“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”
(Ernest Hemingway)

If you are like me and most other Happy Living readers, I assume that you are an intelligent and conscientious person who desires to improve your spiritual, mental, physical and financial health. I suspect you take in lots of great information about what changes could be beneficial in your life, and that you may even have attempted to implement some of them. And, I’m guessing that the attempts haven’t always been successful, because I’ve never met anyone who is always successful at every self-improvement effort. (If you’re that rare unicorn, I’d love to meet you so the streak can be broken!)

Making changes can be difficult in all areas of our lives, and this is especially true when it comes to shifting our diet.

Presuming that my assumptions are accurate, you haven’t always been as successful as you’d like at making better choices about the food you eat. Because let’s face it, many of us know what we should be doing, but sometimes we have a hard time doing it. At the same time, we know that change is necessary to be our healthiest selves, and a change can’t help us if we can’t implement it and stick with it.

So, here are my top four tips about how to achieve and maintain healthy dietary habits, no matter where you are on that journey:

1. Make each change small enough that it’s sustainable, and build on the changes over time.

Many people get frustrated when they attempt to make a big sweeping change and then find it too difficult to sustain. As such, I always encourage people to start with a change that’s small enough that they are pretty confident they can be successful. A good test of this is to ask yourself: on a scale of 1 to 10, how successful can I be with the change I want to make? If your answer is anything less than 7, you need to reevaluate and make the change more manageable. For example, if you want to stop eating sweets because you know sugar is bad for your health, but you have a sweet tooth, don’t try to cut sugar out of your diet entirely. Instead, commit to having sweeteners only in your desserts and not having them in any non-dessert items like cereal, ketchup or beverages. Once you’ve successfully made that shift, the next step could be having dessert only on weekends or only having dessert when the best possible version of that dessert is available. If you’re not sure what change to start with, check out my suggestions.

2. Choose a change that fits with your lifestyle.

This may seem obvious, but often people want to jump into a huge diet change that simply doesn’t fit their life. For example, if you work out in the morning, take the kids to school, and get to your desk by 8 am, deciding to eat a home-cooked omelet every morning probably isn’t going to work. Instead, pick changes that will fit with how you’re already living. If eating out is your thing, commit to choosing the healthier items at your favorite restaurant or finding a new restaurant that specializes in healthier choices. If you’re always on the go, focus on switching to healthy, hand-held snacks and carrying a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated. In the future, you might find that bigger, more radical changes fit with your life, but until then, picking changes that work with your life today is crucial to success.

3. Focus on the things you can do rather than on the things you choose not to do.

When we focus on the things we like to eat that we are giving up, it’s easy to feel deprived. Instead, focus on the things you want to do… like drinking enough water or eating enough vegetables and fruits. If you still have room for a soda after you’ve had your 70 ounces of water, have a soda. If you still want a cookie after getting your 6 servings of produce, have a cookie. This way you’re sure you’re getting in the things your body needs, which is actually just as important as taking out certain things.

4. Use the words “I choose to” instead of “I have to” or “I can’t.”

If your goal is to eat healthy, research has shown that expressing your choices from a place of empowerment rather than victimization will make you more likely to achieve those goals[1]. A simple way to do this is to say, “I don’t eat <insert food>” rather than “I can’t eat <insert food>”. After all, it’s always a choice, and acknowledging that will make you feel empowered rather than constrained.

Making changes is rarely easy. That said, by following these tips, you’ll be well on your way to achieving the healthy life you want and deserve.


1. Vanessa M. Patrick and Henrik Hagtvedt. “I Don’t” versus “I Can’t”: When Empowered Refusal Motivates Goal-Directed Behavior.

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