Does the thought of changing your eating habits stress you out? Have you tried to change your diet for good but to no avail? We chatted with Aimee Hockett, MS, functional nutritionist and recipe developer, about how to make eating well a habit that actually sticks long term.

Why doesn’t dieting work?
Dieting often fails to take into account our personal routines. Diets often commit us to a certain schedule that doesn’t mesh well with our realities. While it is important to allow for extra time when building new habits, you shouldn’t expect to alter your current routine so much that you forget how to live your normal life, ending up in you losing all of the work you put in.

Try building new habits based off of how you want to live your life. Make practical changes at first then and slowly introduce harder changes. By doing this, you nourish your body purposefully in the way you feel best as you take baby steps towards true changes in your health.

Pro-tip: Don’t forget that food is very nostalgic. Try incorporating healthier versions of your favorites into your diet. That way, you can enjoy what you’re eating and think fondly of memories while simultaneously showing up for your body. A healthy version of you should still feel authentic to yourself. Don’t agonize over the loss of those things in life that offer nostalgic healing.

How do I make changing my diet a positive experience?
Too often we start an eating habit based on what we wish was different about ourselves. We should reframe this mindset by thinking about how much we appreciate being able to make changes in our lives. It’s best to first accept the amount of growth we need to see instead of wishing we had traits other people have, so we can remember how be ourselves and to listen to our own motivating voice. You will never get that reassurance to move forward if you do not allow yourself to appreciate who you are when you start, despite how you might feel about yourself at that time. Self love needs to become a habit just like our other goals.

It’s important to love ourselves before we can attempt to act out of inspiration, or else we lose the most important source of accountability — our own reflection and reason why we started in the first place. When we allow ourselves to be intuitive about our own reflections and not rely on those of others, we can comprehend how to make the real changes that make a difference in our own lives.

What role does biology play in self control and accountability?
This can vary person-to-person but I’ve noticed a couple of common symptoms that affect many people who struggle to stay accountable. First, you need to think about what it is you are trying to achieve. What do you need to commit to?

For many people, avoiding certain foods is key. Staying away from certain foods or having a specific practice (such as exercise or meal prepping) helps if you struggle to stay on track. Instead of feeling negatively if you accidentally indulge, aim to discover the reasons why. I’ve found that those who cave into their urges have usually waited too long to eat and their blood sugar has crashed. Avoid this by planning snacks in advance to make sure your choices align with your goals.

If you struggle to stop eating junk food after you’ve already had a healthy meal, you may have an imbalance in your gut, nervous system, or a lack of emotional fuel. Sometimes, people can become addicted to sugary foods because they have a hard time relaxing. Overindulging in carbohydrates and refined sugars can inundate the body, forcing you to slow down.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you can become addicted to getting things done and over-exercising. I find burnout from this isn’t always just the typical “adrenal fatigue” people talk about but rather an over-firing of their nervous system. Those that have this issue put their bodies in a constant state of fight-or-flight which is straining for the brain and heart.

People who struggle to stick to a habit or routine often lack specific nutrients that are required to remove inflammatory agents and promote brain function. Those who stick to a plan tend to have a clearer mind and less fatigue. A good starting point for any goal should be to get enough nutrients into your body everyday. When you fuel yourself before trying to achieve your other goals, you will feel prepared to stick to your plans and avoid pitfalls.

When should we plan on beginning a new diet habit?
Around the end of the year, we tend to eat less of the ingredients that fuel us individually, and more celebratory items like sugar, alcohol, and rich foods. As a result, we often feel depleted when we get back into our routines. I like to spend the beginning of the year reflecting on how I currently feel versus how I want to feel, mapping out the growth I want to experience as the year progresses, and then planning how to start implementing new habits.

By setting small goals every 2–3 months after spending some time on reflection and scheduling your time, you can make habit formation much easier to stick to long term. Most people jump right into a new habit on the 1st of year and thus have a hard time sustaining their efforts, but rest and planning are vital parts of the whole process, so starting a few months into the year is an ideal time.

How can we retrain our brain to form long lasting habits?
We can easily get caught up in negative self talk when starting new habits. It is often easier to give up a newer habit than an old one because it hasn’t made as much of an impression on our muscle memory. When we are forming new habits, we are engaging the intuitive and reflective parts of our mind.

The point where a lot of people get stuck with new habits is when they do not allow it to be intuitive and try to make it too structured. A lot of our time is spent in a routine, a flow of events. This is intuitive and develops quickly in our brains as babies. Reflection takes a bit longer and involves more learning and objective understanding about the world as you age. New habits are not intuitive and we can negatively impact ourselves if our intuition doesn’t pick it up quickly enough. The important thing is to have self compassion if you don’t commit 100%.

How do you make a plan that works?
We all have very different needs when it comes to our habits so every plan will be unique. We are all born with a different set of intuitive tools to help us stay grounded and balanced. Some of us might need to put in more effort or use more physical tools to succeed. Here are a few of my favorite tools that help me to stay organized when building new habits:

  • A Blank Planner
    Sometimes I find it overwhelming to plan everything out all the time. When I have a goal, I like to write down all of the tasks that will go into keeping me energized. A blank planner is ideal because I can utilize it for specific purposes, and I never feel negatively when picking back up after missing days.
  • Mindfulness Journal Prompts
    I like to use a couple of different journal prompts to help me reflect on various areas of my life when I need to return to a state of mindfulness or after failing to keep up with my habits. It helps me to determine where I fall short and small habits I might be overlooking.
  • Monthly Intentions
    It can be so helpful to map out your different goals and habits on one sheet throughout the month. Be sure to track your time availability, energy levels, and emotions so you can pinpoint pain points in your routine and make changes.
  • Pretty Stationary
    With all of the above, making reflections and plans more exciting with fun stickers and colorful pens encourages creativity around personal goals. Sitting down to look at your personal wellness can be stressful, but by having a specific goal in mind and creating an enjoyable experience, we become more mindful of all of the choices that go into our habits.

How can we stay motivated and avoid pitfalls?
Keeping a laid-back attitude about scheduling new habits can turn them into a long lasting routines. Skipping a day of a new habit won’t interrupt your success in turning it into a regular routine. However, consistent habit-forming behavior helps speed up the process and increases the effectiveness of your results.

That isn’t to state the obvious that practice makes perfect, but it points out a very important aspect that success comes with balance which allows for a certain amount of flexibility. Each person has their own limitations. To effectively understand how successful you are, it is important to understand your limitations as well as how much focus is required and how much intuition you can rely on. It has little to do with will power and everything to do with setting yourself up with balanced nutrients, good time management, and keeping a clear mind.

Be sure to check out Aimee’s nutrition-focused blog and find her guiding you towards a healthier life on her Instagram, @theakkitchen!