Are you considering going on a special diet, such as the autoimmune Paleo diet, the leaky gut diet, the SCD diet, or the GAPS diet? The thought of a major diet change can bring feelings of uncertainty and questions such as, "Can I handle this? What do I eat for breakfast?" Food powerfully impacts our emotions, and dietary changes can really "rock the boat" in daily life. However, by thinking ahead and employing some simple strategies you can ensure a successful transition and hence better health.
In this article I suggest some surefire ways to help set yourself up for success on your new diet.
Plan ahead and do your research
The most important step is to plan ahead. Why are you changing your diet? Do you understand the potential health benefits? Knowing this will help you move forward with commitment and confidence. Find reputable, current resources through your health care practitioner, at the library, or online. Even an hour of self-education will help you feel more empowered.
Menu planning is key to succeeding at a major diet change. Sit down with your resources, look at recipes, and write out a menu plan for at least a full week. Pick foods you know you will eat so you don't find yourself falling into old habits. This way you will have backup when you get home late from work or fall behind helping your child with homework. Over time, your menu options will grow. Check out online menu planning services for special diets.
Make a grocery list
Make a comprehensive grocery list that fits the menu plan. Some items may need to be bought later for freshness; know what they are in advance.
Clean out the pantry
Before going to the store, empty your house of all prohibited foods. If there are foods you may test later for tolerance, put them in a location that's not front-and-center. Grab those grocery bags, and go to the store!
Leave some extra time for this trip; you may be navigating new sections of the store, or finding unfamiliar foods. Ongoing, remember to stock up during sales and ask about discounts on case orders.
One of the best tools for a special diet is batch cooking. Batch cooking is preparing meals in bulk ahead of time, and refrigerating or freezing for later. Many who follow a special diet prep meals two days a week. On Sunday, you might take half a day to make a crock-pot of stew, prep a bunch of vegetables, and roast two chickens to put in the fridge or freezer. On Wednesday, you might bake fish for two meals, prepare a sweet potato dish for two meals, etc. It may seem like a lot of time to commit in one day, but soon you will come up with an efficient system where most of your food is prepped ahead of time and you save energy doing it.
Batch cooking reduces the stress of cooking every day, and when that moment comes when you might normally say, "Heck, I'm ordering a pizza!" you can reach for that tasty stew in the freezer. Success.
Sourcing local products
Some special diets require hard-to-find food items. You may have some luck at local food co-ops or farmers markets for these products, or even from the farmer directly. Buy bulk where you can.
What about the family?
One of the biggest challenges of being on a special diet is cooking for a family. Ideally, the whole family is on the same diet but anyone with kids knows this is wishful thinking. Depending on the age of your children, explaining why you are eating this way may help encourage acceptance. Some people cook one way for themselves, and one way for the family, but this is a lot of work. Others find they can cook most of the food to meet everyone's needs, then throw in some extras for the kids (such as grains or potatoes).
Bring your lunch and keep snacks handy
Since you have prepped meals ahead of time, lunch can go in a container with you to work. Also, keep diet-friendly snacks handy in case you are delayed getting home or are hungry between meals. Preventing hunger is one of the best ways to be successful on your diet.
What about restaurants?
Eating at restaurants can be a challenge on a special diet, though more restaurants are becoming aware of special dietary needs. Ask questions, be firm, and don't order if you are uncertain.
What to do when you fall off the wagon
Just about everyone "falls off the wagon" at some point. Try not to kick yourself for it. Dust yourself off, climb back on, and remember the longer you're on the diet, the more successfully you will stick to it. Also, when you start to enjoy the health benefits of your diet you'll find compliance becomes easier. Many foods lose their appeal when they trigger uncomfortable or even unbearable symptoms every time you eat them.