Top 5 Barriers That Get in the Way of a Healthy Diet
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“It does not do to leave a dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.” - JRR Tolkein
If you’ve been inspired to make healthy changes to your diet and lifestyle this year, you may well have started to come across some obstacles that are making the process more challenging than you first thought. It’s a great idea to get familiar with the things that might get in your way so you can start to work out how to get round them. It’s ideal if you can do this before you get started, but don’t worry if you’re already on the path - it’s equally useful at any point in the process.
Unhelpful Beliefs – We all have different sets of beliefs about the world around us that have formed at some point in our lives – beliefs aren’t facts but instead they are our internal (and often distorted) representation of reality. Some beliefs are helpful, whereas some others aren’t. It’s therefore a good idea to have a regular spring clean of your beliefs and let go of any that might not be serving you well. Unhelpful beliefs around diet can create huge barriers when it comes to working towards eating more healthily or achieving a healthy weight1. These may include, “I will never achieve a healthy weight”, “healthy food is boring”, “fad diets, quick fixes and diet foods are the best way to lose weight”, “all fat is bad for you”, “I can’t cook”, “a healthy diet means extreme changes” and many more. Have a think about whether any of these, or other similar unhelpful beliefs get in your way? Once you have identified them, the best way to get rid of unhelpful beliefs is to go out there and prove them wrong.
Lack of Time – Most people can hold their hand up to wishing for more hours in the day at some point in their lives. “If only I had more time…” is perhaps the most common reason given for not eating a better diet or leading a healthier lifestyle. Making time to eat better involves doing a bit of groundwork first. For starters, I recommend putting pen to paper and spending a bit of time sorting the different areas of your life into order of priority (for example 1. Family 2. Relationship 3. Health 4. Friends 5. Hobbies 6. Work etc.) – once you have your priority list – next step is to estimate how much time you apportion to each area. It may be that health is nearer to the top and work is closer to the bottom of your list, yet you invest a lot of time into work and very little time into your health? Identifying what’s important to you is an important step in the process of making changes and this is even more powerful when you put pen to paper. You can then decide to allocate more time to some areas and perhaps less to others. This doesn’t need to be a series of dramatic changes – for example, swapping 15 minutes checking emails in the evening for 15 minutes preparing a healthy packed lunch for the next day will add up to a huge difference over time.
“If you really want to do something you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.”
Misconception that Healthy Food Costs More – There is a commonly held misconception that healthy food always costs more than refined, processed convenience food yet this is completely untrue. It is completely possible to eat a healthy diet on a budget2 – in fact some of the world’s healthiest foods – beans, peas and lentils are the cheapest forms of protein you can buy. It may take a little more time and an investment in learning how to cook with new foods but you certainly can eat well without breaking the bank.
Family Likes / Dislikes & Social Pressures – Making changes to your diet can sometimes mean that you are eating different foods to everyone else, (unless of course you all want to change then it’s a much easier process!) and this is another common reason for people struggling to stick to healthy dietary changes. It’s vitally important to get support from family and friends3 right at the start by communicating clearly to them exactly what it is you are trying to do and why. If they understand your reasons for wanting to change, chances are you’re much more likely to get their support. From a practical point of view, it’s also important to get organised and figure out in advance how you are going to make this work – the more specific you can be with your planning at this stage, the more likely you are to succeed – don’t just leave it to chance. For example, if you’ll need to cook different meals, identify where the extra time will come from, or if your friends have arranged a night out and you don’t want to drink alcohol, choose to drive instead.
Lack of Skills / Confidence in the Kitchen – Convenience foods have become such a mainstay of the 21st century Western diet that many people have lost their confidence when it comes to cooking. However, you really don’t need to be a cordon bleu chef to eat well – a few simple skills will get you started. You can find help with pretty much anything on the internet4 with everything from step by step instructions to YouTube cooking clips so there’s really no excuse for not tiptoeing forward and having a go. There’s also some good equipment that can really help – a food processor can dramatically reduce preparation time for soups and casseroles, a high powered blender is a must for making healthy smoothies, a steamer basket helps to maintain nutrients when cooking vegetables and you can be creative with newer gadgets such as a spiraliser to make the whole process a bit more fun!
Give Yourself the Very Best Chance
If you’re committed to making dietary and lifestyle changes make sure you give yourself the very best chance by getting familiar with the obstacles that might get in your way. Remember that lasting change takes time and happens in small steps. Keep focused and you will soon be well on your way to achieving your goals.
1. Vaughan, C. A., Ghosh-Dastidar, M., & Dubowitz, T. (2018). Attitudes and Barriers to Healthy Diet and Physical Activity: A Latent Profile Analysis. Health education & behavior : the official publication of the Society for Public Health Education, 45(3), 381–393. https://doi.org/10.1177/1090198117722818.
2. Eat well, spend less factsheet, BDA (British Association of UK Dieticians).
3. Friends, family can influence your weight—for good or bad, Harvard School of Public Health.
4. Healthier Families Recipes NHS Website.
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