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SALT LAKE CITY — As the winter months fade and spring arrives, clearing out the clutter may help create physical and mental space.
A fresh start to the season ahead may also support a healthier lifestyle overall and can include new ways of approaching food and our eating experience.
1. Eating as a practice
When creating space for healthier eating, or other new ways of thinking, feeling and acting, it can be helpful to remember that change is a practice to build on over time and not an all-or-nothing behavior.
Start with a small step and then experiment and learn from the experience. Practicing mindful eating can help individuals release judgmental thoughts such as “I always give in to those cravings for sweets at night” and allow space for increased awareness when cravings do arise.
This may provide more of an opportunity to further explore and be curious about eating choices and to practice new, healthier ways to meet nutritional and other self-care needs.
Some ways to clear out old eating habits and practice new choices include:
- Reflect on daily eating routines and patterns. Is an overly booked schedule preventing small breaks during the day when you should stop, sit down and enjoy a meal or a snack? Look for ways to add at least a small break every 3-4 hours or so to have regular meals and snacks.
- Limit noise and distractions during meal and snack times. Turning down these distractions can make it easier to experience and savor foods. This space might help individuals notice satisfaction rather than missing body signals.
2. Using internal guidance for eating
While it’s recommended to seek advice and support in creating healthier eating habits, it also beneficial to combine external information with internal guidance about what feels right and works individually. Focusing only on “the right way” to do things can leave us feeling like we don’t have many options.
This lack of freedom in choosing how to achieve a healthy goal may eventually lead to a relapse into old habits. That’s because a sense of autonomy, or the feeling of using free will to make choices aligned with our interests and values, is considered a basic human need.
In the case of managing health conditions, however, it’s important to follow the guidance of our health care providers such as taking medications as prescribed. Then we still have some choices in how to be healthier, such as what physical activities we enjoy or what foods we prefer to eat within an overall healthy way of life.
Some ways to further explore personal eating preferences include:
- Keep a food log with notes about food experiences along with foods/beverages consumed. For example, jot down thoughts about what worked or didn’t work after preparing and eating a meal, what types of seasonings were in the recipe that you enjoyed, or other reflections such as levels of hunger and fullness before and after eating. Capture a range of insight about your unique eating experience.
- Once you begin to truly pay attention to the foods and eating experiences that are enjoyable and satisfying, use this information to help guide choices about ways to balance nutrition and healthy eating while enjoying the foods you prefer most.
3. Growth mindset toward healthy change
Consider spring as a time to plant seeds and support new growth. When considering new areas for eating practices, such as bringing healthy lunches to work, cooking more homemade meals, or choosing low-sugar beverages, consider moving toward a growth mindset and not a fixed mindset.
Growth mindset involves believing that personal qualities and abilities can be learned through practice, hard work and learning from challenges.
On the other hand, a fixed mindset involves viewing personal qualities and abilities as static over time, regardless of efforts to change. Research suggests that most people have a mixture of these two mindsets and that it is possible to build toward increasing our growth mindset.
Some ways to move toward a growth mindset despite healthy eating challenges:
- Notice eating “triggers” that might be contributing to a fixed mindset about food choices. For example, perhaps a stressful day at work has typically contributed to automatic eating when you get home at the end of the day.
- Practice checking in before eating to understand what you truly need at the end of a stressful day. You might also ask what could be learned from the situation at work and what might you do the next time that situation arises?