“Healthy eating has unfortunately been associated with words like complicated, time consuming, tasteless, and boring,” says Diane Bailey, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, owner of The Conditioning Classroom in Colorado, and co-author of Eating Simply.
Sure, some of these things present themselves as obstacles on the path to maintaining healthy eating habits, but Bailey says there’s no reason you can’t conquer them.
The following is her advice for overcoming some of the most common “healthy eating obstacles” that we all face on a day to day basis.
“This is the number one reason I see people veer off the path of healthy eating,” says Bailey. “Friends say things like, ‘Come on, don’t be a downer all the time. Let’s go have a few drinks.’ And then after a few drinks and appetizers, you think you are so far off the path that you can’t find it anymore. Or family members complain about ‘healthy meals’ and plead for the old favorites back again.” She explained how this can lead you to feel like you’re “ruining the fun and enjoyment” for those around you. “The key is to be confident in yourself and know that choosing to eat healthy is the right thing for you and for your family,” she said. “Plan for a day each week that allows you to enjoy a fun meal with your friends and family, and then purposefully return back to eating healthy.”
“Sugar is an addictive, easy to obtain, white powder that commands you to eat more and more,” says Bailey. She explained that it’s important to recognize how easily it can hinder your efforts by unsuspectingly creeping back into your diet. “Learn to read labels and eliminate as much ‘added sugar’ as you can.” She also said to pay attention to the common “clean your plate” notion, which is a learned response for many. Focus on eating slowly so you can recognize the moment when you’re satisfied and full—especially when you’re out to eat, as restaurant portion sizes are usually larger than normal—instead of eating everything on your plate just because it’s there.
“I have a lot of people tell me with their words that they want to eat healthy and make real changes in their health and body composition, but they haven’t really committed to that change,” Bailey explained. “As soon as it gets inconvenient, uncomfortable, or just unenjoyable, they stop trying. It takes a firm commitment to make real change, and a long-term view as well.”
“Sometimes, it’s the simple things that throw us off track,” Bailey said. “We go to a wedding or a conference and we don’t have as much control over the food as we usually do—that’s okay!” It’s important to remember that you won’t be “perfect” 100 percent of the time, nor is there a need for you to be. One meal, or even an entire weekend that strays from the normal standards of eating healthy won’t ruin your efforts. Just make sure that afterwards, as Bailey puts it, “you get up and start eating healthy again.”
“Sometimes your choice of ‘diet’ is the reason you get off track. When you restrict your calories too much, your body goes into starvation mode and it insists that you feed it,” Bailey says. “Your body’s number one concern is survival and if it senses a lack of fuel, it will respond with a hormonal and nervous system stimulation that will cause you to binge eat.” Her advice: Don’t avoid ‘fad diets’ that are based on severe restrictions either in calories or in food groups and maintain a healthy focus on lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, and quality fats instead. “Add in a healthy portion control mechanism and you will not starve your body,” Bailey added.
Don’t forget that building healthy habits takes time. “We live in a time where we want everything now,” Bailey explained. “So, instead of taking the time to help your body with the proper exercise and a clean, healthy diet, we give in to the idea that a pill will do the trick.” She warns against buying into anything that promises quick results and seems too good to be true. “They not only don’t work, but some can cause unintended, harmful side effects,” she added.
“The stresses of life with jobs and relationships are not the stresses that our bodies had to deal with long ago. Our modern day stress is a chronic, low-level stress that causes an inflammatory response and leads to lifestyle diseases such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and hypothyroidism,” Bailey explained. “Your commitment to a healthy diet can often be overtaken by the demands of our work life. And yet, one of the best ways to combat that stress is to maintain a healthy diet.” She advises learning to control your stress response by building healthy sleeping habits, including mindfulness through yoga or simple meditations in your day-to-day life, and maintaining a regular exercise routine. “Sometimes we like to say that a good hard workout helps us with our stress, but remember that recovery is just as important as the workout itself,” Bailey added. “And by consciously scheduling in this ‘recovery’ time, you will be able to maintain your commitment to eating healthy as your body will crave the good nutrients to help it heal.”
“Another thing that will cause you to go off track on your healthy eating journey is the constant assault to your eyes of the ‘ideal body,’” Bailey said. “It lurks on magazine covers, on TV ads, and the shows that we watch.” She explained, though, that comparing ourselves with it others is “self-defeating.” “Take pride in the fact that you are taking care of you. Learn to love yourself enough that it becomes important for you to become the best you that ever was,” she said. “Don’t get thrown off track because you will never be six feet tall. Stay on track because you like yourself and you believe in what you have to offer the world.”
“A lot of people don’t even begin the journey to eating healthy because they believe it is too expensive,” Bailey said. “In reality, eating healthy by fixing your own meals can be less expensive than stopping by that fast food joint for breakfast and lunch and then grabbing some take-home meals for dinner every day.” She explained that by preparing your own meals you’re more in control of the nutritional content, the portions, and the cost. “It does take a little bit of your time to shop and to prepare, but your body will respond with more energy, a better immune system, and a trimmer build,” said Bailey.
“Eating healthy does take more time,” says Bailey. “Time in shopping, time in preparation, and time in planning. In our ‘rush, rush’ world sometimes we believe that we just don’t have the time to do these things. So our commitment to a healthy eating diet goes awry.” There are plenty of things you can do to make meal planning and prepping less time consuming, though. “Take the time to plan your meals a week ahead,” Bailey suggests. “Then go grocery shopping according to that plan. Learn to use time-saving gadgets in the kitchen like crock pots and use storage containers to make lunches ahead of time with your leftovers.”