A step-by-step guide to getting started on a healthier eating plan
Step one – planning
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What are the three most important changes I can make right now to the way I eat?
Think about the food and drinks you have on most days. For example, should you eat more fruit and vegetables or include another serve of dairy foods? Maybe change what you drink? Do you need to reduce the size of your meals and snacks?
- How long can I maintain these changes?
Whilst it is good to make changes even for a little while (e.g. a month with no take-away food), the changes you make for a year will be more important. Try some changes for a week or two then reassess how you are going with them. Ask yourself if it is realistic for you to make these changes.
- How will those changes affect the people around me?
Sometimes you have good intentions but the people you live with don't share your enthusiasm. Introduce new foods, cooking styles or ideas gradually without too much fuss and you may be surprised how they enjoy the variety.
Step two – getting started
- Set small, practical goals. Write out a plan and put it up on view or in your diary. For example, put a note on your fridge such as 'my goal for this week is to eat fresh fruit every day'.
- When starting your healthy eating plan, start small and cook what you know is healthy and you will enjoy. There are many healthy and delicious recipes out there to try. However, start with what you know and build upon this week by week.
- Look in books, magazines or on websites for recipes to give you ideas and inspiration. Try to find recipes that include fresh seasonal ingredients and fit with the healthy eating guidelines. Also make sure they are quick and easy to prepare if you don't have much time for cooking. Keep a list of your favourites.
- Be prepared for some challenges when changing and maintaining a healthy diet. Consider how you can overcome these.
Tips for overcoming challenges
- Making your lunch the night before work or using leftovers from dinner for lunch the next day
- Planning your meals in advance – shop for the ingredients and plan what you want to cook for the week so you don't have to stop for takeaway food on the way home
Step three – reflect
- Look at the changes you have made, as small as they may be – are you being realistic? Can you keep them up?
- Reflect on the small things you have done, rather than what you have not
- Reward yourself if you have achieved your goals, eg read your favourite magazine, get a manicure
- Look ahead at what you can do for the following day or week and set yourself a new plan
- Remember that it is okay to have occasional days when you eat less healthy options but aim to develop healthy eating habits most of the time
Tips to help you to eat well
|Plan your shopping and meals||
Factor in shopping and cooking time into your schedule. Spend a little bit of time each week planning some healthy meals and snacks and then write your shopping list.
|Try something new||
For some inspiration, visit the local farmers market or food market to buy fresh seasonal produce. Have a look at healthy food magazines or recipe websites for some meal ideas.
|Stock up on key ingredients||Keep base ingredients in your cupboard for quick healthy meals.|
|Double the recipe and freeze||Make extra and freeze a portion for another meal for when you come home late and are tempted to buy take away food.|
|Frozen and tinned foods can be a lifesaver||Don't be afraid to use frozen vegetables and tinned foods like tuna or salmon when you don't have fresh available, as nutritionally they are a good option.|
|Take regular breaks||
Build in time to take breaks, stretch, eat and drink a glass of water. Try not to eat in front of the computer or standing in the kitchen. Slow down and relax – it's better for digestion and helps you to recharge.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. If you skip meals it will catch up with you with the 4pm chocolate slump or by overeating in the evenings.
Treats can be healthy
Treat yourself to luscious berries or a mango that will satisfy your sweet tooth, instead of a chocolate bar or muffin.
|Keep healthy snacks in sight||Snack on fresh fruit or unsalted nuts and put away the chocolates or biscuits. Don't continually graze; instead, stop and have a definite snack time when you need it.|
|Ask for smaller and healthier options||
Ask for smaller portions and make fruit and vegetables your number one choice in a meal whether eating at home or eating out. Ditch rich sauces, sides of chips and bread.
|Download an app to help you plan||
Use an app on your smart phone to keep your shopping list and meal planning handy.
|Don't shop on an empty stomach||
Eat before you shop and you will be less tempted by unhealthy foods.
|Use a cooler bag in the warmer months||
Invest in a cool bag that you can take in the car or on the train and pack a day's eating in it the night before.
|Don't confuse hunger with thirst||
Stop using food and coffee to keep going – instead, take a quick break, stretch and drink a glass of water.
|Use food labels to identify the healthier options||
Compare the products available in the supermarket and aim to choose those with a lower saturated fat, higher fibre, lower sugar and lower sodium content.
|Modify your favourite recipes to make them healthier||Try substituting some of the ingredients in your recipes to make them healthier. You may also be able to add in more fibre with some vegetables, legumes or fruit or with some wholegrains.|
Seeking advice & support
Most people find it quite difficult to make long-term lifestyle changes. We have provided lots of information and places you can obtain more information from if you wish. This is a good start when you are planning to improve your lifestyle but also think about who can support you to reach your goals. It is a good idea to share your goals with a family member or friend who can encourage you and help get you back on track when things get a bit hard.
It may be helpful to see a dietitian who can provide you with more individualised advice and support you with your lifestyle changes. The Dietitians Association of Australia website allows you to search for an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) in your local area. Your local community health centre or hospital may also offer individual appointments with a dietitian.
This web page is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your health practitioner. The information above is based on current medical knowledge, evidence and practice as at February 2014.