In our fast-paced society where we are always on-the-go, it can be difficult to maintain healthy eating habits.
In between getting the kids to school, studying for the next exam, working towards that next promotion, having a social life, and all of our other daily activities, there is little time left to grocery shop, cook, wash the dishes, and prepare lunch.
It is much easier and more time efficient to simply grab a pastry, stop at the drive-thru, or open a pre-packaged snack.
Furthermore, nutrition in general can be confusing, and even controversial. However, if there is one thing that dieticians and nutrition experts agree on it’s that there is no one-diet-fits-all.
Nutritional needs and food access, as well as food intolerances, vary from person to person, so our diets should do the same. Consequently, it is important to find the foods and eating habits that work best for you as an individual.
For these reasons, sticking to one diet plan over a prolonged period can seem next to impossible. Therefore, I have created 9 tips that will help you to establish a diet that is healthy, sustainable, and that works for you as an individual.
- Keep a Balanced Diet
There are so many nutritional “do’s” and “don’ts” and fad-diets out there that it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Fats are being removed from food, meat can suddenly kill you, and carbs have been labeled the enemy.
But the fact of the matter is extreme fad diets are unnecessary for the majority of individuals and can be dangerous without proper nutritional counseling. In fact, undereating in any of the three macronutrients (protein, carbs, or fats) often leads to nutrient deficiencies, low energy availability, hormone imbalances, and much more.
In addition, “extreme” diets are “extremely” difficult to maintain over the long-term. They can not only be expensive, but our access to the foods needed to maintain these diets is often limited, especially when we’re on-the-go.
Contrarily, a diet that is balanced in all three macronutrients gives us more food options as we go about our daily tasks and helps prevent nutrient deficiencies.
(If you ultimately decide to begin a ketogenic, carnivore, or vegetarian/vegan diet, or to make any extreme diet change, I highly suggest consulting with a registered dietician (RD) prior to doing so.)
- Don’t Confuse “Diet” for “Restriction”
We often associate the word “diet” to mean restricting food intake in some way, shape, or form.
Rather, diet is better defined as “the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats.” And the foods that we habitually eat, along with the amount that we consume, should leave us feeling happy and well-nourished as opposed to stressed and craving more.
- Eat Until You Are Satisfied
Don’t completely restrict yourself to a predetermined amount of food.
Your nutritional needs differ from day-to-day and even from meal-to-meal, depending on your physical activity, what you have recently consumed, and a myriad of other factors. Therefore, it is important to eat until you feel well-nourished and satisfied.
Eating until you are satisfied, however, does not mean eating until you feel stuffed. Many of us (including myself) have a tendency to mindlessly eat until we feel full, tired, and bloated.
We eat while we watch TV, while we look at our emails or social media, and even as we drive. As a result, we deprive ourselves from actually tasting our food and we lose touch with the hunger cues that inform us when our bodies’ nutritional needs are met.
Rather, if we take the time to actually sit and enjoy our food, we are more likely to eat in healthier portions and to feel more satisfied at the end of our meals. Our bodies know the nutrients that they need and they will tell us if we are willing to listen.
- Find Healthy Substitutes
There are many small ways that we can shift our diet in a healthier direction.
Using butter while we cook, sprinkling cheese in with our meals, and adding condiments like ketchup, mayonnaise, and sour cream may seem like no-big-deal. However, paying attention to the little things can make a big difference.
For example, maybe substitute the butter with some olive oil. Or, rather than mayonnaise, try a little hummus. And in place of sour cream, swap in some guacamole.
We can make similar adjustments when we are craving unhealthy deserts and snacks. When we are craving something fatty like ice cream, we could substitute a healthy fat, like almond butter or Greek yogurt. Similarly, when we are craving a heavy carb like bread, replace it with some gluten-free oatmeal.
Additionally, recent years have seen the rise of brands like Primal Kitchen, Food for Life, and RXBAR.
These companies make healthier versions of condiments, salad dressings, snacks, and more by using fewer, cleaner ingredients and healthier cooking methods. Perhaps consider trying these brands as substitutes for some of the foods that you love.
These are just a few substitutions that have worked for me, but I encourage you to be creative and discover your own!
- Embrace Your Cravings
Although I encourage you to find substitutions from unhealthy cravings, it is unnecessary to avoid these foods entirely (unless, of course, you have an allergy, intolerance, or health issue of some kind associated with a given substance).
This is because complete restriction of a food that we love often leads to greater cravings for that food, which can ultimately lead to binge eating. Complete restriction can also cause great stress, which is likely unhealthier than consuming a healthy portion of an unhealthy food.
In other words, eating a piece of pizza when you have a strong craving is healthier than denying this urge, only to give in and eat six slices a week later. As is mentioned by Dr. Andrea Garber and Dr. Robert Lustig, “stress and dieting may sensitize an individual to reward,” which can lead to binging.
This is not to say that we not should avoid eating some foods habitually and in large quantities. In fact, studies have shown that humans develop cravings, and even “psychological dependence,” for things like sugar and fast-food if we consume them over a prolonged period. These, of course, are unhealthy cravings that we want to limit.
- Keep a Snack Nearby
Snacking is important for sustaining a diet and for our overall health.
Snacking helps us maintain healthy energy, blood sugar levels, and a strong metabolism. In addition, it helps keep our cravings at bay and prevents unhealthy habits like binge eating.
Nuts, carrots with hummus, Greek yogurt, fruit, and unbuttered popcorn are all examples of healthy snacks that are easy to prepare.
- Meal Prep
Meal prepping is not only a great way to save time and money, but a useful tool in sustaining a healthy diet. It prevents us for ordering take-out, which can be expensive and easily derail healthy eating habits.
One method of meal prepping is to simply prepare extra food every time that you cook dinner, which you can then pack in Tupperware and eat the following day.
Another is to set aside time twice per week to cook and pack your lunches for the upcoming days.
Again, small adjustments can make a big difference!
- Drink Enough Water
Replacing sugary drinks with water is great for your overall health.
Beverages like soda, sports drinks, and energy drinks are loaded with sugar and are the epitome of unhealthy and unnecessary calories. In fact, according to the CDC, “Frequently drinking sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with weight gain/obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart-disease, kidney diseases, non-alcoholic liver disease, tooth decay and cavities, and gout, a type of arthritis.”
If that doesn’t sway you, Dr. Kendra Frazier argues that 75 percent of Americans are chronically dehydrated, and that dehydration is “the number one cause of midday fatigue.”
So keep a water bottle at your side and don’t be afraid to add a slice of lemon, lime, apple, or herbs like mint or basil for some extra flavor!
For more information about water intake, follow this link to the CDC website.
- Ignore Peer Pressure
Nobody wants to be pegged as the picky eater or as a “health freak.” But if you want to sustain a healthy diet, you sometimes have to go against the grain. It is impossible to sustain healthy eating habits if we are constantly yielding to the diets of others.
This is not to say don’t treat yourself when you’re out with friends. If you have been craving pizza and a beer all week, have some pizza and a beer. However, you should not get adapt your own nutrition because you “don’t want to be difficult” or to avoid being teased.
These words will hurt less and less as you begin to look and feel better in the weeks and months ahead.