Been thinking about changing how you eat? The Paleo diet sounds appealing, or maybe raw vegan is something you could get into, but it seems like such a big step, especially if you share meals with a partner or family. Some people can make these lifestyle changes cold turkey, just throw away all the unhealthy food in the house and start over. Here's a plan for the rest of us.

1. One Meal at a Time

Pick one meal to start your change. Breakfast is a good one. If you're moving toward a raw diet, treat yourself to a smoothie made of kale, berries, avocado, banana, and some raw almond butter or hemp seeds. Add coconut water and hit Pulse. Then, go about your day. Eat your usual diet the rest of the day, prepare your family dinner as always, but think about how you feel after breakfast versus after lunch or dinner. You may find yourself resisting the usual unhealthy snacks in between times or wanting to skip that tired old chicken and ziti.

2. Take the Easy Way In

Nearly any diet has variations, some of which are less drastic than others. The Paleo diet, for example, has some proponents who advise eating things like dairy and root vegetables in moderation, while others insist that the diet consists only of foods that resemble what could be foraged: no products of agriculture, period. Sounds good in theory, but not so helpful for your average industrialized Joe. Find the variation that is easiest for you to handle, today, right now, and live with that for a few weeks.

Another option is to extend the one meal at a time approach, using, for example, the Vegan Before 6 plan. This is as simple as it sounds: avoid all animal products from the time you get up until 6 pm, at which time you can eat a ham wrapped in bacon if that's what sounds good to you. The idea here is that 1) every little bit counts in reducing unhealthy food in a person's diet and lowering the market demand for animal products, which is better for the environment; and 2) sooner or later, you may realize that you don't really want or need the animal foods for dinner. If so, congratulations, you're a vegan! If not, your diet is two-thirds healthier than it was before. It's a win-win situation for your personal health, not an endurance contest in which you must succeed or cover yourself with high-cholesterol shame.

One more method for easing into a healthier lifestyle is substitution. Try olive oil instead of butter, nutritional yeast instead of cheese, shredded mushrooms instead of ground meat, grass-fed steak and greens instead of a burger and fries. Skip the pasta and toss some spaghetti squash into your marinara. There are dozens of grains that you can substitute for wheat – experiment one meal at a time. Change is easier if you feel like you are eating something familiar.

3. But I Have a Really Good Excuse

The beauty of stepping down gradually from your consumption of unhealthy foods – over-processed, high sugar, high fat, high glycemic index – is that failure is removed from the equation. The vicious cycle of self-denial leading to rebellious binge leading to guilt and self-loathing? Gone. Eat healthy foods you like and that make you feel good. Stop where your personal zone of comfort ends, whether it's giving up cooked foods or processed sugar or dairy. Concentrate on improvement in other areas of your life, such as reducing saturated fats and nitrate-loaded meats or even getting in a little extra exercise or a meditation session this week.

You don't need to keep score. You don't need to atone for your "sins" – whatever you ate yesterday is gone now, so stop thinking about it and try to make the next thing you eat something that is better for your long-term health and well-being.

4. Be Yourself

You've probably heard a lot of people say, "I tried X Diet and just couldn't do it. It made me feel terrible." Maybe you've even said it yourself. If none of the trendy diets or nutritional strategies work for you, don't sweat it. Make your own diet as healthy as you can today, and do your sweating on the basketball court instead.

5. Caveat

This is a piece of advice almost everyone can use. It is designed for moderately healthy people looking for ways to become very healthy people. If your doctor has told you to take more radical steps to improve your diet or risk serious medical problems, you should probably take those steps.

Author's Bio: 

Jeremy Haze is a personal trainer, triathlon fanatic, blogger, and nutrition consultant. His goal is to lead by example - to show people the benefits of healthy lifestyle simply by implementing it personally. His trainings are tough and the diet strict, with an abundance of bodybuilding supplements supplied by sponsors.