Eating healthy is crucial to better health in general. The right diet can help you maintain your weight, give you more energy and provide the vitamins and minerals you need for overall health and energy.
In today’s fast-paced world, however, it can be difficult to make the right food choices. Fast food and convenience foods make it easy to eat on the run and avoid making good nutritional choices. After a while, these habits can sabotage your long-term health.
Developing new eating habits can lead to better dietary choices, but it can take some time to establish these new habits. Experts state it can take up to 21 days to adopt a new habit and twice as long for it to take hold. Take the time to determine what your bad eating habits are (Do you tend to grab breakfast at a drive-through? Are high-fat, microwave dinners your default on busy days? Do you tend to snack late at night?), then swap them out for the following healthy habits that make eating healthier easier.
Keep Healthy Foods on Hand
It is easy to sit down at the end of the day with a bag of chips and a sugary soda in front of the TV. If you stop buying chips and soda, the urge is satisfied by substituting healthier options. Try flavored, zero-calorie vitamin waters to satisfy your sweet tooth and stock your pantry with salty treats like pretzels that are lower in calories and fat than chips.
Stocking your home with fresh fruits is also a great way to eat healthier. Apples, bananas and fresh berries can all satisfy a sweets craving. Make sure the fruit is washed and ready to grab and put it where it is in plain site so you do not pass it over for something not as healthy. To make eating veggies easier, prep raw carrots, celery and other crudités in advance and keep them chilled in the fridge so you do not pass them over when you are hungry. Immediate gratification instead of having to prepare vegetables can make a difference.
Limit Access to Unhealthy Foods
Cruising the grocery aisles and tossing every yummy thing into the cart sets you up for failure if you are trying to make better dietary choices. You need to not only have more healthy foods on hand but eliminate the temptation of unhealthy choices. Stop buying sugary snacks and high-fat foods, replacing them with lean meats, fruits and vegetables and whole-grain foods. If you have healthy ingredients, you will make healthy meals.
Dining out can also be a temptation when you are trying to eat healthier. When going to restaurants, avoid buffets. The temptation to try a little bit of everything can sabotage your dietary efforts, and the generous array of choices and unlimited portions can be hazardous. Order from the menu and look for lean proteins and low fat choices. Many restaurants now include nutritional information on their menus to make choosing wisely easier.
Do Not Equate Food with Fun or Comfort
Many people view eating out as a form of entertainment. Trying new, rich dishes and indulging in dessert is pleasurable, but doing it too often is not a good idea. For others, going to a ball game is not complete until they have downed a few hot dogs and some nachos. Tying eating to entertainment is not a good habit because it becomes subconscious and you don’t even notice how much or what you are eating.
Eating as a form of comfort is also dangerous. The most comforting foods are those rich and creamy or salty and high in fat. For most people, this is because those foods remind them of childhood food favorites recognized as unhealthy (fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, ice cream). There is nothing wrong with occasionally enjoying these foods, but using them as comfort instead of sustenance is not a good idea. When you reach for food for comfort, stop and think about whether you are really hungry or looking for something to soothe you. If it is the latter, go for a walk, read a good book, indulge in a bubble bath or find some other way to relax until the food craving passes.
Shopping for groceries can be a mine field when you are trying to improve your dietary choices. Planning your meals for the week ahead can help you limit purchases to healthy foods. It takes a bit of advance planning, but if you know you are making baked chicken one night and grilling fish the next, you are less likely to pick up hamburgers or TV dinners packed with fat and sodium. Having a list and sticking to it also makes shopping quicker, and cheaper, once you get to the store, which is a bonus for busy people.
If you tend to eat out or grab vending machine foods at work instead of eating a healthy lunch, advance planning can help. Pack a lunch the night before and take it with you so you have a healthy meal available when hunger strikes. Toss in some fresh fruit or a small package of granola to quell hunger pangs during that afternoon energy slump so you are not tempted by candy bars.
Find a Partner
Making healthy dietary choices can be frustrating if you go it alone. Every time a friend asks you out for dinner or makes plans based around food, you are faced with temptation. If you partner with a friend who would also like to improve his or her eating habits, you dramatically increase your chances of success. You can cheer each other on, swap recipes and try new foods together. Cooking together periodically is a great way to socialize, try new, healthier recipes and support each other’s dietary goals.
There is accountability when you have a partner as well. If a craving hits you at night while you are plugged into a great movie on TV, call a friend and chat until the craving passes. Ask your friend for suggestions on what to eat that can calm the craving without ruining your healthy approach to eating. You may find by the end of the conversation, you no longer have the urge to overindulge.
Try these comfort food substitutes to stay on track:
- Pretzels or kale chips instead of potato chips.
- Spaghetti squash instead of pasta.
- Frozen fruit (grapes or watermelon work well) instead of popsicles or candy.
- Pizza with a vegetable crust (like cauliflower) instead of delivery pizza.
- Vegan frozen treats (made with bananas) instead of ice cream.
- Mashed cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes.
You can find nearly endless substitutes on the internet for your favorite comfort foods.
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