“All big things come from small beginnings. The seed of every habit is a single, tiny decision. But as that decision is repeated, a habit sprouts and grows stronger. The task of building a good habit is like cultivating a delicate flower one day at a time.” - Atomic Habits, page 22.
Habits. They shape our lives in every way – from our day-to-day routines, to the long-term goals and accomplishments we achieve and everything in between. Habits are built subconsciously over a long period of time, and can be hard to break once ingrained.
It’s not surprising that unhealthy habits are much easier to start and stick with – giving us momentary enjoyment but future consequences. While healthy habits on the other hand, can seem incredibly difficult in the moment, but the long-term payoffs are more than worth it.
Why do we need healthy eating habits?
One habit which can completely shape our lives for the better, or worse, is habits around eating. The age-old adage “you are what you eat” is true – the food we eat fuels our bodies, giving us energy and nourishing us. It also feeds the good (or bad) bacteria in our gut, which directly influences the production of neurotransmitters and our mood.
It’s no coincidence that people with healthy diet habits experience stronger immunity, healthier hair, skin and nails, improved digestion function and mood, and a significantly lower risk of heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes, and some cancers – therefore often living longer.
A healthy diet is essential for good health and nutrition, but changing what we eat – and keeping with it – is a lot easier said than done. However, with a bit of planning and mindfulness making a habit stick can certainly be achieved.
So, what are the secrets to creating and keeping a healthy habit, particularly around eating? Read on to learn 5 important factors that can help lock in healthy eating as a long-term habit.
1. Start small and be consistent
Changing your eating habits won’t happen overnight. The seed of every single habit in your life is the result of a decision, repeated over and over until it’s engrained into your life. Consistency is one of the most important factors that determine the success of a change.
At first, it’s important to add change in small and manageable ways, easy enough for you to actually do on a regular basis. Telling yourself you will cook and eat five healthy dinners every week, when you currently don’t even have one, is setting yourself up for failure. Instead, set yourself the goal of making small changes day by day, or even week by week. Start by aiming to drink at least 8 glasses of water a day, adding a side of coleslaw with your lunchtime meal, or reaching for yoghurt-covered fruit instead of a chocolate bar. Gradually include more healthy eating changes as you begin to feel more confident, and over time these small changes will add up and become habitual.
2. Plan and prepare – making it easy
We may often turn to unhealthy eating for convenience. When you’re faced with all sorts of random odds and ends in the pantry after a long hard day at work, ordering out looks a lot more inviting. When it comes to healthy eating, planning and preparation can be your secret weapon. Spending an hour on Sunday planning your meals for the week ahead will not only help you make healthier choices, it will also save you time and money! Even just having a general plan – a Mexican dish on Tuesday, a couscous salad on Wednesday – can put you in the right mindset when you hit the supermarket. Using a grocery list (and sticking with it) will save you from buying unnecessary and unhealthy snacks. Try replacing them with nutritious alternatives like fruits, vegetables, nuts, hummus, or grainy crackers and bread.
Meal prepping is another useful tool that can help you stick to your healthy eating goals. By preparing your meals in advance, you can save time during the week and have healthy options ready to go whenever you need them. Prepping can include cooking meals and dividing them into individual portions, chopping up vegetables and fruits, or even making healthy snacks like protein balls or homemade trail mix. That way, half the work is already done!
3. Find healthy alternatives Instead of focusing on cutting unhealthy foods out of your diet, try to turn your attention to adding healthy foods in. One of the best ways to do this is by finding healthier alternatives to your favourite foods – something that satisfies your cravings and nourishes your body all at the same time.
If you have a sweet tooth, then fruit is your best friend – and I’m not just talking about eating a banana! Dates and peanut butter can make for a decadent dessert, avocados blended with dark chocolate make for a mousse to be rivaled with, and a simple apple crumble with oats, maple syrup and served with yoghurt is an easy classic. Getting creative and looking at the fruit beyond its natural form opens up a world of healthy, sweet possibilities. And if you're a fan of salty snacks, try swapping out potato chips and crackers for roasted vegetables like kale chips or carrot fries, dipped in hummus instead of a high-oil sauce. When searching for healthier alternatives, Google will be your best friend!
4. Practice mindful eating
Mindful eating is all about being present in the moment and paying close attention to what you're consuming. By practicing this technique, you'll enjoy your food more and gain a greater awareness of your body's hunger and fullness cues. Listening to your body and eating only when you are truly hungry can help to prevent overeating. One important tip for practicing mindful eating is to avoid distractions - that means no phone, no TV, and no computer. When you eat while distracted, you're less likely to pay attention to what you're eating and how much you're consuming. Instead, try to make mealtime a special time where you can truly savour your food and appreciate the flavours and textures. Take your time and eat slowly, giving your brain and body time to process that you're full. You'll be surprised at how much more satisfying your meals will be when you're truly present and focused on what you're eating.5. Reward yourself
Positive reinforcement is key to maintaining the motivation and enthusiasm to continue working towards your goals. Every small step towards a healthy eating habit is a step in the right direction, and that success takes time. Celebrate your small victories along the way and be proud of yourself for the progress you have made.
Forming and sticking to a healthy eating habit can seem daunting at first, but with the right tips and tricks, it can become a natural part of your lifestyle. Changing your eating habit doesn’t have to mean bland, boring food for the rest of your life. It’s about changing the underlying eating pattern so that you can start to enjoy the taste and experience of nutritious foods - and when you do feel like treating yourself, you are in control. Don't be afraid to experiment with new ingredients and recipes to keep things interesting and enjoyable. Remember, healthy eating doesn't have to be restrictive; it's about nourishing your body while enjoying mealtime. So, try out these tips and tricks and watch as your healthy eating habits become second nature.
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