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Now that spring is fully underway, you've likely come across something—an article, an ad, a pushy friend—urging you to "spring clean your diet." This sentiment seems to rear its ugly head at the beginning of every season—"new year, new you", "spring clean your diet," "get a bikini body for summer," etc. While I'm totally on board for Marie Kondo-ing your home, I want you to think twice before you run out to buy the latest gummy bear cleanse (yes, that's a real thing) just to fit into your jean shorts from last year. This spring, I implore you to get off the merry-go-round of dieting and deprivation and ignore the internal nagging voice that is telling you that you need to "spring clean" your health.
Why you shouldn't "spring clean" your diet.
I'm all for healthy eating. As a registered dietitian, I've committed my life to teaching others how to make healthy food choices. That doesn't mean I want everyone to force down a kale salad for lunch every day or make the switch to cauliflower rice, but I do recommend eating a balance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, healthy fats, and lean proteins. Yes, I know that sounds boring. I know you want to roll your eyes when you hear me say that because it sounds too simple or maybe too complicated. Part of the allure of crazy, fad diets with intricate rules is that they seem like a magic bullet to achieve your goals quickly. But if that magic bullet existed, everyone would look as good as J. Lo does at almost 50. Spoiler alert: Healthy eating/losing weight/getting in shape isn't always easy, and it isn't as simple as following some three-day cleanse.
That's why "spring cleaning" your diet is B.S. Spring cleaning your home is usually a weekend activity: put away the sweaters, deep clean the bathroom, organize the dresser, etc. Making lasting healthy behavior changes and embracing healthy eating is 100-percent doable and encouraged, but it takes longer than a weekend, a month, or even one season. The "get fit, quick" mentality is accompanied by restrictive diets that don't help create lasting behavior changes.
I'm not saying that all "diets" are bad (although I do hate the word diet), especially since there's research about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, plant-based diets, intermittent fasting, which can all be considered diets, however, I would argue that these "diets" promote positive behaviors that lead to sustainable changes. And that's something I can get behind.
Healthy diet habits that work year-round.
At the end of the day, I do want to help you find the path to a maintainable healthy eating style. So step away from the juice cleanse and be realistic. Implement some of these small changes this spring (or anytime!) to feel healthier and take the first steps toward embracing healthy eating.
Pay attention to how food makes you feel.
Food is nourishment and it should make you feel good, rather than promote guilt. The next time you're eating something, take a second and think about how that food makes you feel. If you're mindlessly snacking on junk food while bored, you may notice that the food isn't satisfying your hunger or curing your boredom. If you eat a large plate of fries and feel bloated and tired afterward, make note of that yucky feeling. Try keeping a food journal that tracks what you ate and how you felt. You may notice patterns, like healthy food giving you more energy and "junk" food being unsatisfying, and you can adjust your eating accordingly. (See: Why You Need to Stop Labeling Food as "Good" and "Bad")
Address a digestive disorder.
More than 60 million people are affected by digestive disorders, and it's not something you need to suffer through. Too often, women tell me that they feel bloated all the time or have stomach pains after meals. (Not-so-fun fact: Women are actually at a higher risk for stomach issues compared to men.) These aren't things that will go away over time. Make this spring the season you finally make an appointment with a gastroenterologist or meet with a registered dietitian to figure out what's causing your tummy troubles.
Eat more fruits and vegetables.
I probably sound like a broken record, but almost everyone could benefit from eating more fruits and veggies. Rather than embracing food restriction, embrace eating more plants. (If you won't listen to me, at least listen to Beyoncé.) Not only will you increase your vitamin, mineral, fiber and antioxidant intake, you'll also likely replace some other less nutritious food groups in your diet.
If you don't know where to start, it can be as simple as adding a new piece of produce to your grocery cart or incorporating some veggies at breakfast. Or if you already eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, try filling half your plate with them at every meal.
If you live somewhere that has a cold winter, you're probably dying to get outside the second spring hits. Embrace that feeling and make a commitment to move more. Take the dog for extra long walks, sign up for a 5K, meet your friends for a bike ride or start an outdoor garden. Add an extra 10 minutes to every workout or an additional day of workouts per week. (More inspo: Busy Women Share Exactly How They Make Time to Work Out)
Meet with a nutrition professional.
Everyone is different. That's why it's really difficult to give one-size-fits-all nutrition advice. Registered dietitians give individualized nutrition advice based on a person's lifestyles and goals. Rather than trying to follow the miracle diet that worked for your bestie, meet with a dietitian to figure out what's best for you. (See: Why Even Healthy People Should Work with a Nutritionist)