How to eat “better than before” in 2018

If you have been following Doctor as Teacher Tuesday for a while you might already know that Gretchen Rubin is one of my favourite authors to learn great ideas about habit change from.

For the last two years in January I have recommended taking her Tendency Quiz to find out how to work with your individual strengths to create habit change that will last.

This year I would like to summarize some strategies that she suggests for Eating Better Than Before.

  1. Clean Slate. A new situation makes it much easier to change habits. If you move to a new city, change jobs or schools, or have a new routine, take advantage of the clean slate. New job? Start taking your lunch to work. This applies to the New Year as well, so start taking advantage.
  2. Abstaining. For most people—but not everyone—moderation is too tough; it’s easier to give up something altogether. For Abstainers, it’s far easier to eat no cookies than one cookie. I am definitely an abstainer, so now that Christmas is over the treats are out of the house or at least in the freezer.
  3. Convenience and Inconvenience. Make it easy to eat right and hard to eat wrong. Keep healthy snacks in your desk so you don’t use the vending machine. Store the crackers on a high shelf. Another tip that I learned from a friend and colleague of mine is to store the foods you want to eat more of – veggies – in a clear container, and the foods you want to eat less of in a solid container.
  4. Monitoring. Keep track of what you eat: how many cups of cereal, how many slices of pizza. Don’t eat out of a container. Decide how much you want to eat, and put it on your plate—and no seconds. I often suggest patients keep track of how many veggies they are eating in a day. We often overestimate the amount we think we are eating and then underestimate the amount of junk we are eating.
  5. Safeguards. Anticipate temptation and decide in advance how to handle it. What will you eat at the birthday party? On vacation? If Aunt Bertha serves her famous mac and cheese? Another tip I use with patients – If you are going to a restaurant, look up the menu ahead of time online and decide what you want to eat.
  6. Pairing. Only eat X when you’re doing Y. Only eat when sitting at a table. Only eat a croissant after you finish an exam. Another strong pairing is exercise and eating properly. Just showing up to your exercise class could help keep you on track with your meal plan as well. 
  7. Loophole-Spotting. We use loopholes to justify breaking a good habit. Watch out for these popular loopholes. In my experience with patients loopholes are a dime a dozen so learning how to spot these loopholes can stop you from making the same poor choices over and over again. 

• Tomorrow—”It doesn’t matter what I eat today, because I’ll eat great tomorrow.”

• Fake-Self Actualization—”You only live once. I can’t pass this up!”

• Lack of Control—“Someone brought cupcakes to the meeting.”

• One-Coin—“What difference does one brownie make?

Now I would love to hear from you! Which strategy do you think will make the biggest difference for you to eat better than before? Leave a comment below and I’ll be back next week with another edition of Doctor as Teacher Tuesday!

Comments from our readers

7 Comments

  • Brenda

    January 16, 2018

    Oh my – what perfect timing on this article! Have you been spying on us?!?! LOL

  • Joan

    January 16, 2018

    I am excellent at abstaining and have on several occasions, I stick to,the,program like a trouper. , I lose a lot of inches, weight, feel better etc… but I have discovered when I deviate from abstaining I swear it must be like when an alcoholic hits the bottle again pardon the expression but “all hell breaks loose” and I go on a breakaway destroying almost everything I accomplish, saying I will eat properly tomorrow which never comes.. I would to learn to have a chocolate not the whole box in one setting or is this going to be that I have to abstain for the rest of my life ?

  • James Pott

    January 16, 2018

    Although it may be true that some folks can more readily adapt to a more ketogenic diet, low carb/higher fat, while others find it harder, fact is that you will find it easier on your system in the long run to try for a good fat diet (olive, coconut, butter, avocado, fish). However there is an added benefit. Since we have discovered that caloric intake effects longevity, and not just longevity, but healthy longevity, there is a reason to lower your intake in general. But nobody likes to go hungry! So try an alternative. Eat within an eight hour window. Maybe once a week. Since we switched to a different breakfast it has become very easy for us to skip breakfast altogether and have it instead early afternoon. Last meal of the day is at 5 next meal is at 1 or 2 the next day. I won’t take another page why that is so incredible for your system, but I can guarantee you that it is a reno for your body. Older and senescent cells are cleared out and replaced with better functioning mitochondria.

  • Michele Schultz

    January 16, 2018

    Thanks for sharing these great strategies for success! I really like the convenince / inconvenience one. I have started doing this lately by washing and prepping ALL of my veggies and greens when I get home from the grocery store and filling glass containers. It makes it so easy to just grab healthy food, and takes away the “too much work” excuse. It also means more ends up in my belly, and not in the compost!

  • Dr Michelle Durkin ND

    January 17, 2018

    In your situation Joan abstaining is the best policy. However on rare occasions if you plan ahead to “break your rule” and savour the moment and the experience of eating the chocolate that can be different. IF you adopt the identity of an abstainer then it will be much easier to get back on track. The wording you use is also important. For example a non-smoker would never say I can’t smoke, they say I don’t smoke, yet when it comes to food we say “can’t” a lot.

  • Dr Michelle Durkin ND

    January 17, 2018

    Thanks Michele. That strategy is by far the easiest one for people to start with 🙂

  • Dr Michelle Durkin ND

    January 21, 2018

    Agreed James. Over time my eating window has shortened from 7am – 8pm to now 10 or 11am – 8pm by reducing by sugar and grain intake and increasing my healthy fat intake. The other benefit of a shorter eating window and a longer fasting period is the clearing out potential cancerous cells.

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