Knowledge is NOT power. Knowledge applied consistently over time is power. And that's why dietary adherence is so important - it proves that you can apply your nutrition knowledge (aka your nutrition strategy) day in and day out. That's really when your power (results) will show. There is actually more power in the "sticking to it" part than there is the actual "diet/whatever plan you choose to follow" part sometimes because there are so many different ways to reach the same end result! (I.e. if the goal is fat loss/weight loss - a calorie deficit can be created in a multitude of different diet approaches, make sense?)
You may have found the best nutrition strategy for you – but if you can’t stick to it, how will you ever achieve your goals? Studies have shown that adherence is important in how much weight is lost during a dieting period and is also a good predictor of how well someone maintains that weight loss in the long run. Dietary adherence is the secret weapon to achieving your goals – so let’s discuss 10 different ways to improve your dietary adherence, shall we?
1. Plan your meals ahead of time and/or meal prep
If you fail to prepare you prepare to fail. Typically, when trying to implement a new habit, it is best to be prepared ahead of time. With our busy and distracted lifestyles, the more convenient you can make your new habit, the better.
It doesn't have to be fancy, it can be very simple. But if one of your barriers is time - meal prep makes your plan convenient. If one of your barriers is making the right decisions throughout the day - planning out your day the morning of or night before can be helpful in removing food decisions throughout the day.
2. Structure your plan to suit your dietary preferences
Obviously, if you like the food then you are more likely to eat it, right? Then stop following bland, boring plans that contain foods that you don't enjoy. If you hate all veggies however, then take a veggie that you previously can't stand (steamed broccoli, for example) and try cooking it differently (in a veggie soup, in a stir fry, chopped up small in a scramble, roasted with salt). The last thing we want is to follow a bland plan for 4 months only to go right back to our hyper-palatable foods (I.e. Doritos, oreos, fast foods) once our dieting period is over. You should be excited to eat your meals, not feel like you are just choking it down. Your plan should be customized to both your goals and your preferences.
3. Set realistic expectations
When your expectations do not equal reality, the odds of you getting frustrated and giving up are increased. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t set lofty goals (i.e. losing 60 lbs). But breaking that bigger goal down into smaller goals, celebrating your small wins, and being realistic with the time frame is going to increase adherence to the plan.
4. Set up your environment for success
Don’t take this lightly. Remove your trigger foods from the house or pre-portion them out and incorporate them strategically into the plan. Let’s remove the food guilt and the feelings of “falling off the wagon”.
5. Track your progress
We see ourselves every day. Our bodies change very little day to day. It can be discouraging when you feel like one day, you’re making progress and suddenly you feel like you haven’t made any progress at all. Tracking helps you turn those feelings into data so you can truly see the progress even when eyes aren’t allowing you to see it in the mirror. You can do this by tracking: weight, body fat percentage, waist circumference, personal records in the gym, steps, or even certain blood markers. Fitting into an old pair of jeans or seeing changes in progress photos are also signs of improvement.
6. Set a moderate calorie deficit
(if you are looking to achieve fat/weight loss)
Yes, I know, we wanted to lose 10 pounds by yesterday. Unfortunately, this is not a process that can be rushed. The more aggressive the deficit, the harder it will be to stick to it! Start with something moderate (~15-20% below maintenance calories). This doesn’t mean that a more aggressive approach won’t work. The problem with more aggressive forms of dieting is that most people don’t know how to implement it properly without the right support and guidance. So, if you’re looking to be a little more aggressive than I would suggest hiring a coach.
7. Focus on your weekly intake
I’ve seen it far too often – someone gets really excited about a new dieting protocol that they want to hit each number perfectly. Let me tell you – perfection will cause burn out quick. Focusing on weekly intake vs daily intake will break that perfectionistic mindset and force you to look at the bigger picture.
For example: you’re dieting on 1,900 calories/day. You had an unexpected family dinner and ended up going over your calorie goal for the day by 500 calories. If you get back on track the next day, you will still be in a deficit by the end of the week. See, no need to start on Monday. We start again now.
8. Stick to preferred meal frequency
Everyone has different schedules. So, meal frequency and timing will look different for everyone. There is no one magical time to start and stop eating. The meal timing is (in my opinion) much less important than dietary adherence. As long as you are hitting your calorie targets, it doesn’t necessarily matter what your timing approach is. If it doesn’t work with your schedule, you likely won’t stick to it. Make your diet fit into your schedule!
Chew your food 20 times, don’t pair this with that, eat within 30 minutes of exercising, get up once an hour to walk around the block, don’t eat after 7 pm, pair your essential oils with your meal timing.
Word on the street is, the more complicated the rules are, the less likely you are to stick to it. Drop all of the small details of your food rules, simplify, and focus on the big picture.
10. Regulate stress
We have all heard the term “stress eating”. Regulating your stress will help keep cravings for comfort foods at bay. Regulating stress will look different for everyone – choose things that actually help you feel relaxed. Options: take a bath, meditate, call a friend, do yoga, go for a walk, journal, read, deep breathing exercises, spending time with friends/loved ones.
I hope you understand now why dietary adherence can be one of the most important aspects of any diet. If you take these tips to heart, you should feel well equipped to stick to and implement habits for a lifetime. If you need help with figuring out your nutrition strategy, check out my monthly nutrition coaching packages. I want to help you simplify and adhere to your diet long-term!