Strict diets with rigid rules don’t work.
Many of us know this through firsthand experience, and it’s also a sentiment supported by a pretty large body of research.
No one likes being told what they can’t eat. No one likes feeling deprived. No one likes being “on a diet.” It takes the enjoyment out of eating and, most importantly, it isn’t sustainable.
Instead of trying to improve your eating habits by taking on the “diet” mindset, it makes more sense to think about it in terms of simple rules—or perhaps “guidelines” is a better word—that you can maintain for life.
No more yo-yo-ing back and forth between wacky eating habits and restrictive diet plans. The following “rules” are healthy eating habits I learned directly from Katie Andrews, R.D, a nutrition coach with Rise, and they can help you steadily sustain a lifetime of healthy eating—no restrictions required.
1. Pay attention to your portion sizes—even for healthy foods.
Yes, what you eat is more important than how much, but while working with Andrews I was kindly reminded that even when you’re eating healthy foods, like grilled chicken or walnuts for example, it’s still important to keep portion sizes in mind. This will help you maintain balance in your meals and prevent you from overeating without really realizing it.
2. Vegetables are king.
Whenever possible, fill half of your plate with veggies. This was one of the first tips Andrews suggested when I began working with her. Not only are vegetables (and fruits) important for the minerals and nutrients they provide our bodies, but by making them the focal point of your plate, you’ll easily limit your intake of foods that are higher in calories or less nutrient-dense.
3. Snack smartly.
Snacking (think potato chips, cookies and candy) gets kind of a bad rap sometimes. But if you snack smart by choosing to nosh on nutritious foods that will hold you over between meals, it can absolutely be a part of a healthy, balanced diet. For example, if you know you’ll be eating dinner a little later than usual one night, it’s a good idea to eat a small, fiber- and protein-rich snack (like hard boiled eggs or veggie sticks and hummus) that will help keep you satisfied until it’s time for an actual meal. This way, you’ll be less inclined to overeat later on.
4. Carbs are OK, but don’t overdo them,
Again, it’s all about balance. You don’t want too much of any one thing. In the dieting world carbs are often demonized, but Andrews taught me that they’re OK, especially the more nutrient-dense kinds—like whole grains, sweet potatoes or lentils—as long as you contain them to a regular serving size.
5. Keep it interesting.
We all have our favorite foods, but if you’re eating the same three meals for days on end—even if they’re healthy—not only are you likely to get pretty bored, but you’re probably missing out on some important nutrients, too. What’s that saying? Oh yeah, variety is the spice of life, and it’s an important part of a healthy, balanced diet, too.
6. Don’t be so hard on yourself.
No one’s diet will ever be perfect, so don’t beat yourself up for skipping out on veggies at lunch or even treating yourself to an ice cream cone on a hot summer day. Andrews told me that the most important part of eating healthy is being aware, or simply recognizing how the foods you choose will affect your body and also understanding how each fits into the bigger picture.
“You are being aware, which is the hardest and most important step,” she told me. “Don’t be too hard on yourself for having bits of things you love. It’s all about balance and enjoyment.”
7. There’s no reason for anything to be off limits. Enjoy in moderation.
Have you ever been told you can’t have something? It makes you want it even more, right? No doubt, the same theory applies to our favorite not-so-nutritious foods. When it comes to less healthy treats that we might consider “off limits” Andrews made a great point: “Sometimes giving in to a small portion is better than saying no and bingeing on it later.”