Addressing Common Hurdles and Solutions Part 1

Transitioning to the Mediterranean diet poses some common challenges thanks to our modern lifestyles. However, with some planning, flexibility and simple solutions, these hurdles can be addressed. In this lesson, we’ll cover practical strategies for overcoming the following obstacles:

  • Time Constraints
  • Limited Access to Ingredients
  • Social and Cultural Pressures
  • Cravings and Snacking Habits
  • Dining Out and Traveling

and in the next section, we’ll go over:

  • Plateaus in Progress
  • Dietary Restrictions and Allergies
  • Budget Limitations
  • Lack of Cooking Knowledge

Time Constraints

Between demanding work schedules, family obligations and lengthy commutes, finding time to grocery shop and prepare Mediterranean dishes often ranks low on our priority list. Turning to fast food seems inevitable. However, with some planning and creativity, you can make this diet work for your busy lifestyle. Remember, prioritizing your health pays off exponentially in the long run when it comes to preventing chronic diseases and maintaining quality of life.

Tips for Embracing Mediterranean Meals When Pressed For Time:

  • Meal plan/prep: Dedicate some time each week to plan your meals. Create a menu that includes Mediterranean-inspired dishes and make a shopping list accordingly. This not only saves time but also ensures you have the right ingredients on hand.
  • Batch cook: Consider batch cooking. Prepare larger quantities of Mediterranean dishes and freeze them in portions. This way, you’ll have healthy meals ready to go when you’re short on time.
  • Quick and Easy Recipes: Explore quick Mediterranean recipes that can be prepared in 30 minutes or less. Dishes like Greek salad, hummus, or grilled chicken with lemon and herbs are not only delicious but also speedy to make.
  • Prioritize Health: Remind yourself of the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet.
  • Take 1-2 hours: On weekends use this time to prep and chop ingredients for the upcoming week.

Limited Access to Fresh Ingredients

The Mediterranean region boasts a bounty of flavorful, wholesome foods. From olive oil to tomatoes, nuts, herbs, fresh seafood and more, traditional ingredients may be difficult to source depending on where you live. Though challenging, recreating the essence of the diet is absolutely possible. With resourcefulness and proper substitutions, you can adapt recipes based on regional availability.

Strategies for Adapting to Limited Ingredients:

  • Use frozen fruits and vegetables
  • Rely on canned items like tomatoes, beans, artichokes and fish
  • Swap unavailable seafood or produce with local varieties
  • Embrace seasonal fruits and vegetables when fresh options peak
  • Adapt Recipes: If you can’t find a specific ingredient, don’t be afraid to adapt recipes and get creative

While following the diet in a strictly traditional sense has merit, its flexibility is equally valuable. Focus on including healthful whole foods within recommended daily allowances, and don’t stress about perfection. Finding local or even home-grown fruits and vegetables also aligns with the spirit of the traditional Mediterranean diet patterns. Never let the limitations of certain foods stop you – alternatives, especially from a nutritional standpoint – exist!

Social and Cultural Challenges

Given the social nature of eating, especially in close-knit families, social events often center around food. From family reunions to holidays dinners to drinks out with friends, you will inevitably find yourself navigating menus that don’t always cater to the Mediterranean diet. And for some cultures, celebrating with lavish, rich meals is customary during special gatherings. Saying no to comfort food traditions can feel awkward isolating. However, with proactive communication and dish contributions, you can adhere to the diet while respecting your relationships.

Tips for Navigating Social Eating:

  • Communication: Talk to your friends and family about your dietary choices. Let them know that you’re committed to a healthier lifestyle and kindly request their support.
  • Contribute: If you’re attending a potluck or gathering, offer to bring a Mediterranean dish. This ensures you have a healthy option to enjoy and introduces others to the deliciousness of Mediterranean cuisine.
  • Practice portion control: Go ahead and enjoy a small portion of your favorite non-Mediterranean friendly dish, but try to balance it with plenty of Mediterranean options if possible.

TIP: What’s worked well for me:

  • Never showing up to an event hungry if I can help it.
  • Even a small snack beforehand helps curb my hunger.
  • Identify the healthiest options and eat those at the beginning and save the unhealthy items for later.
    • I’ll find that one veggie platter and focus on that to get full. Then toward the end of the gathering, I’ll have that piece of cake or chips and dip. This way I’ll eat less of the bad stuff and get full off the good stuff.

Cravings and Snacking Habits

When transitioning from a diet filled with processed carbs and sugars to a whole food, plant-centric Mediterranean diet, stubborn cravings inevitably arise thanks to old habitual cues. The palate eases its preference for salty, fatty treats in time. But rather than depriving yourself completely, keeping approved snacks on hand helps manage urges and avoid feeling resentful.

Some delicious Mediterranean snack options include:

  • Greek yogurt with berries and chopped nuts
  • Apple slices with natural almond or peanut butter
  • Edamame hummus with fresh veggies or whole grain pita
  • Rolled oats cooked with almond milk and cinnamon
  • Hard boiled eggs with tomato, cucumber, feta salad
  • Bean salad loaded with diced veggies
  • Canned fish like sardines with crackers
  • Air popped popcorn drizzled with olive oil

When Combating snacking, keeping these in mind:

  • Identify if you’re truly hungry or just stressed/bored
  • Hydrate first before reaching for food
  • Keep Mediterranean snacks on hand – some examples above
  • Mindfully savor treats in small amounts
  • Increase consumption of proteins and fats to keep you full

Personal note: this was my hardest obstacle to overcome. It wasn’t until I started my Mediterranean Diet Lifestyle journey did I even realize how much I snacked. I was what is called a grazer (eating small amounts of food all throughout the day and not in response to hunger or satiety cues) and couldn’t understand why even if my main meals weren’t large I couldn’t get into shape. Turns out, that 1 cookie 4-5 times throughout the day adds up!

Dining Out and Traveling

Vacations, business trips, and social gatherings often involve eating at restaurants. Yet dining out poses a risk for derailing healthy habits: excessive calories, large serving sizes, sugars, and sodium easily sneak into dishes. Thankfully the essence of Mediterranean cuisine graces many restaurant menus. With attentive ordering, you can emphasize fresh vegetables, heart healthy fats and lean proteins.

Approaches for Mediterranean Eating On-The-Go:

  • Seek grilled, baked or broiled options instead of fried
  • Request olive oil and vinegar instead of creamy dressings
  • Ask for sauces and dressings “on the side”
  • Choose side salads or steamed veggies instead of starch
  • Limit alcohol and sugary drinks; opt for water
  • Request gluten-free or whole grain bread versus refined white
  • Enjoy ethnic foods like Middle Eastern, Greek and Italian which likely feature Mediterranean flavors.
  • Research Restaurant before dining out see what what you could order and not be put “on the spot” or encouraged to derail from your newfound lifestyle. Most restaurants now include nutrition information on their menus as well.
  • Don’t hesitate to customize your order to fit the Mediterranean Diet.
  • Especially when traveling, bring along healthy snacks like fruit, nuts, and whole-grain crackers.

Traveling poses some additional challenges, especially abroad. Embrace discovering new cultures, flavors and foods without rigid restrictions. Walk often. Savor modest tasting portions. Seek cooking classes for immersive education. Balance indulgences with increased exercise and nutrient density the next day. Keeping your body’s equilibrium helps navigate temporary detours. Ultimately however, keep in mind – you’re on vacation, so live a little 🙂