Spring Cleaning Your Diet

There are certain times of year when it seems like everyone is trying to “get back on the wagon.” January is the most obvious. We’re genuinely tired of holiday indulgences and habituated to setting health-related resolutions come the new year. Spring is a close second. Maybe it’s the changing of wardrobes, the thought of upcoming summer vacation, or inspiration from nature’s rebirth all around us. Who knows? But why not take advantage of this extra push.

In my work with nutrition clients, anxiety around failed New Year’s resolutions is a big stumbling block to reviving healthy habits. After making sure that their original goals are the right ones for now to begin with, there is an exercise I turn to time and again to help clients work through any indecision that might have caused them to lose track. We assess the benefits of change, benefits of staying the same, drawbacks of change, and drawbacks of staying the same. We then illustrate our findings in a table.

Let me give you an example. A weight loss client’s new year’s resolution was to decrease portion sizes at dinner by leaving a quarter of the food on his dinner plate untouched. A perfect SMART goal. It felt easy at first but as his motivation flagged throughout the last month or so, the scale has stubbornly stayed put. While he wants to continue losing weight, he also hates the idea of always having to keep nutrition top of mind. He doesn’t feel like he’s made any unsustainable changes to lose weight yet, but he’s concerned that any additional changes he’ll have to make in the future will feel more difficult. He’s actually comfortable at his current weight, but thinks it’s impossible to maintain unless he’s focused on losing. This is a major cause of anxiety. When he’s successfully executing his goals, he feels a sense of control that pervades the rest of his life. That’s almost a greater benefit to him than any change in appearance (although he likes that too). He also has a family history of diabetes and understands that continued weight loss would be beneficial for disease prevention.  Most of all, he doesn’t want his weight to go back up. He remembers how hard it was to lose and doesn’t want to start all over again.

Here is how we charted these points in a benefits-drawbacks table:

When he saw the above, he felt it was clear the benefits of change coupled with the drawbacks of staying the same far outweighed the benefits of staying the same and drawbacks of change. The anxiety he felt around regaining weight was the clearest motivating factor.

There is no reason that you need the support of a registered dietitian/nutritionist to explore your own indifference. As you plan your goals for spring cleaning your diet, take a few minutes to fill out your own chart. Keep it somewhere handy to refer back to when the going gets tough. And if you think it might help, share your chart in the comments section here. You have your own answers but a community can provide the support you need to follow them.