As a practicing nutritionist, one of the most important skills I teach my clients is to make dietary changes gradually, one bite at a time. I explain that the word diet comes from the Greek word dieta, which means “discipline” or “way of living.” The Latin root of the word means “a day’s journey.” In light of this, they are encouraged to approach improving their food choices as a steady process to be taken one day at a time. The key is to make real changes—changes you can live with successfully on a long-term basis.

If you’ve set a goal for yourself this year to improve your health, but efforts have stalled and you’ve lost your mojo, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. More than likely, it means you either bit off more than you could chew, or the changes you set out to make were too drastic. In either case, it simply means that it’s time to hit the reset button with a new plan for incremental changes rather than dashing for the finish line.

You don’t need to wait for a “perfect” time to refocus and reset your routine for success. You can do it any time. Every little bit (or bite!) of nutrition is a step in the right direction.

What’s in a Bite?

The word “bite” means to take a small piece of a bigger portion, chew it well, savor the flavor and then swallow before taking the next bite. The philosophy of this year’s theme means that healthy eating is not about making grand changes all at once. Rather, it is a steady continual process that allows for gradual improvement in food choices—savoring the change and allowing it to become a working part of your life before taking the next small bite. The small changes you make each day or week will add up to big changes over time, and none of it will feel overwhelming.

Using a positive incremental approach, here are two proven ways to make small bites add up to big changes in some of the most important areas:

Add Rather Than Subtract

Start by focusing on the foods you know you should eat more of rather than taking out the foods you know you should eat less of. For example, add one additional fruit or vegetable serving per day to your menu. Once you’re comfortable with that, add in one more. Continue doing this until you have achieved the recommended 5 vegetable and 2 fruit servings per day.

Vegetable and fruit servings consist of: 

  • 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables
  • 1/2 cup of other vegetables cooked or raw
  • 1 cup of fresh vegetable juice
  • 1 medium apple, banana, orange, pear, etc.
  • 1 cup of berries or cut up fruit

Some great ways to incorporate more vegetables into your meals and snacks include:

  • Wrap it up: Make a wrap with tuna, chicken, or turkey and add avocado, tomato, thinly sliced onions, radishes, cucumbers, zucchini, shredded carrots, alfalfa sprouts, lettuce, or spring mix.
  • Add to soup: Try mixing some leafy greens with your favorite soup
  • Add to tuna salad, chicken salad or egg salad: add chopped carrots, onion, celery, radish or other crunchy veggies to these classic mayonnaise-based salads. Place a scoop of this salad on top of salad greens.
  • Add to fruit smoothies: Throw a handful or two of dark leafy greens into your fruit smoothie. The natural sweetness of the fruits overpower the flavor of the greens, so you won’t even taste them!

Gradually Increase Water Intake

Drinking an adequate amount of water can make a world of difference in how you feel. To determine how much water your body needs, divide your current weight in pounds by two. The resulting number is how many ounces of water you need to drink each day.

If you are not currently drinking your optimal amount of water per day, you must add water gradually so that your body has a chance to incorporate the water into your cells and keep them properly hydrated. Therefore, you should add 8 ounces more water per day for one week. The next week, add another 8 ounces of water per day. Do this each week until you reach your optimal amount of water per day.

One great way to make drinking water more desirable is to infuse it with fruits, herbs or vegetables. Infused water is great for your health in many ways (it’s hydrating and full of REAL vitamins, not synthetic versions) and is easy to make. With just a few fresh or frozen ingredients and some water, you can make an endless variety of flavors. Here’s one of my favorites:

Strawberry Mint Infused Water

6 chopped strawberries
4 sprigs of fresh mint leaves
1 quart cold water

Let mixture infuse for at least 2 hours or overnight in the refrigerator for full flavor. Drink throughout the day.

If you don’t have time to make a big batch, you can make a quick infusion by adding a few frozen berries to your water bottle to drink from throughout the day. As the frozen fruit melts, it releases its nice berry flavor.

Real Changes One Day at a Time

It’s been more than 25 years since I first started making changes to my diet. Most of the them were made over the course of the first year, but I continue to make small improvements each day as I age and my knowledge of nutrition deepens. The small bites you take toward change today will lay a foundation for transforming your health, and your life, for the long term.