How to Develop Healthy Eating Habits That Last — 10 Strategies Straight From Experts

The beginning of the new year always brings the desire to set goals, especially health related goals for better nutrition and fitness after the holiday season. Those first few weeks of January can be filled with excitement and motivation to stick with new intentions. We all know what happens next: it gets more difficult to maintain nutrition plans as we settle back into our daily grind.  As nutritionists, we help our clients work through this hurdle.  But hiring a nutritionist or coach is not the only strategy to achieve a healthier diet.  Here are 10 lesser-known tips on how to actually stick to your wellness goals this year.

1. Manage Your Stress
Stress may be one of the most important underlying factors preventing you from reaching your nutrition goals. When we’re stressed, we are much more likely to reach for something that makes us feel better in the moment. Sugar and refined carbs are the culprits we crave most when stressed, and they’re also at the top of the list of things to avoid. Stress means we have elevated levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and chronic elevated levels of cortisol have been linked with weight gain. Focus on implementing stress reducing practices in your daily schedule, such as deep breathing, meditation and yoga.

2. Buy Healthy Pre-Made Items
As nutritionists, you might think we always advise people to make everything from scratch and never buy packaged food. We know it’s not always possible with such a busy lifestyle. So be realistic. If you set your standards too high, then you’ll make it more difficult to hit your nutrition goals. There are so many healthy brands out there that use high-quality ingredients, making your meal-prep goals a lot easier. Just remember to read the label. Make sure you understand all ingredients listed and that they are real foods.

3. Batch Cook  (Strategically!)
If you do intend to make cooking part of your routine to implement your nutrition goals, plan out specific times to cook.  What you don’t want is to come home after a long day of work and have to figure out what to make for dinner. We highly recommend batch cooking on the weekend or a weekday that suits your schedule. Pick out a bunch of recipes (such as these great meal prep ideas!), and prepare them in advance. Then all you have to do is heat things up when you’re ready to eat.

4. Carry Healthy Snacks
If you get hungry in-between meals, that’s one of the most likely times you’ll eat something you don’t actually want. Ghrelin is nicknamed “the hunger hormone”, which signals your body when it’s hungry and stimulates appetite, causing those familiar hunger pangs. Eating a snack can help keep hunger at bay so you don’t get too ravenous before lunch or dinner. That way, you’ll be less likely to eat a huge meal or binge on unhealthy foods. Make sure you have wholesome snacks on hand, such as nuts and seeds, trail mix (that’s not sweetened with added sugar), or good-quality protein bars. You can also make your own with these snack ideas featuring 10 ingredients or less.

5. Focus on Foods You Love
It’s always easier to add things in than to take things away. This is one of our golden rules. It can feel really limiting to think about the foods you crave but can’t have on your healthier diet. There are two ways to do this: First, figure out which healthy foods you love, such as the vegetables and fruits you’re naturally inclined to eat. Add more of those into your diet. Two, notice which foods you crave, such as fries. Then make a healthier version of these, such as baked sweet potato “fries” instead of deep-fried ones from a burger joint.

Get the recipes forDelicious Healthy Baked Veggie Fries, 3 Ways

6. Create a List
Once you decide on the type of diet you want to implement, get clear on which foods are best and which to avoid. This may be as simple as choosing to cut out sugar and refined carbs (you don’t necessarily need to follow an involved diet). But, write out a list of all the foods that contain sugar and refined carbs (or whichever foods you are trying to limit). It’s easier when you can reference this list when you’re ordering meals out or when you’re cooking something at home and looking for recipes to use. Keep this list handy on your phone or printed out on a piece of paper.

7. Eat Mindfully
We so often eat quickly, rushing through a meal or eating on the go. Your body needs to be in “rest and digest” mode in order to digest food properly. That means that your parasympathetic nervous system is relaxed. When we’re stressed, the digestive system is impacted because the body prioritizes sending blood and fuel to the brain and muscles away from the digestive system. This can potentially lead to a variety of digestive issues and discomfort. Pause and take some deep breaths before a meal, let your body and mind slow down, and focus on enjoying the various tastes and flavours.

8. Choose a Healthy Diet You Actually Like
It’s so easy to get swept up in the excitement of the newest and hottest fads. But, just because a particular diet (such as the ketogenic diet) seems to be what everyone you know is loving, doesn’t mean it’s right for you. This might take a little trial and error, so give yourself the time and space to figure out what works best. Observe which diet makes you feel the best.  What foods leave you feeling energized and healthier? It can be really challenging to cut out many foods on limiting, strict diets and you’ll be more likely to break it and fall into old habits. So, find a diet that you’re likely to stick with and actually enjoy.

9. Dine at Restaurant You Know Will Work For You
If you’re going out to dinner with friends or setting up a meeting for work, pick a restaurant that offers healthier options. Research restaurants online and look for places that feature the type of wholesome food you’re after. You can always call a restaurant in advance and ask if they can accommodate you and omit certain ingredients. If you aren’t able to do that and someone else is picking the restaurant, scope out the menu online before you get there.

Get the recipe for Lynn Crawford’s Everything Green Salad With Green Goddess Dressing

10. Start a Cookbook Club!
Everyone knows it’s easier to reach our goals if we have someone keeping us accountable. But, instead of hiring a coach, you could try out something new this year and start a cookbook club. All you need to do is get a group of people together (it can be small or large) and pick a healthy cookbook. Then each attendee picks out a recipe to make from it! Repeat this once a month, always selecting a new healthy cookbook so that everyone can try new recipes. This is a wonderful way to get excited about cooking and developing healthy eating habits.

Looking for more healthy eating inspiration? We asked 15 nutrition experts how they stay healthy in the New Year, too!

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