7 Tips to Help You Build Healthy Eating Habits
by Evelyn Valdez·
The first thing people do when they say they want to be healthier and lose weight (aside from working out) is to go on a healthy diet – and that's a great first step! But most believe a healthy diet means a really restrictive diet that involves cutting out all sugar, junk food, restricting carbs, etc. It's great to want to cut down on processed foods, but over-restricting will lead to failure. After two weeks you'll be craving all the food in the world and then dump your diet and maybe even your workout routine for good.
So, what should you do?
Develop good habits instead! Bad habits can cultivate a bad relationship with food, while healthy habits can help you build a positive one that fosters long-term and sustainable results. That's the importance of healthy eating habits – they pave the way to a balanced diet that provides your body with the vitamins and essential nutrients it needs to help your body function properly and help you achieve your goals for the long-term, not short-term.
So, the best way to approach dieting and attaining any fitness goal is by focusing on creating healthy habits that way you reach your weight loss or muscle-building goals and build good habits that stick with you for the long run!
Keep on reading to learn more about the importance of building healthy eating habits, plus tips on how to develop them so you can start eating healthy without making it seem like you're actually dieting!
How to develop healthy eating habits
A healthy diet is different for everyone. Some prefer to cut out carbs and sugar because it works for them. However, it's important to remember that what works for someone might not work for you.
The tips below will help you not only create better eating habits, but they'll also help you create a diet rich in essential nutrients that works for you! You'll be able to design a healthy diet plan that isn't overly restrictive, enjoyable, and sustainable.
Restrict, but not too much
Diets have food restrictions for a reason. They are meant to help a person shed fat or build muscle. You can't just eat unhealthy all the time and expect to get results. Plus, that won't even fuel your workouts properly!
Some might prefer to restrict carbs altogether in order to decrease body fat faster, but it's only for a limited amount of time - that's what diets are for. We're trying to build sustainable healthy eating habits and to do that we must learn to put fewer restrictions on our daily diet and allow ourselves to eat our favorite, not-so-healthy foods every once in a while.
A good rule of thumb to follow is the 80/20 rule. Eat nutritious foods 80% of the time and allow yourself to indulge in less healthy food for the remaining 20% of your meals. The foods you eat should mostly consist of whole foods like fresh fruit, veggies, meat, chicken, fish, whole grains, healthy fats, and dairy products. This is what will provide your body with the nutrients it needs.
The key is to try to limit the number of processed foods you eat. Most processed foods like chips, ice cream, candies, sugary drinks, etc., are highly palatable. Highly palatable foods can lead to overeating. Try to keep those to a minimum by replacing them with other, healthier options. Like replacing seltzer water for soda or replacing fruit juice with a homemade smoothie filled with fruit, dairy-free milk, or other healthy add-ins! Doing this will help you still enjoy the foods you love in moderation, while finding new and healthier alternatives that you'll end up loving!
Set aside time once a week to sit down and plan ahead. Grab your planner, calendar, or phone and plan your meals, shopping list, and even your workouts! Having a set plan will help you stay on track with not only your workouts but with your nutrition!
Making a small change like this, sitting down for 30 minutes, and planning your week, will save you time and set an intention for success. So there's a higher chance of you making better choices like making that healthy meal you planned instead of getting takeout.
Set micro goals
Everyone sets their big fitness goal, it could be to lose a certain amount of weight or build muscle in a specific area, but rarely do people set smaller goals. Smaller goals, known as micro goals, are the roadmap to your bigger goal. They basically help you set a good plan to how you're going to achieve your big fitness goal. But the best part is, they build habits and self-discipline.
Setting micro goals is easy, there's really no right or wrong way to do it! Just think about your big goal, and come up with smaller daily or weekly goals that can help you get there. For example, you can set a goal to track your macros five times a week, which will help you stick to healthy eating and build habits! You can even set a goal to cook at home an x amount of times a week. There are many ways to go about it! Just make your micro goals realistic. Aiming for the stars is great, but be realistic about your goals and only do what you can handle.
By doing this you'll have a plan on how to achieve your goals, and build healthy habits along the way!
Don't shop without a grocery list, you'll only be increasing the risk of temptations. Write down all the foods you need for the week (make sure they are nutrient-dense and mostly whole foods) and throw in a few healthy snacks to treat yourself. Having a grocery list will help you make better food choices while shopping.
