When it comes to eating, many of us have developed habits. Some are good (“I always eat fruit as a dessert”), and some are not so good (“I always have a sugary drink after work as a reward”). Even if you’ve had the same eating pattern for years, it’s not too late to make improvements.
Making sudden, radical changes, such as eating nothing but cabbage soup, can lead to short term weight loss. However, such radical changes are neither healthy nor a good idea and won’t be successful in the long run. Permanently improving your eating habits requires a thoughtful approach in which you reflect, replace, and reinforce.
- 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.
A diet rich in fruits and vegetables has been scientifically proven to provide numerous health benefits, such as reducing your risk of several chronic diseases and keeping your body healthy.
However, making major changes to your diet can sometimes seem very overwhelming.
Instead of making big changes, it may be better to start with a few smaller ones. And it’s likely more manageable to start with just one thing, rather than all of them at once.
Cook at home more often
Try to make a habit of cooking at home most nights rather than eating out.
For one, it’s easier on your budget.
Second, by cooking your food yourself, you’ll know exactly what is in it. You won’t have to wonder about any hidden unhealthy or high calorie ingredients.
Also, by cooking large servings, you’ll also have leftovers for the next day, ensuring a healthy meal then, too.
Finally, cooking at home has been associated with a lower risk of obesity and improved diet quality, especially among children.
Eat your fruits instead of drinking them
Fruits are loaded with water, fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants.
Studies have repeatedly linked eating fruit to a reduced risk of several health conditions, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.
Because fruits contain fiber and various plant compounds, their natural sugars are generally digested very slowly and don’t cause major spikes in blood sugar levels.
However, the same doesn’t apply to fruit juices.
Many fruit juices aren’t even made from real fruit, but rather concentrate and sugar. Some varieties may even contain as much sugar as a sugary soft drink.
Even real fruit juices lack the fiber and chewing resistance provided by whole fruits. This makes fruit juice much more likely to spike your blood sugar levels, leading you to consume too much in a single sitting.
Eat your greens first
A good way to ensure that you eat your greens is to enjoy them as a starter.
By doing so, you’ll most likely finish all of your greens while you’re at your hungriest. This may cause you to eat less of other, perhaps less healthy, components of the meal later.
It may lead you to eat fewer and healthier calories overall, which could result in weight loss.
Plus, eating vegetables before a carb-rich meal has been shown to have beneficial effects on blood sugar levels.
It slows down the speed at which carbs are absorbed into the bloodstream and may benefit both short- and long-term blood sugar control in people with diabetes.
Choose baked potatoes over french fries
Potatoes are very filling and a common side to many dishes. That said, the method in which they’re prepared largely determines their impact on health.
For starters, 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of baked potatoes contain 93 calories, while the same amount of french fries contains over 3 times as many (333 calories).
Furthermore, deep-fried french fries generally contain harmful compounds such as aldehydes and trans fats.
Replacing your french fries with baked or boiled potatoes is a great way to shave off calories and avoid these unhealthy compounds.
Try at least one new healthy recipe per week
Deciding what to have for dinner can be a constant cause of frustration, which is why many people tend to use the same recipes again and again. Chances are you’ve been cooking the same recipes on autopilot for years.
Whether these are healthy or unhealthy recipes, trying something new can be a fun way to add more diversity to your diet.
Aim to try making a new healthy recipe at least once per week. This can change up your food and nutrient intakes and hopefully add some new and nutritious recipes to your routine.
Alternatively, try to make a healthier version of a favorite recipe by experimenting with new ingredients, herbs, and spices.
Replace your favorite fast food restaurant
Eating out doesn’t have to involve unhealthy foods.
Consider upgrading your favorite fast food restaurant to one with healthier options.
There are many healthy fast food restaurants and fusion kitchens offering healthy and delicious meals.
They may just be a great replacement for your favorite burger or pizza joint. What’s more, you can generally get these meals at a very decent price.
Take omega-3 and vitamin D supplements
Approximately 1 billion people around the globe are deficient in vitamin D.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that’s very important for bone health and the proper functioning of your immune system. In fact, every cell in your body has a receptor for vitamin D, indicating its importance.
Vitamin D is found in very few foods, but fatty seafood generally contains the highest amounts.
Omega-3 fatty acids are another commonly lacking nutrient that’s found in fatty seafood. These have many important roles in the body, including reducing inflammation, maintaining heart health, and promoting proper brain function.
The Western diet is generally very high in omega-6 fatty acids, which increase inflammation and have been linked to many chronic diseases (43Trusted Source). Omega-3s help fight this inflammation and keep your body in a more balanced state.
If you don’t eat fatty seafood regularly, you should consider taking a supplement. Omega-3s and vitamin D can often be found together in many supplements.
Bake or roast instead of grilling or frying
The way you prepare your food can drastically change its effects on your health.
Grilling, broiling, frying, and deep-frying are all popular methods of preparing meat and fish.
However, during these types of cooking methods, several potentially toxic compounds are formed. These include.
- polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
- advanced glycation end products
- heterocyclic amines
All of these compounds have been linked to several health conditions, including cancer and heart disease.
