This article exists as part of the online archive for HuffPost Australia, which closed in 2021.

Take These Small, Easy Steps To Improve Your Diet -- Right Now

It's never too late to start.
Set small, specific and achievable goals.
Set small, specific and achievable goals.

Admitting to yourself (and others) that you need to change your diet is hard, but not making the change will be even harder, especially on your future self.

That beginning step of deciding you're going to make changes for the sake of your health is often the most confronting and intimidating, so much so that we self-sabotage before we've even given it a try.

Where do I start? Is this even possible? No, it's too much work. I'll never be able to do it.

Improving your diet and health takes dedication, but if it's done slowly and in a positive way, it is 100 percent possible. It's not about giving up all the unhealthy foods you love and only eating vegetables, it's about taking small steps that eventually add up to big ones.

To help get you inspired to make the change towards a more healthy diet, The Huffington Post Australia talked to two dietitians to share their advice and tips.

Small steps add up to big goals.
Small steps add up to big goals.

1. Know that it's never too late to start

It doesn't matter what age or weight you are to start making positive changes.

"There is no time like the present," accredited practising dietitian Jemma O'Hanlon told HuffPost Australia.

"It's never too late to focus on our health, and we'll add more life to our years by doing so."

2. Don't be afraid of failure

"Everyone who wants to make a change for the better is always afraid of failure, which is why they don't start in the first place," dietitian and sports nutritionist Robbie Clark told HuffPost Australia.

"First of all, I would tell anyone who is wanting to start a weight loss program is not to fear failure. It's almost impossible to go through life without experiencing some kind of failure."

Avoid comparing yourself (and your achievements) to others.
Avoid comparing yourself (and your achievements) to others.

3. Surround yourself with positive people

If your friends aren't supportive of your health goals, consider spending more time with people who are on a similar path, or with those who keep you inspired along the way.

"During this time, it is important that they are surrounded by a strong support network, which might be made up of family, friends, colleagues, health practitioners and/or personal trainers," Clark said.

"Having this network in place before they start can help the individual with their motivation, beliefs and self-esteem."

4. Understand that it's okay to have bad days

So you didn't stick to your diet and exercise plan today. That doesn't make you a failure, or that you've taken three steps back. Bad days are normal.

"Another important point I like my clients to know is that one 'bad day' won't ruin your results to date," Clark said.

Focusing on small adjustments, rather than massive overhauls, is the key to keeping the weight off in the long term.

"A lot of people trying to lose weight might find that they revert back to old habits and feel guilty about it or almost expect it to happen. This self-fulfilling prophecy is very common in people who have struggled with their weight or have gone on numerous diets and exercise programs in the past.

"What needs to be communicated is that old habits are hard to break and that behaviour modification will take some time. Health practitioners such as dietitians and psychologists can assist in this process."

Bad or 'off' days are totally okay. Cuddling a kitty helps.
Bad or 'off' days are totally okay. Cuddling a kitty helps.

5. Set small, specific and achievable goals

Don't compare yourself to other people and how far they've come. Even the smallest changes can make a big difference to your health.

"You don't have to overhaul your lifestyle to lose weight. Setting realistic expectations is critical to reducing the intimidation that often comes with a weight loss plan," Clark said.

"Setting specific, measurable realistic and achievable short term, and long term goals is a vital part in any sustainable weight loss program. These goals will differ between individuals and can be used as motivation and a reminder as to why you are starting a weight loss journey in the first place."

O'Hanlon agrees, saying that making large, unrealistic goals (perhaps those which you've seen other people succeed at) may result in an overwhelming feeling of failure when you're unable to meet those goals.

Aim for small distances first, and move up from there.
Aim for small distances first, and move up from there.

"Focusing on small adjustments, rather than massive overhauls, is the key to keeping the weight off in the long term," she explained.

"If we change our eating to a pattern that's not sustainable, like a juice fast, we'll only last a few days before we revert to our original habits, and probably eat a lot more because we've deprived ourselves," O'Hanlon said.

"Instead, the best approach is to start with what we're currently eating and look at how we can modify our choices to be more in line with dietary guidelines, tweaking our portions slightly and focusing on eating mindfully."

