How to adopt healthy eating habits without dieting.
It’s not always easy to practice healthy eating habits every day, especially during times of uncertainty. Food can be a source of comfort when we’re stressed or bored. I remember trying different ways to eat healthy and ending up quitting, feeling guilty about quitting, getting bored with it, and reverting back to my junky eating habits because it was too hard.
With all the fads and diets out there, it can be confusing to choose the right one for you. There are ways to eat healthier that don’t involve dieting. If you approach it with the right mindset, you can adopt healthy eating habits that will nourish your body and soul. Here are simple strategies that will help you choose healthier food every day.
1. State WHY you want to eat healthy.
If you ever tried changing a habit, you know that there’s a chance you might not succeed. Healthy eating habits are no exception. You need a strong reason to choose to eat healthy each day. This is where your WHY comes in.
Ask yourself why you want to eat healthier. Is it to lower your cholesterol and blood pressure so you can be there for your kids and even grandkids? Or perhaps you want to have fantastic energy each day so you feel good every time you wake up in the morning. Once you state what it is, grab a piece of paper and write it down. This will motivate you to choose healthier foods every day, especially when times get tough.
2. Notice your cravings.
When I crave junk food, it’s usually because I want to comfort myself and I find it pleasurable. This is not exactly a bad thing. It turns into a problem if it’s too frequent and chronic inflammation develops. Food cravings stimulate the pleasure center of the brain and release the hormones dopamine and serotonin to make you feel good. When food makes you feel good, you’ll crave it even if you’re not hungry.
The next time you crave junk food or beverages, simply notice it. Instead of acting on the urge, pause for a few minutes and notice what is happening. Stay with the feeling and observe the way your mind and body reacts. Chances are, the feeling will pass, and you will no longer need to satiate it.
Practice this each time you want to satisfy your craving. This can help you adopt healthy eating habits because it trains your mind not to act impulsively each time you have a craving for junk food. The power is in your hands to choose healthy instead of falling prey to your cravings.
3. Create a goal.
Saying “I want to eat healthier” is a start, but it’s like going hiking in a forest you’ve never been in without a map. You need something to guide you so that you don’t veer off course and will eventually arrive at your destination. When you have a goal, you make your desires tangible and can hold yourself accountable.
Start off with small goals that you can digest in bite size pieces so you feel like you’re winning. Be sure you write down what you want to accomplish clearly and specifically. For example, write down “I want to fill half my plate with vegetables each night for dinner for the next 4 days.” This is more doable than “I want to eat only vegetables and plants for the next 30 days.”
Grab a piece of paper and write out your goals, along with the reason why you want to eat healthier. Keep them in a place where you can see them every day, such as your wallet or nightstand. This will keep your goals fresh in your mind so you stay motivated to eat healthy every day.
4. Be kind to yourself.
Healthy eating habits don’t just happen overnight. It takes commitment and effort to do this in an age of convenient and fast foods. Being in a nurturing emotional state is as important as taking action.
There were plenty of days when I just wanted to give up and go back to my bad eating habits. I would always feel bad and dejected. Then I realized it was worse to self-flagellate than to give myself a break once a week.
If you have an off day and all you want is a hearty burger and fries from the fast food joint around the corner, then go for it. Give yourself a cheat day every so often because at the end of the day, you’re only human.
You’re going to have days like this, so be sure to practice self-compassion and forgiveness. It’s better to be consistent than perfect.
5. Practice mindful eating.
Mindful eating is a type of mindfulness practice that takes you out of your head and into the present moment. You become aware of your food in front of you, which can heighten your eating experience. Here is a snippet of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh describing eating a piece of bread mindfully:
“You realize that this is a piece of bread…This piece of bread is the sunshine…the cloud, the earth, is really ambassador sent to us by the cosmos…mindfully we chew the piece of bread, we are in touch with the cosmos. We are real and the piece of bread is real. In that moment there is true life. But if we are thinking all the time, we are not real and the piece of bread is not real either.”
If you’ve never done this before, practice by yourself first without distraction for 5 minutes. Pick one food, like a raisin, or a drink, and simply observe it. Notice your sensations and feelings before, during, and after you consume your food or drink. Visit the Greater Good in Action website for detailed instructions on the raisin meditation. If raisins are not your thing, you can pick another food instead.
When you get the hang of it, share this with your family and friends. Not only will eating with others help you bond, you are more likely to enjoy the food that’s front of you and create positive connections. When you add healthy eating into the equation, it makes it that much more pleasurable and you are more likely to practice it every day.
6. Cut the junk
Eliminating junk food is a great way to start eating healthier. Alcohol, sugar, caffeine, dairy, processed food, and refined food can be very addicting and may even cause chronic inflammation if they’re consumed in large quantities every day. You might not even notice how much of it actually goes into your system. Start this process slowly so you don’t get overwhelmed or develop unwanted side effects.
One helpful thing you can do is start a food journal. Begin as soon as you have your first bite in the morning. For the next few days, write down everything you eat & drink for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Then, take a look at what you wrote and note all the junk that you want to cut out and swap out. For example, trade a bowl of sugary cereal for a bowl of fruit. Or trade your cup of coffee for a cup of herbal tea.
Eventually, you will be able to eliminate most of the processed and refined food from your home and your meals. This will create more room for healthy foods and healthy eating habits.
7. Plan your meals
Plan all of your meals ahead of time. This step is very important because when you have meal plans, you’ll be less tempted to order take out or regress to unhealthy eating patterns. Not only will you save time, you’ll save more money as well.
It takes time to plan, purchase, and cook your meals. Have your children, spouse, and loved ones help you out whenever they can. Create a template of foods you purchase consistently each week to save you time when you write out your grocery list. When you go shopping, stick to your grocery list.
Make your meals simple but wholesome. Choose foods like whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits, lean meats, fish, and cage free eggs. This is probably the most hands-on section, but it is a vital piece of your plan to eat healthier every day.
Eating healthier might feel like a chore, but it doesn’t have to be this way. To set yourself up for success, begin with the right mindset. In order to have the right mindset, you need to develop simple habits by stating why you want to eat healthier, noticing your cravings, creating goals, being kind to yourself, practicing mindful eating, cutting the junk food, and planning your meals. When you are intentionally eating healthier, you are nourishing not just your body, but also your soul. I hope you found these tips helpful. Please let me know what you think in the comments and share your healthy eating habits.