If you started the new year with a resolution to build healthy eating habits, know you’re in good company.
But following through may be challenging.
At the start of your health and fitness journey, let go of the urge to find and follow the perfect diet to a T.
Keep in mind that setbacks are normal, and learning to deal with them is critical for making healthy eating habits that stick.
Why Eat Healthy
Does healthy eating matter? Absolutely. It is a form of self-care that may help you gain a better quality of life.
It also helps to think of the side effects of not eating healthy.
Poor nutrition might increase your risk for a number of health problems.
Can You Overdo Healthy Eating?
In a word: yes. “For some, healthy eating can turn into orthorexia or an unhealthy obsession with following the ‘perfect’ diet,” says Brittany Crump, M.P.H., R.D. at Savor Nutrition.
“It’s essentially an unrealistic goal, and those who try to follow it can damage their well-being. When an orthorexic can’t follow their diet perfectly (maybe life gets in the way), they may feel shame or self-loathing,” she explains.
Orthorexia isn’t officially recognized as an eating disorder like anorexia, but it can result in similar health consequences, namely malnutrition.
If you think you may have orthorexia, the National Eating Disorder Association has more information.
“With orthorexia, it’s more about the individual’s mindset than the diet they follow,” says Crump. “You can have orthorexia with any type of diet — vegan, gluten-free, clean eating, calorie counting, and more.”
It’s essential to have a healthy mindset, especially if you want to develop healthy habits that are sustainable.
Make a Healthy Eating Plan
A good plan is full of healthy habits you can maintain over time.
Here are five not-too-rigid rules to help you make healthy habits that stick:
1. Choose mostly whole, unprocessed foods
Try to eat more of these foods:
- Fruits and vegetables — they should make up the bulk of your diet since they’re low in calories and high in fiber and other valuable vitamins and minerals. Include primarily veggies (generally lower in kcal, sugar, higher in fiber), as fruit contains naturally occurring sugar, which should not be eaten in an unlimited amount.
- Whole grains — oats, whole grain pasta, brown rice, farro, quinoa, and popcorn are examples of fiber-licious whole grains.
- Lean proteins — chicken, fish, eggs, yogurt, cottage cheese, nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes are examples of nutritious lean protein.
- Healthy fats — enjoy omega-3 fats from fatty fish, walnuts, and flax seeds plus monounsaturated fats from nuts, olive oil, avocado, and peanut butter.
By choosing mostly whole foods, you’ll naturally avoid the unhealthy stuff that’s mainly in processed foods such as trans fats, added sugars, preservatives, and dyes.
Plus, whole foods are a natural canvas to create exciting flavors and textures.
Read 8 Healthy Tips to Banish Borning Foods for more.
2. Plan ahead when you shop for food
Most of us eat whatever’s handy in the kitchen. Setting yourself up for success is as simple as what you put in your grocery cart.
Read 11 Grocery Shopping Tips to Make Healthy Eating Easier for more advice.
3. Mind your portions
No matter which diet you follow, food quality only gets you so far. You have to keep an eye on portion size to see results.
Over-eating healthy food is still over-eating and can lead to weight gain. So, how do you portion control?
A popular strategy is to use your hand:
- 1 palm = 1 serving of protein
- 1 fist = 1 serving of veggies
- 1 cupped hand = 1 serving of complex carbohydrate (whole-grain preferred)
- 1 thumb = a serving of fat
This is only used to demonstrate an average portion size of each food group, but depending on your daily needs, you may require larger portions.
If you struggle with fixing your portion size, Portion Fix containers can take the guesswork out it.
4. Have a balanced, healthy-ish mindset
As noted above, you don’t need to eat healthy 100% of the time. A healthy mindset leaves room for you to enjoy foods based on emotional appeal, not just nutrition.
Having this balanced mindset can help you feel less like a failure if you stray, which is totally normal.
According to Crump, “Food is for celebrating, too. You should be able to enjoy birthdays and holidays without feeling guilty about food. Even if you have a day that’s less than ideal, it’s OK. You can get back on track tomorrow.”
5. Celebrate your wins
Don’t forget that you’re making healthy eating habits for the long haul, which means you’ll need to stay motivated.
One way to do that is to reward yourself when you see progress.
Maybe you finally kicked that sugary soda habit for six straight months. Give yourself a non-food reward (like a new pair of shoes) to acknowledge the win.
What Prevents You From Eating Healthy?
Healthy eating setbacks are personal to your circumstance and lifestyle, but common hurdles include:
Not having social support
A common question that people ask is, “How can I eat healthy when no one else is healthy?”
If your friends and family are not on board with healthy eating, try to find a group of people who are.
You can join online groups to connect with like-minded individuals to help you stay on track.
Lack of time
To make healthy habits stick, you may need to front time to meal plan, grocery shop, and food prep.
You’re less likely to make impulsive food choices with healthy meals and snacks conveniently in place.
At the start, it can feel like you’re giving up the foods you like. But healthy eating doesn’t mean giving up your favorite foods forever — that would be an unhealthy mindset.
“A healthy mindset around food involves letting go of the idea that foods are ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ All foods can fit into a healthy diet. Don’t expect yourself to eat healthy 100% of the time. Maybe try 80% or 90% at most. Leave room to indulge in foods you love,” says Crump.
Losing motivation too early
Results don’t always come immediately after you adopt healthy eating habits.
Instead of fixating on numbers (e.g., pounds on the scale, body fat percentage, waist circumference), find small, promising signs of progress.