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Diet Derailers: How to Stick to Healthy Eating

You’re on a roll, making good on your vow to eat better to feel better. It’s actually getting easier to say yes to a salad and no to the fries. But you know the speed bumps that usually appear are coming — family dinner with Grandma’s lasagna, Happy Hour after work, cookout with the neighbors — the situations and people that can make sticking to health goals harder.

OhioHealth psychologist Lisa Hutson, PsyD, says it’s no surprise that hitting healthy eating goals can be difficult.

“Tough situations with food are everywhere,” she says. “No matter what time of year, there always seems to be holidays or celebrations that revolve around food and drink. ”

But she says healthy eating doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the fun. She shares some tips for navigating situations so that you can join the dinner, Happy Hour or cookout; have fun; and stay focused on your goals, too.

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Make a Healthy Eating Plan

Dr. Hutson says the most important strategy for tough situations is what you do before the eating event.

“We often want to go with the flow, but it helps to set some social guardrails, especially when making healthy choices may not be automatic yet.”

She recommends setting aside time before the event and getting clear about your limits around eating and drinking. Will you be okay with having a drink or two or dessert after the meal, or will those set off a drinking and eating frenzy? Review the menu when you can, thinking through what your food choices might be. Anticipate problems and conversations you may face and plan for them. Get clear about your boundaries, and write them down to make your limits more concrete.


Two hands, one holding a green apple and one holding a pink frosted donut
Put the Plan into Practice

There’s nothing like a fudgy, triple chocolate brownie to test how well you can stick to your plan. Dr. Hutson says awareness of the moment when you decide to stay — or not — within the no-dessert boundary you set is key to your success. At that moment, she suggests using the acronym STOP: Stop, Take a breath, Observe choices, Proceed.

“That may mean pausing and excusing yourself from the situation for a moment — ‘I’m going to use the restroom,’ for instance,” Dr. Hutson suggests. “It gives you a chance to respond to a situation in the way that aligns with your goals.”

And when temptation chips away at your resolve, remind yourself of your motivation — what’s the “why” behind your goals? Picturing the long, active life with your kids that you’re after, for instance, may be all you need to say “no” with confidence.


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Get Support

Planning is a great way to support yourself; bringing in people to buoy up your resolve can help, too.

“Letting support people know what you’re thinking, what your vision is and giving them permission to touch base with you helps us be more mindful,” says Dr. Hutson.

Touching base may mean a look or a code word from your spouse or a friend. It could also mean talking with the host before an event to give them a heads up that your health goals are going to mean saying no to some of the items on the menu. Most hosts will make sure to honor your wishes and even offer options, like fruit or sparkling water, that are a better fit with your goals.


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Be Kind to Yourself

Dr. Hutson says self-talk can be our biggest saboteur.

“Behavior change is hard, and it’s not going to happen overnight,” she cautions. “Expect lapses to happen, and tune in to your self-talk when they do. It’s easy to engage in all-or-nothing thinking, but don’t.”

A lapse doesn’t mean failure. Dr. Hutson says by tuning in to what tripped you up, you can get back on track armed with a plan for how to respond next time.

Ready to take control of your nutrition? Contact us at the McConnell Heart Health Center, we’re ready to support you!

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