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Keeping up the good work with your healthy eating

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Maintaining healthy eating habits

Just as when you start making changes to your diet, keeping up those changes also takes effort and dedication.

It's important to maintain healthy eating changes over time to keep benefiting your physical and mental health.

Here are some helpful strategies and ideas that can help you maintain the changes you've made.

Build healthy eating into your daily routines

You're more likely to keep up healthy eating in the long term if it becomes a habit; something you do almost automatically.

If you link your new healthy eating choices to 'cues' (or triggers) in your environment, you're more likely to maintain them over time.  A 'cue' can be:

  • Other people
  • An object such as a note on your fridge door
  • The time of day
  • Other behaviours or events, such as lunch time
  • How you feel, such as stressed or happy

There are cues wherever you go. This could be in your car, at work, at home, etc. It's important to create positive cues which trigger healthy eating as often as possible.

How to create healthy habits using cues

New behaviours can become habits when you repeat them in the same place, or situation in response to a cue. For example, eating a piece of fruit when you finish work for the day.

Over time, this cue will trigger the behaviour (habit) without you being aware of it. Brushing your teeth is a good example of a habit. It's an activity you probably do without even thinking about it.

Some of the time you may reach for a snack without even thinking about it. For example, you always have two biscuits with a mid-morning cup of tea.

You can build a healthy habit by replacing the biscuits with a healthier snack. This could be a handful of nuts or a piece of fruit. Repeat this every time you get the cue (having a cup of tea) until you grab your healthier snack without thinking about it.

You can break unhealthy eating habits by removing what psychologists call 'negative cues'. These are cues that encourage us to eat unhealthily, such as storing bags of crisps at the front of the cupboard. To break this habit, replace the bag of crisps with a healthier snack or put the crisps out of sight.

You may have eating habits that you're not aware of. Take some time to think about the eating habits you have during a typical day. For example, if you had a glass of water mid-morning instead of tea, would you automatically reach for a biscuit? Once you recognise these cues, think about how to break them and form new and healthier habits. 

How to break unhealthy habits

In this section we present two main approaches to end an unhealthy habit.  We encourage you to consider which would work best for you:

  1. You could consider changing the cue or trigger (instead of tea, drink water instead)
  2. You could change the way you respond to a cue (instead of reaching for a biscuit when stressed, eat fruit instead).

Take a moment to think about the cues in your environment. Think about positive cues as well as negative cues you could change to help you eat more healthily.

You might want to note these down or save a copy of these statements (PDF) [98KB] to print off and fill in later:

Replacing or changing the cue (or trigger)

  • Existing cues which I already have in my environment are...
  • New cues to trigger healthy eating habits which I could add to my environment are... 
  • Cues that trigger unhealthy eating habits that I could remove from my environment are...

Change the way you respond to a cue (or trigger)

  • Replacement food or foods I could eat after experiencing a trigger (which normally makes me reach for unhealthy snacks) are...
  • Replacement activities I could do after experiencing a trigger (which normally makes me reach for unhealthy snacks) are...
  • Something positive I could tell myself after experiencing a trigger (which I did not give in to) is...

Use your environment and social support

The people and things around you can keep you motivated and positive and help you maintain your healthy eating habits. This can be when you are at home, work, or with friends.

A supportive environment could be a workplace that provides healthy lunch options. Good social support could be having a family member who is aware of your overall healthy eating goal. They cook healthy meals for you when you are unable to cook yourself.

Make sure that your environment and social support are as supportive as possible. Think about those places or events that may get in the way of continuing to eat more healthily. For example, when a friend or colleague brings in cake.

These situations may happen regularly and be difficult to avoid. If this is the case, think about what makes it difficult (barriers or obstacles) and what will make it easier (solution) for you.

Try making an If-Then plan which can help you plan ahead for difficult situations.  An example If-Then plan may be:

  • If colleagues have brought in cakes... Then I'll ensure I pack myself a satisfying and tasty lunch, so I'm not tempted by hunger to eat cake

Find out more about making an If-Then plan.

Keep an eye on changes to your routine

Keeping track of your emotions, thoughts and behaviours is important. You don't want them to get in the way of maintaining the changes you have made.

Sometimes you'll spot things that get in the way of you keeping up your changes. You'll then know what you need to overcome these challenges.

For example, if you're stressed and feeling low, this can lead you to make unhealthy food choices.

So it's important to find positive ways to deal with stress and negative thoughts. Learn more about managing emotions.

Other examples are a change in your routine due to an illness, or a life event. These can make it challenging to stick to your goals. It can be quite normal to experience setbacks in your healthy eating when something unexpected happens.

The important thing is to notice when these things happen and throw you off course. If you're aware of what's happening around you and realise why, use it as an opportunity to review your goals and action plans.

For example, you may need to be kind to yourself and not set many goals for a week you know will be challenging as you focus on other things. But you could make a plan to revisit your goals a week later and accept that things will have slipped a bit.

Planning how you might respond to challenges ahead of time means you're prepared for them.

One type of plan that can help you stay on track with your goals in these situations is an If-Then plan. To give an example:

  • If I'm planning on going out for a meal... Then I'll check the menu online before I go and decide which is the healthiest meal available and order that on the night.

Find out more about making an If-Then plan.

Stay motivated

Often the things that motivate you to start making changes, are not the same things you need to maintain the changes to your diet.

It's important to think about what motivates you to continue making any changes to your healthy eating. It is easier to maintain changes if you have at least one thing that motivates you. For instance:

  • Being satisfied and happy with what you have achieved. For example, you're now eating a more healthy balanced diet and feel good about it.
  • Enjoying doing that new behaviour, such as cooking using healthier ingredients or methods
  • The new behaviour is more in line with who you are or what you believe in.

It may be useful to think about these motivators and how they are relevant to you.  To do this, try completing the below statements. You can note this down or save a copy to print off later (PDF) [131KB] and fill in:

  • The thing I am most satisfied about with my new healthy eating choices are...
  • The thing I am most enjoy about my new behaviour is...
  • My new behaviour of ... matches my identity, beliefs and values

Have the right resources to keep on track

One final strategy is to make sure you have a range of resources at hand whenever you need them.

By working through the articles and activities on this website, you'll already have several resources and tools to use. Types of resources that can help you keep on track can include:

  • Practical tools, such as an app which records and tracks what you eat
  • Emotional support, from a family member, friend or colleague
  • Self-care skills. This could be getting enough sleep, effective time management, managing unhelpful emotions and cravings, keeping fit and healthy.

For more information to help you keep on track, see the following:

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