You’ve probably heard it many times, “fail to plan, plan to fail,” but it couldn’t be truer than when tackling a new diet. Beyond my own dairy-free transition many years back, my husband and I have successfully made other dietary changes in our household using a simple six-step process that can be easily customized.
Whether you are going dairy free, gluten free, soy free, or making a healthy overhaul, I think you will find our strategy useful:
Step 1 – Find Your Purpose: Without a solid reason, any diet can be easy to sway from. Does it cause digestive upset? Will your acne or eczema flare up? Are you supporting a milk allergic loved one? Make sure you know exactly why you are going dairy free or generally changing your diet, and find a way to keep that forefront in your mind. And remember that even little slip-ups can have long-term repercussions. Here are a few examples:
- Your irritable bowel symptoms may only last for one day after a cheese cheat, but the repeated damage may take a long-term toll on your digestive tract leading to more serious conditions. And while you may think of it as a one-time thing, cheating can reintroduce cravings, making more little slips likely.
- What we see on the outside is a reflection of what is happening on the inside. If you are seeing rashes, acne, and/or eczema, odds are something is amiss internally, too. Not to mention, who wants more scars?!
- Eating ice cream in front of your milk allergic child may send the message that they are somehow being punished or missing out on something better, or even worse, it may put them at risk for a reaction from contact.
The first step is always the most important one, isn’t it? Put a sticky note on your forehead if you have to. Just, do not lose sight of your purpose.
Step 2 – Know Your Enemies: For both of us that means dairy, and more recently for my husband, it also means gluten. It’s been essential for us to understand every ingredient that could contain these proteins, and what types of food they may silently sneak into. For example, at a recent restaurant outing my husband opted to go with the fries sans parmesan as they sounded like a safe option. But based upon what I had read, I knew to ask if they had wheat starch or any other coating that might prevent them from being gluten-free. For dairy-free concerns, Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook has all of my lists and tips for identifying milk-based ingredients, knowing where milk may hide in everyday foods, and being aware of potential restaurant landmines.
Step 3 – Now, Don’t Focus on Them: Knowing your enemy is essential. You need to be able to identify a threat immediately, but focusing on them can plague you with cravings. Keep thinking about the fact that you can’t have dairy ice cream, cheese, or pizza, and I can guarantee you will struggle with a free from diet. It’s time to switch your focus to the foods that you can enjoy. Which takes us to step 4 …
Step 4 – Identify the Foods that Will Love You Back: Sometimes, when we’re told that we can’t have something, we focus on it (see step 3 above). The best way to break that focus is to identify everything that you CAN have. Go ahead, start making a list. Nothing is too specific. When I’m in a rut, I’ll write down my favorite herbs and spices, vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, convenience foods … even marshmallows!
Step 5 – Become a Menu Plan Maven: I’m not just talking about “what’s for dinner?” here. In the beginning (and sometimes when you are feeling stuck) it’s essential to plan ALL of your food. That means breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks AND desserts! You may not eat it all (aren’t freezers wonderful?), but the last thing you want to do is be caught hungry with nothing to eat. I’ve actually found that planning snacks and treats has been the most important thing for our household when making a transition. And don’t forget meal ideas for social events. Having a go-to potluck dish or two and some handy stash-in-the-car, back-up food will save you a lot of stress. You will find over 200 helpful recipes in Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook and another 75 in Dairy-Free & Gluten-Free: A Whole Food Starter Guide and Cookbook.
Step 6 – Have Back-ups: While making everything from scratch may sound ideal, it isn’t realistic for most people. I always have some “safe” convenience foods on hand for emergency nights when I have little time to cook, and I make sure to identify at least three restaurants in our area with “safe” food options that we enjoy.
And just in case you forgot about Step 1 already, Linda of Attune Foods shared this fantastic piece of advice:
“When people think of change, they think of sacrifice. I think it should be more about perspective. Instead of losing something, you’re gaining something like health. Making better decisions and choices on a daily basis leads to real change.”