So you’re on a diet. Maybe not trying to slim (though, if you’re Joe Average, you’re probably a few pounds overweight) – but you might be attempting to kick the junk food habit, spend less on food, or make better nutritional choices. Whatever it is, you know you need to plan ahead and make conscious decisions on what you’re eating. But it keeps going wrong…
There are seven flash-points in the day when it’s easy to screw up your diet. Everyone will most likely fall into one of these categories of failure. The key is identifying your weak point and planning for it. You might need to put in a bit of effort to begin with, but get these sorted and you’ll be set for success.
What time of day kills your healthy eating habit?
- Waking up: You can start your day badly before you even get out of bed. How? By hitting “snooze” repeatedly on your alarm. Sure, you had good intentions the previous night when you set it for 6am – but now you fancy an extra hour’s kip. Suddenly you’re running late.
There are many, many articles online to help you spring out of bed in the morning. Read How to Wake up With Energy Each Morning and on Dumb Little Man, or Steve Pavlina’s hugely popular How to Become an Early Riser.
Why does getting up early help your diet? You start the day in a relaxed, unrushed frame of mind. You have time for some exercise, journaling, reading inspirational health and fitness blogs, and, crucially, you can prepare a healthy breakfast and lunch. Which leads me on to…
- Breakfast: I don’t need to tell you that you should eat breakfast if you want to succeed in losing weight: it’s the one piece of advice that diet gurus seem unanimous on. If you’re genuinely not hungry when you first wake up, try eating less at dinner time the night before.
Don’t just grab a doughnut on the way to work or class – loading up your body with with sugar first thing is going to lead to an energy crash well before lunch. And spending a few dollars on coffee and a snack every morning just because you couldn’t be bothered to wake up earlier (see above) is bad for your wallet, too.
The healthiest breakfasts are ones you prepare yourself. Nothing complicated – a bowl of cereal with skimmed milk, or a couple of slices of wholegrain toast with baked beans, are perfect. If you really can’t have breakfast before you leave the house, can you keep milk and cereal at your workplace and get in ten minutes early to eat?
- Mid-morning: When eleven o’clock comes around, you might feel peckish. Maybe you’re tempted by the tray of brownies in the cafeteria … or if you’re at home, you feel you deserve a treat after working hard for hours on end.
You don’t need me to tell you that a giant cookie isn’t likely to fit well into your diet plan. If you’re hungry, have some fruit. (Not sure if you’re hungry or not? Try asking yourself “Would an apple or granola bar satisfy me...?” If only a king-sized chocolate bar tempts you, you’re not hungry, you're craving.)
Keeping healthy snacks on hand is a must; easily done at home, but trickier if you’re in work or school. Your desk drawer, locker or bag are all good places for a stash of fruit, trail mix, granola bars or plain popcorn.
- Lunch: You’ve successfully made it through the morning. For most dieters, though, that’s the easy bit; lunch is where it all goes wrong. Whether it’s a mayo-laden sub, a pizza with friends, or something deep fried from the canteen, an unhealthy lunch can ruin the rest of the day – leaving you lethargic in the afternoon, thinking “I might as well give up.”
As with breakfast, prepare your own meal: whether that means brown-bagging leftovers the night before, or taking five minutes to make a sandwich in the morning (you got up early, so you’ll have plenty of time). You’ll have complete control over what goes into it: wholegrains, lean sources of protein and plenty of vegetables and fruit works well. And if you’re not buying lunch out every day, you’ll save a lot of money.
- Mid-afternoon: Many people manage a healthy breakfast and lunch, only to be tripped up by the 4 o’clock energy slump. Late afternoon is not your best time of day – you’re a bit tired and cranky, lacking energy and motivation. If at work, you’re tempted by the office cookie tin, feeling you “deserve” something fat and sugar laden. And if you’ve just come home from school, raiding the cupboards can be almost automatic.
If you ate a light, healthy, lunch, you may well be feeling a bit peckish by 4 o’clock. That’s fine – and there’s no point waiting till 7 o’clock to eat if you’ll be so ravenous that you’ll scoff down triple helpings. Have a healthy snack – 5 Snacks That will Smash That Afternoon Groggy Feeling might give you some ideas”
- Dinner: Don’t resort to getting takeout or microwaving a frozen ready meal every night. Not only will you be denying your body decent nutrition, you’ll be wasting a lot of money, too. Plan ahead, and make sure you’ve got easy to cook foods in the cupboards: simple ingredients like rice and pasta, chopped tomatoes, plenty of veggies and some skinless chicken breasts can be thrown together for a variety of meals.
If you can’t cook, get a good “beginner’s” style book that covers all the basics. Learning to prepare healthy, tasty meals is an essential skill: if you’re still living at home, offer to help out in the kitchen once in a while, and get your parents to teach you, and if you’re at college, don’t eat in the canteen every night.
- Evening: Have you ever had an almost perfect day – healthy breakfast and lunch, nice dinner, fruit for snacks – only to spoil it all right at the end? It’s easy to slump in front of the television after dinner, maybe with a sweet treat for dessert. Then you get an ice-cream, followed by a cookie, followed by a handful of chocolates … followed by the inevitable feelings of guilt.
Don’t do this to yourself. Brush your teeth as soon as you’ve finished eating for the day, and don’t have anything else till breakfast time. Doing some activity which involves your hands (knitting, writing, painting) or mouth (talking to friends or family) is a big help, as you won’t feel that constant temptation to grab a snack.