Aside from that, shop smarter and read food labels! Some foods that are labeled as fat-free, or are considered to be diet-friendly, can have some not-so-healthy ingredients that can be doing more harm than goods. When selecting a product compare nutrition information on the labels and select the product with the lower amount of sodium, added sugar, saturated and trans fat, and try to avoid partially hydrogenated oils.
A good rule to follow is to shop mostly in the perimeter of the store, so in the outer aisles. Usually, the perimeter of the store contains all the whole foods like vegetables, fruits, meat, and dairy. The inside aisles are where you find mostly processed foods which can be tempting to buy… But there are still healthy options in those aisles!
Start by shopping the perimeter, and find the rest of the things on your list in the inside aisles like condiments, spices, whole grains like brown rice, nuts, and seeds, and more. By doing this you prioritize whole foods, then everything else comes second.
The American Heart Association recommends the following foods to help you adopt a healthier lifestyle. Keep this in mind when planning your next grocery list...
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Beans and legumes
- Nuts and seeds
- Fish (preferably fatty fish with omega-3 fatty acids)
- Red meats (but if you're cutting down on fact, go for the leaner cuts)
- Plant-based proteins
- Sweetened drinks
- Sodium and salty foods
- Saturated fats and dietary cholesterol
- Refined carbohydrates like added sugars and processed grain foods
- Full-fat dairy products
- Tropical oils such as coconut and palm oil
Keep a food diary
This one is not going to be for everyone, but we wanted to include it because keeping a food diary is a good way to make sure you're eating what you need to be healthy and for your goals. So, if you want to keep track of the food you are eating to make sure you're eating enough of the good stuff then keep a simple food diary for all your meals and snacks!
If you want to go the extra mile in order to achieve certain fitness goals then consider tracking your macros. If It Fits Your Macros or IIFYM is extremely popular in the fitness world because it's a form of flexible dieting that has no restrictions. All you have to do is track the amount of macronutrients (protein, fat, carbs) you eat, no calorie counting is needed (although some still do). You can do this by calculating your macros using an online macro calculator. It will calculate your macros based on physical information like body fat, weight, height, activity level then it takes into account your fitness goals - weight loss, build muscle, or maintenance.
Once you get your information, you can start tracking your macros! This will help keep you on track and ensure you're eating enough protein, carbs, and fats for your goals. There are no forbidden foods, so if you don't hit your macros for the day you can allow yourself a little treat of your choice that will help you reach the number of macronutrients you need for the day. This removes the pressure and guilt that comes with restrictive diets, while still getting results!
Be mindful of portions
Just because it's healthy doesn't mean you can't gain weight from it. Eating too many calories, no matter where they come from can still lead to weight gain. This goes for healthy foods and unhealthy foods. Tracking your food will help you in this department. Keep this in mind when you indulge in a treat, make sure it fits your macros (going a little bit over is fine).
If you prefer not to track, be mindful of your meal portion sizes. A good healthy eating tip is to fill half of your plate with vegetables (or fruit for breakfast) and split the rest between lean protein and whole grains. Keep snacking to a minimum, only eat when hungry, and when you treat yourself make sure it's planned accordingly with your meals and physical activity.
Cook at home, but spice it up
Make cooking at home fun! Just like we need variety in our workout routines, we also need variety in the foods we eat. Many people end up ordering take-out, even when they have food at home because they are bored by the foods they eat. Eating healthier food doesn't mean having boring meals every day. Add your own twist to your salads, roast veggies with new spices, switch out boring chicken breast by making shredded chicken, etc.
Aim to try a new healthy recipe at least once a week. This will help change up the foods you normally eat and nutrient intake. Plus you'll add a new recipe to your usual lineup! You can even try to make a healthier version of a favorite family recipe or one of your favorite meals from a restaurant. Doing this will help you eat out less and help you build better-eating habits.
An extra tip: Be smart when you eat out and plan ahead. If you happen to have a dinner date or brunch with friends and you want to keep it relatively healthy then look at the menu beforehand so you know what options will be available. That way you can choose a healthier option and reduce the risk of temptation you'll get in the moment. Or if you plan to use your outing as a treat then you can plan the rest of your meals accordingly.
Implementing some, or all, of these tips, will help make healthy eating a breeze! Just remember that good nutrition and exercise go hand-in-hand, especially if you have specific fitness goals in mind. So aside from eating healthy, make sure you're getting enough exercise and rest to make sure your body is healthy and in tip-top shape! 💪
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