Fitting your diet around your life

This is the eighteenth part of the dieting basics series – see the series outline for links to all the other posts so far.

Most diets are abandoned after a few days or weeks not because dieters lack willpower but because the diets form an awkward fit with our busy lives. If you have to slave away preparing separate meals for yourself and the family, or if you end up working late without access to anything healthy in the office, no wonder your diet “fails”. You need ways to fit your diet around your life, so that it isn’t an extra burden, but a natural part of your daily routine.

Plan your meals and snacks

I’ve written on The Office Diet before about the importance of planning ahead. Having the right things in the fridge makes cooking dinner simple; there’s nothing worse than getting home from work only to realise that one vital ingredient for your meal is missing. The thought of having to drag yourself out to the shops is likely to make phoning for a pizza all the more tempting… But if you’ve planned ahead and bought groceries at the weekend, everything will be ready for you to cook.

Planning also applies to smaller meals and snacks – making sure you have milk for breakfast, for example, and buying some healthy odds and ends to keep at work (rather than digging into the communal biscuit tin whenever your blood sugar dips.)

Eat the same meals as your family

If your diet involves eating completely different meals to everyone else in the house, you’re likely to give up because of the hassle and the secret resentment that you’ll feel. It’s a pain to keep preparing separate meals (and takes almost as long to cook enough food for one person as it does to cook for four): when you’re feeling busy or harried, you’ll wonder what the point is. Plus, when everyone else is tucking into a roast dinner, it’s unlikely you’ll feel completely satisfied with your healthy chicken salad. Whether you admit it or not, part of you resents the fact that you’re stuck with “diet food” and everyone else gets to eat what they like…

There’s no reason why your family can’t eat the same meals as you. Granted, you might get a few grumbles at first, but try to find options that everyone enjoys and that are healthy. (If you’re not sure where to start, try some of the ideas on the recipe pages.) Dish up extra for those who aren’t dieting, and make a few tweaks – perhaps you’ll have low-fat salad dressing on your potatoes, whereas they’ll have butter. You won’t feel left out or ostracised by your diet, and you’ll know that you’re helping your loved ones to eat healthily too: a powerful motivation to stick with it!

Count calories rather than following a set plan

Diets fit much more easily around your life if they don’t involve eating specified meals or snacks: it’s better to count calories than follow a set diet plan. This allows you to eat anything (though means small portions of calorie-dense foods) and lets you have a bit extra at weekends and a bit less on weekdays. The diet plans that you find in books and magazines are almost all calorie-counted, even if calories aren’t shown, so there’s absolutely nothing wrong with devising your own diet.

If you’re not sure how many calories you should be eating, check the recommended daily guidelines (and calculate your own personal allowance.) I also have spreadsheets to help you work out the calories in a recipe.

Don’t become obsessed with your diet

If you’ve ever reacted to the offer of a cookie with, “Do you have any idea how many calories are in that thing? Do you want to ruin my diet? Take it away!” … then you’ll know how easy it is to become a little obsessive about dieting. This all-or-nothing thinking makes your diet feel like something negative which controls your life, rather than a way of eating well to improve your health. (And there are more tactful ways to refuse a cookie.)

Try to relax about your diet. One cookie will not make you gain three pounds overnight. Of course this shouldn’t be an excuse to indulge whenever you feel like (that one cookie won’t make a different, but a whole packet will), but you shouldn’t feel you have to miss out on special occasions such as birthdays. Have the occasional “naughty” snack or indulgent meal … just make sure you get back to your usual good habits the next day.

Make exercise a natural part of your routine

Although you don’t have to exercise in order to lose weight, I (and many experts!) believe that getting active is a perfect complement to a healthy diet. But your motivation for going to the gym is not likely to be high if you try to force yourself there every day after work … especially if that means getting home two hours later than usual.

Find a time of day when exercise can slot neatly into your routine: maybe a quick jog first thing in the morning, or a brisk walk at lunchtime. As with your dieting, try to avoid the all-or-nothing mindset: you don’t have to do an intense gym session every day to see benefits. Once exercise is established as an easy part of your day, it’s much easier to stick with it than when it seems like yet another chore.

The final post in the Dieting Basics series will be a glossary of all those confusing dieting buzz terms, like “GI”, “BMI” and “RDA”. Make sure you’re getting RSS updates so that you don’t miss it!

(Image above by dandelionfourteen)


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