Unhealthy eating habits are detrimental to your overall mental and physical health. Yet, they are so easy to fall into and so hard to kick. It is, however, crucial to transform your eating habits for the better and it certainly isn’t impossible.
We asked nutritionists and fitness experts to share their best advice on how you can ditch unhealthy eating habits and transform your health by adopting healthy eating habits.
“The key to successful eating habits is for your diet to support your lifestyle, not the other way around.
- Eat three small meals and two snacks each day.
- Always include protein, carbohydrates and fat in every meal to keep your blood sugar levels stable and give you energy throughout the day.
- Drink at least 8 – 10 glasses of water per day to stay hydrated 4 – 5 days a week by replacing other drinks with water or herbal tea (hot or cold).
- Eliminate processed food, stress foods and fried foods from your diet to supply yourself with nutrient-rich options that leave you feeling satisfied without overwhelming your digestive system.
- Create healthy goals, be patient as we know change doesn’t happen overnight but try adding new habits here and there when it’s easiest.”
Sarah Walker, Founder of dogfooddesire.com
Watch for the 4 Steps to Creating Habits
Alex Parry recommends the following three steps:
- “Habits consist of 4 steps, cue, craving, response and reward. For example, I see a slice of cake (cue) I feel hungry and want to eat the cake (craving), I eat the cake (response) it tastes great (reward) to set new good habits; we need to work with this process as much as possible.
- So, if we want to eat more vegetables, we need really obvious cues (pictures of veggies around the house as reminders), really attractive cravings (associate pictures of healthy, lean people with images of veggies) and really fulfilling rewards (a yummy salad dressing or drizzle, or five veggies allows a ‘treat’ snack). This is just one example, but it applies to all good eating habits.
- Until new habits form, make the new actions as easy as possible to remember by using phone alarms and sticky notes. Don’t just rely on your memory.”
Alex Parry, Strength & Conditioning Coach Character Strength & Conditioning
Monitor What You Eat Daily
Certified Dietitian; Harland Adkins advises;
- “Drink lots of water: Water is one of the body’s vital nutrients Water helps maintain body weight by transporting nutrients and energy to cells, regulating body temperature, supporting muscle, protecting joints and organs, and removing waste.
- Every day, eat 5 to 6 well-balanced meals: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as 2 to 3 snacks, should be eaten 5 to 6 times every day.
- Control portions and count calories: Those who regulate their calorie intake by tracking food servings and calorie intake have been successful in changing their lifestyle.
- Reading labels, calculating meals carefully, and eating off smaller portions are all good ways to get started.
- Eat breakfast every day: Breakfast eaters are often lighter than those who skip breakfast, according to research. A nutritious breakfast offers your body the first essential nutrients it requires each day for energy and stress management.
- Be mindful when eating: Pay attention to when and what you consume, as well as your behavior and feelings when it comes to food. Eat only when you’re hungry, not when you’re starving, because you’ll be more prone to overeat and choose unhealthy meals to satisfy your hunger.
- Say no thanks to empty calories: We’ve all succumbed to those temptations and overindulged in chocolate or grabbed a donut and coffee during our lunch break. As a result, you’ll gain weight and develop unhealthy eating habits.
- Supplement smart eating: Even the healthiest eaters may fall short of key vitamin and mineral requirements on a regular basis. I’m quite aware that I don’t always eat my best. I run out of vegetables, fruit, and grains on some days.”
Harland Adkins, Founder and General Manager Certified Dietitian / Nutritionist Fast Food Menu Prices
Structure and Technique
- “Have structure: People who eat on a regular schedule tend to have better eating habits than those who graze. For most people, this means three meals per day and maybe 1 or 2 snacks, depending on your age, activity level, daily schedule and metabolism. You can decide what works best for you, but the important thing is that you establish a regular pattern. Skipping meals may seem like a good way to cut calories at first, but usually ends up meaning intake of excess calories when you binge on the nearest snack food later.
