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Struggling to Sustain a Balanced Diet?

Are you struggling to sustain a balanced diet? It may be a non-food diet 'derailer' getting in your way.

Struggling to Sustain a Balanced Diet?

With the start of a new month, it’s a good time to recognize good nutrition, nutrient density, and living your best life by focusing on the best foods to achieve good health. Encyclopedia Britannica defines nutrition as “the assimilation by living organisms of food materials that enable them to grow, maintain themselves, and reproduce.” In my over 20 years of seeing patients, I'm confident to say that most behavior change starts with this need to "maintain" a healthier self. Though the intention may be firm, what needs to be recognized are the factors beyond food that may impact the success (or derailment). Here are three things to consider if you want to create a healthier dietary pattern.


Have you ever pulled an all-nighter and found yourself craving pizza (as opposed to broccoli) the next day? Better sleep can play a significant role in maintaining behavior change. A 2023 abstract presented at the American Heart Association Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle & Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions found that individuals that had better sleep (as assessed by sleep scores obtained by patient questionnaires, a sleep diary, and 7-day readings from a wrist-worn device that recorded sleep, waking activity and rest) were more likely to stick to dietary and exercise goals. Better sleep has also been associated with a reduced intake of sugary foods. A 2018 study found that expanding rest, even 90 minutes, reduced sugar intake for individuals needing to meet current sleep guidelines. Finally, a 2021 study found that skimping out on sleep often resulted in making poor snacking decisions. The threshold for this study was seven hours. Researchers found that individuals who slept less than seven hours often exhibited more snacking of low nutritional value.

How can you aim for better sleep? According to the Cleveland Clinic, some tips to get better sleep (and, alongside the studies, an easier route to eating better) include:

  • Avoiding alcohol, smoking, and caffeine a few hours before bed
  • Waking at the same time every day, even on weekends
  • Recognizing when you are tired and using that time to go to bed
  • Creating a calming environment (which may include alterations to lighting and temperature)

Stress Management

Have you ever had a stressful day and looked to certain foods to soothe your senses? If so, you are not alone. Many of my patients report looking to nutrient-lacking foods to manage emotions when stress is high. But what happens when stress is chronic, with no attempt to control it? The result could be a diet derailment. A 2020 study found that when overweight, low-income mothers participated in a 16-week stress management program, they ate less fast food and high-fat snacks afterward. A critical factor in the study was that the women were not told to make better choices but did so after the stress management intervention. A 2013 study on stress and eating behaviors found that daily stressors that are not managed could alter reward pathways in the brain, and lead to an increased desire and craving for hyper-palatable foods (defined as low-nutrient foods combining either fat and sodium, fat, and simple sugars, or carbohydrate and sodium). Overconsumption of hyper-palatable foods may increase the risk of chronic conditions and adverse mental health.

Eating healthier may be a technique in stress management as well. One study found an inverse connection between nutrient density and stress, demonstrating that consuming fruits and vegetables reduced perceived stress. Other ways to manage stress may include meditation or exercise.

Your support system

Your friends and family may impact your ability to make healthy changes stick. This was found in a 2019 study that found that your social network may predict your personal wellness. Another study published in 2020 found that social media may also influence unhealthy eating habits. The study found that social media users are likelier to adopt healthy or unhealthy habits depending on their friend's preferences. Finally, a 2016 study found that having numerous social ties also helped overall health status. Find people who cheer you on and will challenge you to make better decisions.

This April – striving to eat better for good health and happiness is a step in the right direction toward living longer and better. Knowing what can help or hurt these efforts will be critical to long-term sustainability.