- Studies suggest that making sudden changes to your diet is often unsustainable.
- According to research, people are more likely to give up on their goals when they feel challenged.
- Experts agree that drastic, sudden changes can be mentally and physically challenging.
- Focusing on the small improvements you can make every day is important.
For many people, the new year is an opportunity to fix habits and make big changes in their lifestyle, especially when it comes to food. Sometimes that means eating a diet that’s completely different from what you’ve done before.
It can be tempting to overdo it at the end of the new year, but sudden changes can be hard to stick to, and often, many people quickly fall back into old habits.
In fact, scientific studies suggest that making drastic changes to your diet may not produce good results.
Another study suggests that people tend to choose the path of least resistance, and when it comes to changing our habits, dietary or otherwise, we are more likely to give up when the change is too challenging.
If you are on a mission to change your eating habits this year, the results of the above studies may be discouraging, but health experts suggest that there are other ways to form healthy habits.
According to Sasha Parkin, nutritional therapist at Wild Nutrition, one reason it’s so hard to stick with drastic changes is because it takes time for your body to adjust.
“If you sign up to run a marathon, you don’t expect your body to complete it the day after you sign up,” he pointed out. “Making a lot of dietary fixes is a bit like this. It’s very demanding on the body, and when it doesn’t work, which research shows is often the case, it’s very debilitating.
Discouragement aside, there’s a lot going on on a physical level when you try to change too fast.
“If we’ve been eating the same type of food for months or years, then decide to change it in a short period of time, it shocks the system,” says Parkin.
“This can cause adverse effects such as blood sugar control issues, feeling tired, and even an increase in our stress hormone cortisol, which in turn tells our body that we need to hold on to excess fat. .”
Over time, Parkin says that extreme dieting can lead to dysregulation of the hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin, which, frustratingly, makes it even harder to make improvements when you decide to try again.
Of course, it’s not all physical. When you overhaul your eating habits, there are always more mental problems.
“Studies have shown that when people drastically change and restrict their diet, they tend to be preoccupied with food thoughts and feel extreme cravings for food. Because determination and motivation are limited, the level of inhibition is often unsustainable,” explains chartered psychologist Catherine Hallissey.
In turn, this can lead to feelings of personal failure, self-criticism, and guilt, and increases the likelihood that you will seek comfort through familiar comfort foods.
Hallissey says it comes down to instant gratification. We want to see results immediately. But it’s by delaying gratification and implementing small, manageable changes that we can really make lasting improvements.
Whether it’s adding an extra portion of vegetables to dinner or making a commitment to reducing your portion sizes, making one or two small changes at a time is undeniably beneficial. easier to follow and less challenging mentally and physically.
“Starting small can avoid unnecessary stress on the body and make it a more enjoyable experience, focusing on self-care rather than self-deprecation,” says Parkin. “In turn, it promotes a sense of achievement when we can notice new habits, for example having a healthy lunch or avoiding the second biscuit.”
Parkin says that the dopamine hit we get when we achieve something, fosters a positive cycle that encourages us to stay on track.
Another reason that small changes are easier to sustain is that they take time to build a habit.
You may have heard that it takes 21 days for a new habit to become a habit, but some estimates suggest it may take longer.
According to a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days for a new behavior to become automatic.
When it comes to dieting, your new habits take time to stick to.
“Small changes require less determination to stick with. This means over time it’s easier to maintain and more likely to become a habit,” explains Hallissey.
Parkin points out that bad habits aren’t formed overnight, and breaking them isn’t an easy process either.
So, how do you adopt a more gradual approach to forming healthier habits?
Parkin says it’s individual, but ideally, you want to allow three months to really see a positive change.
He advises mastering one change at a time and taking a meal-by-meal approach. “Start with a healthy breakfast. If you’re happy with it, move on to lunch and see what improvements you can make there.
Hallissey recommends a similar approach. He says it’s about focusing on small habits you can do every day, like gradually increasing your water intake from three glasses to four or gradually reducing the amount. of the spoons of sugar you take in your tea.
“Once these changes become automatic, think about adding new changes,” he advises, pointing out that it’s about adding new healthy habits to each other, rather than try to do it all at once.
Adapting your environment to support your goals can further strengthen your new habits.
“Sustainable change is easier when you change your environment to support your new behavior, rather than relying on determination and motivation,” Hallissey explains. “This is especially important when you’re busy, tired, or stressed.”
To create an environment that sets you up for success, she advises preparing meals, always having healthy snacks on hand, and keeping a bottle of water nearby.
Hallissey also believes that getting rid of the perfectionist mindset is key.
“Remember that perfection is not the goal, so don’t do it all-or-nothing,” he advises. “Instead, use the two-day rule. The two-day rule simply means that you do your best not to skip the new habit a second time. So, for example, if you don’t go to the gym one day, you make sure you go the next day.
When any new goal is imminent, it can be tempting to make drastic changes, but experts say sudden, quick-fix solutions are unlikely to lead to lasting results. change.
You may find that encouraging, but you can choose to look at it positively. You don’t need to deprive yourself or overdo it to make improvements. You can make positive changes with little effort, and new habits are more likely to stick as a result. It’s a win-win.