- Ditch the screen: Watching TV or scrolling on your phone distract from your eating experience. Instead, tune in to the way you feel while you eat and take your time. Notice your level of hunger and fullness and stop eating when you start to feel full.
- Don’t drink your calories: Sugary drinks can be a source of empty calories. These drinks add excess calories but have little or no nutritional value and do not satisfy your appetite.
- Variety is key: The best way to make sure that your body is getting all the micronutrients it needs is to eat a wide variety of food. Eating the same thing every day may seem easy, but it usually makes it far more likely that your body is not getting all that it needs to operate at its maximum potential.
- Keep it real: The closer to nature, the better the nutritional value. A general rule to keep in mind: if it grows on a plant, it’s probably better for you than if it’s made in a plant.”
Kristin Saxena, MD, is a physician, nutrition expert and CEO of The Shikhar & Kristin Saxena Foundation.
Cook at Home and Control What You Eat
Certified nutrition coach; Lisa Kiersky Schreiber gives her professional tips; “Here are some of my most effective tips for developing good eating habits that can lead to a healthier lifestyle:
- Meal planning and cooking at home are essential to developing good eating habits and should always be a priority. This is the best way to make sure you’re using quality ingredients and controlling how often you eat whole foods versus ultra-processed options.
- Use mindfulness techniques at every meal. For example, practice eating to 80 percent full. You probably know what it feels like when you overeat to the point of being uncomfortable. Use that recollection to recognize when you’re around 80 percent full and put the brakes on. Or think of it as eating until you’re no longer hungry instead of feeling stuffed. There’s a huge difference between the two.
- Focus on the things you can control at every meal. Put your fork down after every bite. Swallow your food and take a breath before you pick up the fork for another bite. Make the meal last at least 10 minutes, and preferably at least 20 minutes. It takes 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain that you’re full, and if you eat too quickly, you’ll miss those cues.
- Add, don’t subtract. Ask yourself whether it’s possible to add a vegetable and/or a lean protein at most meals. This gets you into the mindset of consuming more nutritious foods first, without feeling like you’re depriving yourself of other foods you enjoy that might be lower on the nutrition spectrum. And speaking of spectrum, think about food as being on a continuum. Some foods have “less nutrition,” some have “more nutrition”, and some have “most nutrition.” If you get into the habit of trying to eat “more nutritious” and “most nutritious” foods more often, but allow yourself foods with “less nutrition” as well, you take judgment out of the equation because nothing is off-limits or “good” or “bad.”
Lisa Kiersky Schreiber, a certified nutrition coach and author, and just released a book called The Meal Deal- Blaze Your Own Trail to a Healthier Eating Lifestyle.
Plan For It
“In order to have good eating habits, plan for it. Plan out meals and snacks for the week. Write a shopping list before going to the store for the meals/snacks. Don’t get snacks or other foods that will tempt you (chips, ice cream, candy, etc.). If it’s not in your house, you won’t have the constant back and forth temptation to eat it.
- Use an app or website to help you come up with a weekly meal plan.
- Aim to make fruits and vegetables half your plate at mealtimes.
- Make sure to get a variety of fresh and frozen produce to eat throughout the week.
Holly Klamer, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and writer with My Crohn’s and Colitis Team.
Kick Out the Junk Food, Bring In the Healthy Foods
Nelson Joseph suggests getting only healthy foods in the house and cutting out the unhealthy entirely;
- “You can do this by getting your hands on a healthy recipe book that can set a good base for you to start meal prepping healthy foods.
- If you are tempted to eat the ingredients while you cook, it’s never a bad idea to chew gum while you cook.
- During grocery shopping, stick to organic foods like lean meats, nuts, fruits and low-fat dairy with proper labels to help prevent any sort of disease.
- Once you throw out all the junk from your house, it gets easier to avoid bingeing them as midnight snacks and replace them with rather healthy fruits and granola bars.”
Nelson Joseph, at Cardiozero