How to Build Your Diet
So you know you’re supposed to eat a balanced diet with fruits, vegetables, lean meats and all that jazz. You’ve tried a bunch of different diets recommended by friends, family and colleagues. None of them work and you’re looking for a way to eat well that works for you. But who says you need to follow a particular diet? No one. In fact, you can build your own. And you can use our tips to help you build it.
Steps to Building Your Diet:
- Get clear on your health goals.
How do you want your diet to work for you and how does it play into your larger health goals? If your goal is to lose weight, then you may want to choose foods naturally low in calories. If your goal is to improve your blood pressure and blood sugar, you may want to opt for lower-carb foods or carbs high in fiber, and food low in sodium.
Another aspect of goal-setting is making sure your goals are attainable. Think SMART goals—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Based. You’re going to want to write out steps to meet your goals in this format, knowing each goal is different and will have its own specific milestones.
S – Your goal should be clear. An effective way to determine your goal is to ask yourself why it’s important to you and list the results you want to see. For example, your goal could be to have a weekly average blood sugar of 7.2 mmol/L130 mg/dL and an overall goal of an A1c below 7.0.
M – The best way to know if you’re making progress is by keeping track of your efforts (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.). If you were trying to achieve the example from above, you could keep track of how your diet affects your blood sugar by using monitoring devices, notating which foods keep your blood sugar at normal levels and which ones cause spikes, writing down your blood sugar averages every week on a specific day.
A – Your goal must be realistic. It’s great to dream big, but doing too much too fast can lead to failure and discouragement. Set mini goals and focus on reaching them—small efforts yield big results. Continuing to use the blood sugar example, you may want to ask yourself: where is my A1c now? How many months and A1c tests will it take to get to my goal? If my last A1c was 10.0, can I bring it down to below 7.0 in my desired timeframe? What barriers keep me from reaching my goal and how can I get around them?
R – Is this goal relevant to you at this time? Lowering your blood sugar might be relevant to you because you’re at a higher risk for other health issues due to diabetes and are adamant about lowering the risks of diabetes complications as soon as possible.
T – What’s the target date for your goal? Is it your next A1c test? Maybe you want to reach your goal within a year. Set a due date (an attainable one!) and go for it.
- Identify your food preferences and find corresponding recipes.
What are your favorite things to eat? There are no limits here. Write down the kinds of meals you enjoy on a regular basis and meals you’ve always wanted to try. The point of this exercise to open up your mind to be as creative as possible and envision yourself enjoying food the way you want. Be honest about what you don’t like, too. If it doesn’t excite you, don’t put it in your meal plan.
Your plan should include foods from different food groups. Nutrition is not just about managing blood sugar, but managing your overall health. Certain foods are high in nutrients that promote bone health, while others manage cholesterol and protect your heart.
- Calculate your nutritional needs
After you identify your overall health goals, calculate the amount of food and nutrients you need to consume each day to reach your goal. This is the most important step in crafting your diet plan. If your goal is to lose weight, then your diet plan needs to be at a calorie deficit, and the opposite is true with weight gain. When calculating your nutritional requirements, consider the macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat), but also the micronutrients (sodium, potassium, magnesium, iron and more). Your daily energy needs also depend on your age, gender, weight, height, body fat percentage and activity levels. If you can’t see a nutritionist or dietitian, you can use a calorie-counting app like MyFitnessPal to determine your nutrient and energy needs or you can do the math yourself.
- Build a Menu
Meal preparation is one of the essential steps to keeping in line with your SMART goals to diet planning. Write your ideal breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks on a weekly basis. You can use MyPlate as an example.
- Determine how simple (or complex) you want your diet to be
Your diet can be super easy and simple or complex, it all comes down to how much time you want to spend on it. A simple diet plan could be eating the same thing every day or with little variation. A more complex plan could be eating something different every meal, every day. It all depends on the kind of time you have to dedicate to it. Of course, you can just get a meal-prep delivery service to give you the kind of variation you need without a ton of prep work.
At the end of the day, your diet should work for you. Consulting a registered dietician/nutritionist or a certified diabetes educator can help you craft a meal plan that works for you. But you can do it yourself, too. Also, give yourself room for trial and error. There’s no pressure to get it right the first time. Never be afraid to switch things up if one method doesn’t work for you. Your meal plan should be healthy, balanced and of course, full of flavor.