In theory, maintaining a healthy, wholesome diet on a regular basis is simple, but of course, doing so doesn’t come without plenty of obstacles to conquer. Maybe you can’t find a way around your long work day or an extra busy schedule, but that doesn’t mean you have to forgo healthy eating entirely.The most important thing to remember is that healthy eating doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” type of situation. If you want to improve upon your habits, though, you do need to make sure that you’re really ready to start making some changes. And when you are ready, you can use these tips to help make healthy eating easier than ever before.
“Numerous studies have shown that tracking our food is hugely beneficial for weight loss,” says Polina Smith, a certified personal trainer and founder of DIAKADI, San Francisco’s largest personal training-only gym. “Keeping track of our food helps us to gain a deeper understanding of what we are eating as well as making us more conscious about what is going in our bodies.” Apps like MyFitnessPal make digital tracking of your intake easier than ever, but if you prefer the old-school method of taking pen to paper, using a journal (as long as you're diligent and use it to gain feedback) can be just as effective.
“Quality, good-for-you food is not difficult to prepare,” says Dianne Bailey, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, owner of The Conditioning Classroom in Colorado, and co-author of Eating Simply. “But it does not miraculously appear on your table or in your lunch box either.” This is why planning ahead to make sure that you’ll have healthy foods on hand is essential for success. “A weekly trip to the grocery store is absolutely necessary and having certain ‘go to’ foods available in your pantry is extremely helpful,” Bailey added. She says you don’t have to stress over having every meal for every day perfectly planned out, but that you simply want to make sure you’ll have the right ingredients on hand so that each meal you put together will provide your body with the nutrients your body needs.
Bailey said that you should acknowledge the fact that you’re not going to eat perfectly 100 percent of the time. “I am not so naive to believe that life doesn’t interrupt your health and nutrition goals,” she said. Bailey explained that it’s one thing to eat well in short spurts, but that you should aim to create a lifestyle where healthy eating habits make up the majority of your routine. This, she said, helps to leave room for “life.” “This is drinks with friends from out of town, birthday dinner with your kids, a retirement party with the office,” she explained. “A little wiggle room allows you to live a ‘normal life’ but still stay focused on the task at hand.”
“It takes a conscious effort to avoid poor food choices in favor of healthier ones,” said Chris Cooper, a Precision Nutrition coach and NSCA certified fitness professional.” He explained that eating healthy is easier if you work towards changing one aspect of your diet at a time. “First try just having a vegetable at every meal,” he said. “Once that becomes habit, then focus on drinking water with every meal. Each time a habit is assimilated into routine, pick something new.”
“One of the biggest consumer complaints about eating healthy is the cost,” says consumer and money-saving expert Andrea Woroch. Yes, healthier foods like fresh produce, lean meats, and organic products tend to be more expensive than boxed foods and pre-packaged meals, but Woroch says it’s still possible to pick healthy groceries without spending a fortune. She suggests saving money by buying frozen produce, making use of coupons, skipping pre-packaged salads and pre-cut veggies (which are typically more expensive than their “whole form” counterparts), and buying in bulk.
“The Slow Cooker is your best friend for easy healthy eating,” says Tim Bauer, a marketing professional who successfully lost 200 pounds in 374 days and who blogs about his health and fitness journey at TinierTim.com. He suggests using it to prepare meals ahead of time so that you’ll have healthy options on hand without having to put in too much kitchen time. He also says that it’s a great way to prepare meals in bulk so that you’ll have leftovers that can easily be repurposed for on-the-go lunches.
“When the pantry and fridge are stocked with less food there are fewer temptations,” says Lisa Rutledge, Registered Dietitian author of The Debunking Dietitian. “If you have ice cream, cookies and chocolate available in the house, those juicy strawberries may be less tempting to eat. Having only one or two treats in the house can force you to be more creative with the healthy foods you have on hand.”
“Being mindful means deliberately paying attention, non-judgmentally, to the present moment,” says Harley Sears, a Consulting Hypnotist and member of The Center for Mindful Eating. “This is the opposite of distracted or 'mindless' eating—a behavior that has been linked to overeating, stress, and anxiety.” He explained that eating mindfully by eliminating distractions at meal time can help you to establish a more balanced and respectful relationship with food. “Adopting a more mindful approach to eating empowers us to make healthier choices,” he added. “Making eating healthier ‘easier’ by choosing to eat food that is both appealing to us and nourishing to our body by using all of our senses to explore, savor and taste—while freeing ourselves from unhealthy habitual patterns.”
Lisa Hugh, a Registered Dietitian and creator of “Single Ingredient Groceries” says that it’s important to set realistic goals when it comes to healthy eating. She said, for example, preparing baked chicken with barbecue sauce at home (even if the chicken isn’t organic or the sauce isn’t sugar-free) would be a better option than ordering fast food or fried food with soda and dessert. It’s less important to be perfect and more important to make smart choices.
“Having a healthy snack close by when hunger strikes will help you resist the temptation of donuts in the break room or other unhealthy snacks that lurk nearby,” says Kathryn Bloxsom, a Registered Dietitian and the author of “Have Fruit, Will Travel.” She also suggests preparing whole foods like fruits and veggies as soon as you get home from the grocery store so that they’re ready to go right away. “Wash, trim and cut veggies, then store them in clear containers at eye level,” she said. “When veggies are ready to go you are more likely to eat them. It is also easier to toss them in a salad, stir-fry, roast or other dish when they are cut up and ready to go.”
“Traditional dieting—counting points, macros, calories— sets us up to fail in many ways,” says Julie Stubblefield a fat loss coach and founder of Fit Mom Revolution. “Because it rarely allows for flexibility, the moment we eat a food that's considered ‘bad,’ the guilt creeps in. For many, that guilt is a gateway to simply consume more of the same foods. With the overload of ‘bad’ foods, we often equate making a ‘bad’ choice as being a bad person, unworthy of continuing to seek health.” Stubblefield explained that to set yourself free of this “metal loop” you need to redefine the words you use to describe certain foods. “Instead of good versus bad, view foods as either supporting your goals or keeping you where you are,” she said. “So each time you eat, you are either choosing to move forward or stay the same. Neither one is good or bad, they just bring different outcomes.”