"Everyone is different, but in most cases if you are too strict with yourself and you divert from your health plan then you are setting yourself up for failure," Clark added.

"It's important when you're starting out to have a 'everything in moderation' approach. This takes the fear out of the need to achieve everything at once. This approach allows for a more balanced, realistic and stress-free approach to a new weight loss program."

Balance means treating yourself sometimes, too.
Balance means treating yourself sometimes, too.

6. Focus on your health, not your weight

Instead of making it about a certain weight or celebrity body goal, focus on your overall health and how you feel.

"I think it's important to take the approach that you are adopting and developing a new lifestyle, rather than looking at it at as something you have to do in order to be a certain weight or to be healthier," Clark said.

"This lifestyle will include a change in attitude towards the way you consume food and participate in exercise so that you develop a more positive relationship with them both.

"If you see improvements in fitness, sleep, mood, energy, diet then it is something to celebrate as it's all part and parcel towards a better and healthier life."

Keen to get started? Here are some easy, small steps to try now.

1. Swap simple carbs for complex carbs

"Gradually remove processed foods, refined carbohydrates and sugary foods from your diet -- swap white breads, pastas and rice for wholemeal and whole grain options," Clark said.

"For example, swap white bread for wholegrain bread and jasmine rice for brown rice. Whole grains are less processed, have more dietary fibre and help to keep us fuller for longer," O'Hanlon said.

2. Swap sugary drinks for whole fruit and infused water

"Swap sugary drinks such as soft drink, sports drinks and flavoured waters for mineral waters, milk and veggie juices," O'Hanlon said.

"We often forget about the amount of empty kilojoules in these drinks, but they contribute to our expanding waistlines just as much as junk food does."

Clark also recommends avoiding fruit juice due to its high sugar content. To put this into perspective, one cup of orange juice can contain four oranges' worth of sugar, minus the important fibre to help the slow release of energy.

"Eat whole fruit instead of drinking fruit juice," Clark said.

Alcohol also contains significant kilojoules (29 kilojoules per gram compared to 16 kilojoules per gram from carbs), so reducing your alcohol intake will also reduce your overall kilojoule intake.

"Drink more water throughout the day and make it your preferred beverage," Clark added.

Try infusing water water with berries, lemon, ice and mint.
Try infusing water water with berries, lemon, ice and mint.

3. Eat mindfully

When we eat meals at our desk or in front of the TV, we tend to mindlessly eat. That is, we pay no attention to what (and how much) we're eating, which can leave us feeling hungry and unsatisfied, even if we've eaten enough.

"Eat at the table and be present rather than in front of the TV," Clark said.

"Make eating a social occasion and take your time to eat mindfully and enjoy every bite," O'Hanlon added.

4. Get in the kitchen

"Try to cook more meals at home and make more to have as leftovers rather than buying takeaway," Clark said.

By cooking your own meals, you can control the amount of kilojoules, trans fat and salt you add, as well as the portion sizes.

"Not to mention we're more likely to eat mindfully and appreciate the foods in front of us when we've spent time preparing them," O'Hanlon said.

If in doubt, choose fruit and veggies.
If in doubt, choose fruit and veggies.

5. Eat the rainbow

In order to consume as many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants as you can, Clark recommends choosing colourful fruit and vegetables and to "eat a rainbow a day".

"Make sure your main meals are mostly filled with vegetables (including mostly green leafy vegetables)," Clark said. "Use healthy cooking methods -- for example steaming, poaching, grilling, stir frying and roasting."

"Also, start eating meat or fish with plenty of vegetables for dinner. And swap butter or margarine with avocado."

To encourage you to make veggies the hero on your plate, O'Hanlon recommends getting inspiration from social media and celebrity chefs.

"Check out what celebrity chefs are doing on YouTube and get creative in the kitchen," she explained. "Veggies should be the hero, not the villain. Instagram is also fantastic for veggie inspiration -- check out the #vegetable and #meatfreemonday hashtags."

6. Eat off smaller plates

As a general rule, we tend to eat more when our plates are bigger. To help control portion size, choose to eat from smaller plates.

"Trick your brain by serving your dinner on an entrée sized plate, and take 20 minutes to enjoy your meal so that the full feeling will kick in," O'Hanlon said.

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