Changing our eating habits is hard. Once we’ve become used to our diet routine, we tend to stick with it – even if it’s unhealthy for us.
“Over time, habits become automatic, learned behaviors, and these are stronger than new habits you are trying to incorporate into your life,” says John Foreyt, Ph.D., director of the Baylor College of Medicine Behavioral Medicine Research Center.
Even if we’re successful for a time, we may fall back into old habits if we’re going through a stressful time.
To change our eating habits and keep them that way, Foreyt recommends a three-pronged approach:
- Know which habits you want to change.
- Know why these habits exist.
- Know how you’ll gradually change your bad eating and exercise habits into healthy ones
In the spirit of healthy change, here are 6 steps you can take to start changing your eating habits today.
1. Specific Planning
Wishful thinking won’t get you anywhere.
Make specific plans that will fit into your daily lives and you’ll be more successful than simply wishing for change.
Instead of telling yourself you’ll start eating healthier this week, figure out which foods you will eat and when.
For example, you can buy healthy snacks and lunches for the week and take them to work. The more you can make it fit your life, the better.
2. Realistic Goals
Change won’t be immediate – it takes at least a month to set in new habits.
Be patient, realistic, and keep your eye on long-term goals.
Be mindful of what you eat. Look at food labels and look up the number of calories and nutrients the food you’re eating has (or doesn’t have).
There are even phone apps that will tell you this information if you don’t want to spend time looking.
Once you know what you’re eating contains nutritionally, it’ll be easier to make healthier choices.
4. Baby Steps
Starting small can lead to big changes.
Experts recommend the following gradual changes for anyone that’s serious about becoming healthier:
- Tired people often overeat, so get your 8 hours of sleep at night.
- Eat with loved ones instead of by yourself, or you might overeat.
- Don’t go for seconds and make your portions smaller (try 20%).
- Reduce the fat in your home-cooked meals by using nonstick pans and cooking spray.
- Replace sugary drinks like soda and juice with water.
- Make your foods taste great with lemon, vinegar, mustard, and herbs instead of unhealthy sauces.
- Eat when you’re hungry and stop eating once you’re satisfied (not too full)
- Introduce more water-rich foods to your diet (like broths and salads) and reduce the amount of calorie-dense foods like pizza and casseroles.
- Use whole-grain bread in your sandwiches and replace mayo with mustard.
5. Weekly Mini-Goals
Speaking of baby steps, plan out some weekly mini-goals.
If you go too big, you might crash and then give up, so take it slow.
Add one healthy meal a week, serve yourself one more serving of veggies in your meal, or add one healthy component to each unhealthy meal you consume.
Whatever it is, start small and gradually increase the number of healthy foods in your weekly diets.
6. Manage your Stress
Stressful moments will often send you to old, bad habits for comfort.
Find ways to manage your stress, like meditation, music therapy, or exercise, so that you won’t fall back into bad habits during the stressful moments of your life.
Changing your eating habits seems scary and overwhelming at first, but through small steps, you’ll soon find yourself eating healthier and feeling better.