As a registered dietitian, I spend most of my time helping my clients with food guidance and eating habit tweaks to help them achieve physique, performance or health goals. That being said, creating a sustainable and enjoyable eating plan isn’t just based on the outcome, but also on the process.
It takes time to establish new habits. And it takes time to think about what one will eat, then shop for, prepare and portion food. Eating should be an enjoyable occasion, not an obligation. So if you’re finding yourself bored, unsatisfied and frustrated with your current eating plan, perhaps it’s time for something new.
We should put the same effort into what we put on our plate as we do when selecting a partner. Considering that habits and bodies do not change overnight, you want the relationship with your eating plan to be a partnership: Your eating plan should have room for negotiation and allow time to adjust, so you have an increased chance to stick to it long term.
5 Signs Your Eating Plan Is a Good Fit
It’s fun. Do you look forward to what is on the plate? Do you get excited about upcoming meals or spending some time creating in the kitchen or trying new foods?
It’s enjoyable. A great plan brings the eye appeal, aroma, flavor and texture to the plate. You should feel comfortably full when done eating and satisfied until your next meal.
It allows for spontaneity. Is there flexibility in your plan to allow for schedule changes, eating out, holidays and meals on the road? Your eating plan should be able to adopt to your schedule, rather than planning your schedule around your eating.
There’s room for compromise. A positive, progressive and successful eating plan allows for variability and does not demand perfection. There’s always a way to negotiate what is on your plate, through food swaps, add-ins and take-aways. You may need to be flexible with eating time, or make do with what you already have on hand rather than following the meal plan exactly.
It fosters a positive relationship with food. Does your eating plan leave you inspired instead of tired? Do you feel better because of your food choices? Do you feel satisfied, not starved or stuffed after meals? If yes, you and your plan are on the same page, so keep at it.
5 Signs It May Be Time to Quit Your Eating Plan
Your eating plan lacks inspiration. Why should you settle for foods that are devoid of flavor, eye appeal or texture — or meals that are not exciting or inviting? In addition, if your food choices or meals are boring or monotonous, you may find yourself looking in the fridge or pantry for something more.
Your eating plan is too strict. If you feel you cannot deviate at all from the time you eat or what’s on your plate, then your eating plan is inflexible and may prevent you from enjoying eating out, ordering take out or varying your food choices. Over-restricting is not healthy, not enjoyable and not sustainable.
Your eating plan is too extreme. If it emphasizes good and bad foods, talks about foods to never eat and calls for elimination without medical justification, you’re creating an exclusive rather than inclusive plate that may be so restrictive and different from your normal eating pattern that it’s impossible and unrealistic to sustain.
Your eating plan has unintended health consequences. Too much fiber too soon may wreak havoc on your gut. Too few carbs may make you feel fatigued. And too much fat may send your cholesterol soaring. Tiny portion sizes may leave you feeling deprived. In addition, if the plan calls for food items that are above your budget, you’ll only feel stressed.
Your eating plan negatively affects your mood. Do you find yourself constantly hungry, tired, moody or resentful? If yes, your eating plan may be too restrictive and punitive. If your food choices make you feel enraged, discouraged or tearful, walk away.
The great thing about meal plans is that they are not one size fits all. Compatibility with your plan leads to greater success rather than duress.
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