem with these ideas is that they don’t understand the biological mechanisms of each of these dieting theories. A ketogenic diet is very difficult to initiate. Yet they are in my opinion the easiest diet to coast on once we’ve gotten deep into ketosis. Willpower is removed because cravings disappear. Doing keto for two weeks straight then having a carb day before we’ve been fat adapted for six months to a year is dangerous and could set us back to square one in terms of cravings. This is especially true for type 2 diabetics because it would throw off their blood sugars and their need for medications. Nobody wants to put all this effort in only to stumble around without being able to get results!

The best way to avoid this is coaching from a nutrition professional. Often the cost is less than people imagine it to be, if you consider the impact it has on your life and the cost of constantly starting up new plans and stocking cupboards for that. I’ve been told over and over by clients that they have bottles of supplements on their shelves that they’ve already purchased and they want to use them up. But they aren’t the supplements that are appropriate for their health conditions. They could even imbalance them further. The money was just wasted. And that’s not even getting into how much takeout foods and cravings cost in terms of the pocketbook and our overall health. I understand my opinion is biased, but it makes more sense to me to spend money on professional guidance to save money on the diet books, supplements, gym memberships, and pantry restocking that comes with constantly jumping from one plan to another. And this way we actually get the results for the money we’ve spent!

5. Social pressures

The last reason I want to talk about today is a big one, especially if we’re a really social person or we come from a big, close-knit family or group of friends. If we’re the only one trying to change our lifestyle it can be very difficult in this case because we’re going to be continually invited to places where tempting foods are served! For this I have two suggestions. The first is that a professional can help make plans for dishes that are appropriate that can be brought along to ensure the get together is enjoyable for all and also a success for the person with the nutrition goals. A professional can likewise help us look at restaurant menus to help us make a plan for what to order. She can also help us better understand how to share with our friend or family group in a way that garners support.

Another suggestion I have to help with this is to invite a friend to join us on our health journey. Bringing a friend along creates mutual support and benefit and can help us stick to our goals when we feel weak. It motivates us and helps us feel less alone in our changes. I highly encourage it and offer a $100 discount for those who sign up for my nutrition guidance with a friend or family member along. Everyone benefits in this scenario!

Hiring a professional

Is it really that important to have professional guidance? Let me share a bit of my journey to help bring clarity to this issue. I’ve been a nutrition professional since 2012. I graduated with first class honours and took my time with the program so I would learn it deeply, rather than cramming. By the time I graduated teachers and classmates were coming to me for guidance with difficult protocols. I have always been devoted to academic excellence in my chosen field. As a result, I’ve spent countless hours researching food and health and I can tell you the large majority of what I read about healthy food via mainstream media is not accurate or health-giving information.

For example, I started this journey as a raw food vegetarian based on information I read at that time. Yet, I was chronically cold with low immunity, precarious mental health, and zero stamina. I likely would have been diagnosed with chronic fatigue had I gone to see a doctor. I was certainly depressed. Yet I thought what I was doing was healthy because I had read that it was. I didn’t know I could feel better! Over the years, I learned through trial and error how to improve my health and stamina with food and nutraceuticals such that today I am healthier with more energy and less pain. I require less sleep and I have abundantly more stamina. And I have an autoimmune disease. With dietary interventions it only rarely affects my ability to function. Without dietary interventions and even the best medical treatment I would have been crippled by now, likely in a wheelchair for life.

What I’m saying is diets come and go. Learning how to eat to cultivate health is the real goal and a professional makes it their business to know how to do this, so you don’t have to spend that 10 years learning how to do it on your own.

Thank you to the client for the question that inspired today’s column! I feel clients teach me as much as I teach them! As always, if readers have a health or nutrition related question, I welcome you to write to me by email. If you would like to access past articles you’re looking for more specific health information, check out my website and blog here. I hope this is the year you realize your health and nutrition related goals!

Nonie Nutritionista