Creating healthy eating habits when you’re just starting out can be overwhelming.
Society tells us “get on this diet to lose 10 pounds in 5 days” and “healthy food = salad” and wait “don’t eat bread because it’ll make you gain weight.” There are so many misconceptions about what eating healthy actually is. Many of them are so far-fetched that it’s no wonder many of us feel discouraged and throw in the towel.
Sure, you may lose 10 pounds in 5 days with some crazy diet that starves you – but what’s happening mentally? You’re creating an unhealthy relationship with food with unrealistic eating habits.
Eating healthy isn’t about restricting yourself, stressing over calories, or labelling foods as “bad” or “good”. Life’s too short to spend it counting calories or having a hate/love relationship with food.
What eating healthier is about is making healthier choices and building sustainable eating habits one step at a time.
So how do you create long-term healthy eating habits? Read on to find out!
1. Eat balanced meals
Eating a balanced meal will help keep you full and satisfied throughout the day. A balanced meal includes protein-rich foods, starchy foods, fats, vegetables, and fruits.
Focusing on portions will give you the freedom to experiment with a variety of foods in a way that’s non-restrictive. It doesn’t have to be perfect – some days you will eat more protein and some days you will eat more veggies.
The purpose is to give you a guideline to get you used to eat the number of servings that are recommended for healthy eating.
2. Don’t be afraid of carbs or fats
If you think eating healthy is about eating a salad for every meal, break up with that mentality right now.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of salads. I like having a small salad as a side, but for my main meal? I’ll pass. I know my body doesn’t feel full if leafy grains are my main carb source, so I make sure to add a good amount of starchy veggies and fats to my meals.
Carbs and fats offer your body fuel, fibre and plenty of nutrients it needs to get you through the day.
Sure, some carbs and fats are more nutritious than others, and focusing on whole foods like starchy veggies (potatoes, squash, yams, etc.), whole grains, beans, fruit, and healthy fats (avocados, olive oil, almond butter, etc.) will give you the most nutrients.
Banishing the fear of carbs and fats will open up an endless amount of possibilities for you to experiment with a variety of healthy (& delicious) foods.
3. Add, don’t restrict
You can’t expect to stick to eating healthy when you overhaul your entire diet in just a few days. Think about the long-term.
Instead of obsessing about what you shouldn’t be eating, focus on the nutrient-dense foods you should be eating. Real, whole foods are the most nourishing. You want to be adding fruits, veggies, animal protein, and healthy fats.
Let’s say you usually have cereal in the mornings. Try adding an apple. If your dinner is usually takeout, order a salad with it.
Gradually increase the number of whole foods you’re eating. When you’re just starting out, this is the best way to make sure you maintain long-term healthy eating habits. You want to slowly get yourself into the habit of eating nourishing, whole foods.
4. Focus on how each food makes you feel
Eating healthy is about making your body feel good. The better your body feels, the more it can operate at optimal health. The way to know what kind of food will get your body feeling good is to focus on how each food makes you feel.
Really pay attention to the cues your body sends you. Do you feel bloated after eating ice cream? Do you feel tired right after you eat pizza? While I don’t think we should be restricting what we eat, most refined and processed foods will probably not make you feel the greatest.
It’s not that the ice cream or pizza is “bad” or “off limits” but rather that you probably don’t feel your best when you eat a lot of it.
Learning to listen to the cues your body sends you will take some time, so be patient with yourself.
5. Check ingredients over calories
I’m sure for some people calorie or macro counting is the holy grail, but for me, it creates unnecessary stress around food.
Instead of stressing out about how many calories everything you buy have, focus on the ingredients!
The rule of thumb that I go by is the fewer ingredients, the better. Think about it, many foods that have an excessive amount of calories have a bunch of ingredients that you most likely can’t pronounce, let alone know what it is.
Focusing on the quality of calories is what’s going to make you feel your best.
And if you’re actively trying to manage your weight, the beauty of it is that the more you consume high-quality foods, the more your body will move to an optimized state of health.
If the majority of your meals consist of real, whole ingredients and foods, your body will feel the difference.
6. Don’t obsess & find your balance
Obsessing over food creates mental stress. If life gets in the way and you can’t eat how you intended to, try to not stress over it.
Maybe you just weren’t motivated to eat healthy because, let’s be real, it happens. Eat the cookies, eat the ice cream and try not to feel guilty about it.
Don’t think that you have to eat a salad for every meal the next day just because you didn’t eat the healthiest the day before.
See food through the lens of balance. Not guilt, not shame, not deprivation, not stress. Creating healthy eating habits is about nourishing your body, not punishing it.