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How to Create a Habit of Healthy Eating

Amanda A. Kostro Miller, RD, LDN

Overwhelmed by your weight loss plan? Maybe you’ve already talked to your doctor, created a weight loss eating plan and exercise regimen – now you just have to execute it! Or, you’ve been trying your hardest to follow your healthy eating routine, but you’re concerned with how long you can keep it up.

Do you have to calorie count forever? Will you ever be able to have another soda or cheeseburger ever again? Do you have to feel restricted and hungry all of the time?

Many people start a healthy eating plan for weight loss, but then can’t sustain it for the long term, thus regaining their weight (if they ever lost it in the first place). The key to healthy eating is to find a plan that you will be able to do for the rest of your life.

Scared of the commitment? Don’t be! Healthy eating can be plentiful, satisfying and sustainable, as long as you create some solid habits!

Healthy Eating Habits that Can Stick

Weight loss diets tend to feel restrictive, extreme and exhausting. Here are tips to eat healthy (and can be sustained for years to come):

Healthy Eating Tip #1: Change just one meal at a time

One of the biggest mistakes that people make is that they change everything about their lifestyle all at once in hopes to lose weight or become healthier. They start working out a ton, they greatly restrict their diet and they vow to never eat certain foods again. Jumping into many changes can just overwhelm you and make you quit everything.

Even if you have a whole weight loss plan in place, just focus on one thing. When changing your diet, just focus on one meal at a time. Instead of making 21 healthy meals for the entire week, focus on having healthy breakfasts first. Focus on this 1 change for 8 weeks. Pretty soon, this 1 change will become second nature, and you’ll be ready to work on an additional change.

Healthy Eating Tip #2: Don’t be hungry

Are you trying to lose weight, and you’re hungry all of the time? Guess what: If you’re hungry all the time, you’re doing it wrong. Huh?

You don’t have to be hungry while trying to lose weight. In fact, you shouldn’t be hungry, because that can set you up for failure. While you still need to control your calorie intake for weight loss, you also need to avoid being too hungry, otherwise you will feel the need to eat a huge meal the next time you eat. Try to consume a meal or snack every 3-4 hours while awake so that you avoid being exceptionally hungry. If you avoid hunger, you can avoid overeating and keep your meals in check.

Healthy Eating Tip #3: Don’t “make up” for mistakes

Mistakes (also known as “relapses”) will happen to everyone. However, some people relapse and then give up on all of their healthy habits completely. Just because you make mistakes does not mean you can’t lose weight. You didn’t “miss your shot.” You just had a day where you didn’t meet all of your healthy eating goals.

For those who don’t give up after their mistakes, however, some try to overcompensate for an unhealthy or high-calorie day by exercising excessively or greatly restricting their calories. For example, if someone went over their calorie intake by 1000 calories on a Saturday, they may think that they need to restrict themselves by an extra 1000 calories the next day. The problem with this type of thinking is that not only are you punishing yourself, but you’re also making the next day harder than it has to be.

While yes, you still need to control your calorie intake for weight loss, learn to forgive yourself and just move on. Each day is a new day to try again.

Healthy Eating Tip #4: Know your “free foods”

In a world that tell us to “eat this and not that,” there are actually tons of foods that can be considered “free food” in the healthy eating and weight loss game. While these are not completely free of calories, these foods are highly nutritious and/or low in calories so that you can fill up on them. Eat these “free foods” to ace the weight loss and health game:

  • Fresh fruit (i.e. blueberries, cherries, bananas, apples, mangoes)
  • Plain frozen fruit with no added sugar or flavorings (i.e. tropical fruit mix, triple berry)
  • Fresh, raw veggies (i.e. broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, celery)
  • Dark green leafies (i.e. spinach, kale, collard greens)
  • Steamed or roasted vegetables with olive oil spray (i.e. asparagus, eggplant, Brussels sprouts)
  • Plain eggs (i.e. hardboiled eggs)
  • Lean, grilled chicken or turkey breast
  • Sautéed shrimp with olive oil spray
  • Zoodles or spaghetti squash
  • Nonfat milk, yogurt and Greek yogurt

If you’re trying to keep the calories in check, add in these nutritious foods to keep you full. By having an arsenal of free foods, you can utilize more energy into making harder healthy eating changes. For more weight loss hacks, click here.

Healthy Eating Tip #5: Avoid food rewards

We often reward ourselves with food. Did your child get all A’s this semester? Then let’s go out for ice cream. Did you get a promotion at work? Then let’s go out to a nice dinner. While food is much more than plain sustenance to keep us alive, save food rewards for really special traditions.

Instead of using food as a reward, there are plenty of non-food rewards that you can give yourself or your family next time something great happens:

  • Go to the movies (without snacks)
  • Buy new clothes
  • Get a massage
  • Take an art class
  • Join a team sport
  • Pick up a new hobby (i.e. writing, painting, carpentry, gardening)
  • Take a bubble bath
  • Go to the salon
  • Give yourself time to read a good book
  • Go on a getaway
  • Go to the zoo, museum or aquarium

These activities are not only fun, but they are also zero-calories, zero-fat and zero-sugar!