How to Maintain Healthy Food Habits
When it comes to eating, a lot of the choices you make are habit based. You always clean your plate, you always purchase brand xyz, you always snack in front of the TV at night. A lot of people want to make changes in their diet and incorporate healthier choices, but how can you make the right changes and maintain healthy food habits?
I am not certified, but I have some experience here…
While I don’t have any formal nutritional training, I do have experience in changing eating habits and maintaining them long-term. Both Erica and I have maintained healthy eating habits for 5+ years after ditching the standard American diet (SAD) in 2014. In running our blog, we have also seen and helped thousands of others make healthier eating choices and find a healthier balance in life. Based on this experience, we have some advice and tips to help you along your healthy eating journey…
1. Don’t think of it as a diet
Diets have all kinds of mental connotations (usually negative). When most people think of a diet, they think of making short-term changes to get quick results (usually weight loss). Thus, if you want to develop and maintain healthy eating habits, you need to ditch the “diet” mentality. Instead, focus your mindset on creating healthy eating habits for long-term success. I like to call this healthy eating for life. This shift from a short-term to a long-term mentality can be a game changer. You can read more in this post about why diets don’t work.
2. Forget calorie counting
When we transitioned from the SAD diet to the Paleo lifestyle, one reason it was easy for us was because it didn’t involve calorie counting. In fact, I boiled down my new way of eating to a simple idea:
EAT. REAL. FOOD
That’s it! It’s much easier to stick with a way of eating for life if it’s easy to follow. Do you really want to be logging every meal you eat into an app or counting calories and macros forever? It’s just not sustainable. Instead, look for a way to eat as much real, unprocessed food as possible. It doesn’t have to be complicated, and I suggest you try and boil down your “healthy eating rules” into a simple idea or mantra that is easy to follow.
3. Educate yourself
We all know that eating a bag of Doritos and washing it down with a large soda is bad for us, but do you know why processed foods are bad for you? Have you taken the time to read, watch or listen to materials about nutrition and eating real food? You don’t need to become an expert by any means, but learning the basics about the dangers of processed foods and oils can go a long way in steering you (and keeping you) on a healthy, real food focused way of eating.
4. Try new things
To create sustainable eating habits, you need to keep it interesting and try new foods and recipes. This helps you to avoid getting stuck in a rut and burnt out with your food choices. If you are consistently trying new foods, it keeps you engaged with the process of choosing and making healthy food. While this may not appeal to everyone, setting a goal of trying at least one new food/recipe per month can break you out of an eating slump and make things more interesting. Who knows, you might even find a new favorite recipe!
One key way to stay on track with healthy eating is to meal plan and prep. We are huge proponents of meal prep. It really made healthy eating possible when we started our Paleo lifestyle while both working long hours as accountants. Taking some time to plan out your meals for the week, grocery shop and prep a few key items can make your week of healthy eating more manageable. You can read more in our detailed How to Meal Prep post.
6. Pay attention to triggers
A lot of unhealthy eating is caused by triggers like stress, lack of sleep, social settings, sadness, etc. Taking stock of how you feel when you crave or indulge in certain foods can help you understand what causes unhealthy eating and avoid these triggers in the future. A common method to approach this is as follows (from CDC.gov):
- REFLECT on all of your specific eating habits, both bad and good; and, your common triggers for unhealthy eating.
- REPLACE your unhealthy eating habits with healthier ones.
- REINFORCE your new, healthier eating habits.
7. Try fasting
I included this point because it has been such a huge benefit for me. Fasting (basically skipping breakfast) has helped me to control and mostly eliminate blood sugar spikes, irritability, significant hunger before meals, and bloating. Intermittent fasting has been shown to have significant health benefits like weight loss, cellular cleansing and lowered blood insulin levels. I’ve experienced these first hand and you can read all about my intermittent fasting results here.
8. Get your family involved
Trying to change and maintain healthy food habits can be daunting, and it’s even harder without the support of the people you spend the most time with. If your pantry is filled with chips and donuts and you’re looking for a snack, it’s going to be hard to turn to a tuna fish filled avocado snack. Minimizing the amount of good food/bad food choices you have to make each day can help to ensure healthy eating success. If you get your family involved so everyone is eating similar foods, you can surround yourself with options you know fit into your healthy eating goals. You can read more in our post here about Getting Support When You Transition to Healthy Eating.
9. Adjust, adjust, adjust
I can’t say this one enough, you have to be willing to adjust and change over time. How you define your healthy food habits today will not be the same as 5 years from now. They may be similar, but things will inevitably change. It is very important to listen to your body and continue to examine what food (and lifestyle) choices are working for you and not working for you. You need to be willing and able to adjust.
10. Sustainability over perfection
A lot of diets fail because you try to be perfect. You track your calories, follow the rules of the diet exactly for a month or two – and then you slip. But here’s the thing – you’ll never be perfect! When it comes to healthy eating, life happens and inevitably you have a piece of cake or indulge in a burger and fries and beer. It’s ok. You don’t have to beat yourself up over indulging every once in a while. In fact, some indulgence is necessary for most people to sustain healthy eating over the long-term.
The key here is understanding that eating should be a positive experience. You’re fueling your body and hopefully enjoying the food you eat. Maintaining a positive outlook on food choices is key. Even if you indulge today, that doesn’t mean you can’t make healthier choices tomorrow and beyond.
What healthy food habits do you want to create?
Did one of the points above resonate with you? What healthy food habits do you struggle with the most? Let us know in the comments below. Then, if you enjoyed this post and found it helpful make sure to share. Let’s live better together! Tag us in your healthy eating posts on Instagram @realsimplegood and #TheRSGLife.
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We have been eating what is now called Paleo for many years. Several points you make resonate with me.
The food procurer/prepper in a family is at the heart of the family’s nutritional health. If it is not brought in and prepared, it won’t be eaten. Making substitutions gradually and without fanfare worked best in our situation.
Calorie counting never has addressed nutritional needs. Perhaps it’s time for this concept to be laid to rest permanently. SAD eating has produced an overweight, malnourished population. Yes, people in our society can “starve to death” if depending on processed, franken food.
Your point of planning is spot on. Our family called our weekend preparations “big cooking”. We would prepare and prep foods and ingredients on the weekend to facilitate meals throughout our very busy week. It takes developing some new habits, but is very achievable.
Perfection can be a dangerous situation. Can’t afford organic? Buying conventional produce is much better than buying processed foods. Can’t find the time to prep? Buying pre-prepped ingredients is better than not preparing your meals from scratch. Can’t find fresh ingredients in your area all the time? Frozen foods, such as vegetables, grains, and fruits are better choices than depending on processed foods.
While we have practiced these food behaviors for years, we follow your articles and recipes because we continue to discover more information and new ways of enjoying old favorites. We appreciate your efforts in sharing your experiences. Thank you.
You make such great points Sandra, I’m happy to hear that this post resonated with you. It’s great to hear that you have found long-term success eating real, unprocessed food! Thank you so much for following along with our journey :).
Justin, I hope this finds you, Erica and baby Nora doing well! This post was spot on and it sure gives me some food for thought! Thank you! I even shared this on my FB news feed. Great job – you hit the nail on the head!
Thanks Donna, we are doing well! Glad you enjoyed the post and hope you are well also :).