Healthier cooking methods include:
- pressure cooking
- slow cooking
These methods don’t promote the formation of these harmful compounds and may make your food healthier.
Although you can still enjoy the occasional grilled or deep-fried dish, it’s best to use those methods sparingly.
Drink enough water
Drinking enough water is important for your health.
Many studies have shown that drinking water can increase weight loss and promote weight maintenance, and it may even slightly increase the number of calories you burn each day.
Studies also show that drinking water before meals can reduce your appetite and food intake during the following meal.
That said, the most important thing is to drink water instead of other beverages. This may drastically reduce your intake of sugar and calories.
Drinking water regularly may also be linked to improved diet quality and could decrease your calorie intake from beverages.
Increase your protein intake
Protein is often referred to as the king of nutrients, and it does seem to have some superpowers.
Due to its ability to affect your hunger and satiety hormones, it’s often considered the most filling of the macronutrients.
One study showed that eating a high-protein meal decreased levels of ghrelin, the hunger hormone, more than a high-carb meal in people with obesity.
What’s more, protein helps you retain muscle mass and may also slightly increase the number of calories you burn per day. It’s also important for preventing the loss of muscle mass that can occur with weight loss and as you age.
If you’re trying to lose weight, aim to add a source of protein to each meal and snack. It will help you feel fuller for longer, curb cravings, and make you less likely to overeat.
Good sources of protein include:
- dairy products
- peanut butter
- lean meat
Eat eggs, preferably for breakfast
Eggs are incredibly healthy, especially if you eat them in the morning.
They are rich in high quality protein and many essential nutrients that people often don’t get enough of, such as choline.
When looking at studies comparing various types of calorie-matched breakfasts, eggs come out on top.
Eating eggs in the morning increases feelings of fullness. This has been shown to cause people to consume fewer calories at later meals. It can be quite helpful for weight loss, if that’s your goal.
For example, one study in 50 people found that eating an egg-based breakfast reduced feelings of hunger and decreased the amount of calories consumed later in the day than a breakfast of cereal.
So, simply replacing your current breakfast with eggs may result in major benefits for your health.
Don’t shop without a list
There are two important strategies to employ when you go grocery shopping: Make your shopping list ahead of time and don’t go to the store hungry.
Not knowing exactly what you need makes room for impulse buying, while hunger can cause you to toss even more low nutrient foods into your shopping cart.
That’s why the best strategy is to plan ahead and write down what you need beforehand. By doing this and sticking to your list, you’ll not only buy healthier items to keep around the house, but you’ll also save money.
Add Greek yogurt to your diet
Greek yogurt (or Greek-style yogurt) is thicker and creamier than regular yogurt.
It has been strained to remove its excess whey, which is the watery part of milk. This results in a final product that’s higher in fat and protein than regular yogurt.
In fact, it contains up to twice as much protein as the same amount of regular yogurt does, or up to 10 grams per 3.5 ounces (100 grams).
Eating a good source of protein can help you feel fuller for longer, which can help manage your appetite and reduce your food intake, if that’s your goal.
Plus, since Greek yogurt has been strained, it contains fewer carbs and less lactose than regular yogurt. This makes it suitable for people who follow a low carb diet or are lactose intolerant.
Simply replace some snacks or regular yogurt varieties with Greek yogurt for a hearty dose of protein and nutrients.
Just make sure to pick the plain, unflavored varieties. Flavored yogurts may be packed with added sugar and other less nutritious ingredients.
Choose whole grain bread instead of refined
You can easily make your diet a bit healthier by choosing whole grain bread in place of traditional refined grain bread.
Refined grains have been associated with many health issues. Whole grains, on the other hand, have been linked to a variety of health benefits, including a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
They’re also a good source of:
- B vitamins
- minerals such as zinc, iron, magnesium, and manganese.
There are many varieties of whole grain bread available, and many of them even taste better than refined bread.
Just make sure to read the label to ensure that your bread is made with whole grains only, not a mixture of whole and refined grains. It’s also preferable that the bread contains whole seeds or grains.
The pace at which you eat influences how much you eat, as well as how likely you are to gain weight.
In fact, studies comparing different eating speeds show that fast eaters are much more likely to eat more and have a higher body mass index (BMI) than slow eaters.
Your appetite, how much you eat, and how full you get are all controlled by hormones. Hormones signal to your brain whether you’re hungry or full.
However, it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to receive these messages. That’s why eating more slowly may give your brain the time it needs to perceive that you’re full.
Studies have confirmed this, showing that eating slowly may reduce the number of calories you consume at meals and help you lose weight.
Eating slowly is also linked to more thorough chewing, which has also been linked to improved weight control.
So, simply eating slower and chewing more often may help you eat less.
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Become more active
Good nutrition and exercise often go hand in hand. Exercise has been shown to improve your mood, as well as decrease feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress.
These are the exact feelings that are most likely to contribute to emotional and binge eating.
Aside from strengthening your muscles and bones, exercise may help you.
