Ask the Expert: I Cheated on My Healthy Diet–How Do I Get Back On Track?
Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, is an NYC-based registered dietitian, food and nutrition writer, and national speaker. She has a master’s in nutrition and exercises physiology from Columbia University, and she specializes in sports nutrition as well as mostly plant-based diets.
Q: I completely fell off my healthy diet and ate half a cheesy pizza! How can I get back on track?
A: Whether you’re trying to eat low carbs or plant-based, or just stay off sugar, there may be times when you fall off the bandwagon. Maybe you ate an entire pint of ice cream or had a burger and fries over the weekend. It’s really common to feel “bad” about eating certain foods if your goal is to be healthy or stay away from meat. After all, your favorite Influencer looks like they eat only healthy veggie bowls, so why shouldn’t you?
When those feelings of guilt sink in, remind yourself that no one has a perfect diet. As a matter of fact, there is no such thing as a “perfect diet”. The first thing you need to do to get “back on track” to your healthy or plant-based eating is to stop beating yourself up and drop the guilt. Feeling guilty about eating certain food can lead to further overeating in the future. Give yourself some grace and acknowledge that your diet doesn’t will not be “perfect” (whatever that means) all the time.
That said, you ate something that probably made you feel not-so-great. Think about what prompted you to choose that food. Did you eat something that you normally wouldn’t for an emotional reason? Maybe you were bored, stressed, lonely, or anxious. Using food to cope with emotions seems like a good idea at the moment, but it doesn’t actually help soothe your feelings. Recognizing those emotions and how they influence your food choices is a really useful tool for the future. If you can acknowledge that you’re eating something because you think it might make you feel a certain way, you’ll be less likely to reach for that food.
Once you consider what made you choose a certain food, getting back to healthy, mostly plant-based eating is pretty simple. Just do it. You don’t have to “undo” any of the eating mistakes you made or “make up” for eating that grilled cheese. Instead, dive back into your plant-based lifestyle whenever you feel ready. That means incorporating plenty of plants into your diet at every meal.
If you’re feeling less motivated now, try some of these tips:
- Start with one meal. Set a goal to eat completely plant-based at one meal. Breakfast or lunch is a good place to start since you can easily whip up a smoothie or a big grain bowl. Be sure to include a plant-based protein, like lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, or tofu.
- Make your favorite plant-based recipe. If you have a go-to plant-based recipe that you really love, whip it up and remind yourself why you started your plant-based journey in the first place.
- Avoid processed foods. No matter what type of diet you eat, a highly-processed diet isn’t the key to good health. Vegan processed foods are becoming more and more prevalent, but that doesn't make them good for you. Try to eat as many whole foods as possible when transitioning back to your plant-based lifestyle.
Hopefully, you’re back on your way to plant-based living. Next time you have a slip-up, do yourself a favor and skip the “guilt” phase and jump right back on the plant-based bandwagon.