- lose weight
- increase your energy levels
- reduce your risk of chronic diseases
- improve your sleep
Aim to do about 30 minutes of moderate to high intensity exercise each day, or simply take the stairs and go on short walks whenever possible.
Replace sugary beverages with sparkling water
Sugary beverages might possibly be the unhealthiest thing you can drink.
They’re loaded with added sugar, which has been linked to numerous diseases, including.
- heart disease
- type 2 diabetes
Plus, the added sugar found in these drinks doesn’t impact appetite the same way as regular food does. This means you don’t compensate for the calories you drink by eating any less
One 16-ounce (492-ml) sugary soda contains about 207 calories.
Try replacing your sugary beverage with either a sugar-free alternative or simply choose still or sparkling water instead. Doing so will shave off the non-beneficial calories and reduce your intake of excess sugar.
Stay away from “diet” foods
So-called diet foods can be very deceiving. They have usually had their fat content reduced dramatically and are often labeled “fat-free,” “low fat,” “fat-reduced,” or “low calorie.”
However, to compensate for the lost flavor and texture from fat, sugar and other ingredients are often added.
So, many diet foods end up containing more sugar and sometimes even more calories than their full fat counterparts.
Instead, opt for whole foods like fruits and vegetables.
Get a good night’s sleep
The importance of good sleep can’t be overstated.
Sleep deprivation disrupts appetite regulation, often leading to increased appetite. This results in increased calorie intake and weight gain.
In fact, people who sleep too little tend to weigh significantly more than those who get enough sleep.
Being sleep deprived also negatively affects concentration, productivity, athletic performance, glucose metabolism, and immune function.
What’s more, it increases your risk of several diseases, including inflammatory conditions and heart disease.
That’s why it’s important to try to get adequate amounts of good-quality sleep, preferably in one bout.
Eat fresh berries instead of dried ones
Berries are very healthy and packed with nutrients, fiber, and antioxidants. Most varieties can be purchased fresh, frozen, or dried.
Although all types are relatively healthy, the dried varieties are a much more concentrated source of calories and sugar, since all the water has been removed.
A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of fresh or frozen strawberries contains 31–35 calories, while 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of dried strawberries contain a whopping 375 calories.
The dried varieties are also often covered with sugar, further increasing the sugar content.
By opting for the fresh varieties, you will get a much juicier snack that’s lower in sugar and contains fewer calories.
Choose popcorn instead of chips
It may be surprising that popcorn is a whole grain that’s loaded with nutrients and fiber.
A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of air-popped popcorn contains 387 calories and 15 grams of fiber, while the same amount of potato chips contains 532 calories and only 3 grams of fiber.
Diets rich in whole grains have been linked to health benefits, such as a reduced risk of inflammation and heart disease.
For a healthy snack, try making your own popcorn at home (not microwave popcorn varieties) or purchase air-popped popcorn.
Many commercial varieties prepare their popcorn with fat, sugar, and salt, making it no healthier than potato chips.
Choose healthy oils
Highly processed seed and vegetable oils have become a household staple over the past few decades.
Examples include soybean, cottonseed, sunflower, and canola oils.
These oils are high in omega-6 fatty acids but low in heart-healthy omega-3s.
Some research suggests a high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio can lead to inflammation and has been linked to chronic conditions, such as heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, and autoimmune disorders.
Swap these oils for healthier alternatives, such as:
- extra virgin olive oil
- avocado oil
- coconut oil
Eat from smaller plates
It has been proven that the size of your dinnerware can affect how much you eat.
Eating from a large plate can make your portion look smaller, while eating from a small plate can make it look bigger.
According to one study, eating from a smaller plate was associated with increased feelings of satiety and reduced energy intake among participants with a healthy body weight.
Also, if you don’t realize that you’re eating more than usual, you won’t compensate by eating less at the next meal. By eating from smaller dinnerware, you can trick your brain into thinking that you’re eating more, making yourself less likely to overeat.
Get the salad dressing on the side
Simply getting to the point of being able to order a salad at a restaurant is a great achievement for many.
However, not all salads are equally healthy. In fact, some salads are smothered in high calorie dressings, which may make the salads even higher in calories than other items on the menu.
Asking for the dressing on the side makes it a lot easier to control the portion size and amount of calories that you consume.
Drink your coffee black
Coffee, which is one of the most popular beverages in the world, is very healthy.
In fact, it’s a major source of antioxidants and has been linked to many health benefits, such as a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, mental decline, and liver disease.
However, many commercial varieties of coffee contain lots of additional ingredients, such as sugar, syrup, heavy cream, and sweeteners.
Drinking these varieties quickly negates all of coffee’s health benefits and instead adds lots of extra sugar and calories.
Instead, try drinking your coffee black or just adding a small amount of milk or cream instead of sugar.
Completely overhauling your diet all at once can be a recipe for disaster.
Instead, try to incorporate some of the small changes listed above to make your diet healthier.
Some of these tips will help you keep your portion sizes reasonable, while others will help you add nutrients or adapt to something new.
Together, they’ll have a big impact on making your overall diet healthier and more sustainable, without a huge change in your habits.