Healthy eating is about more than just the foods that you eat. A diet full of fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, and lean protein is a good place to start, but healthy eating habits also include the way you eat: how you fill your plate, how you eat your food, and when you eat.
What’s more, your habits in the kitchen and the dining room (and anywhere else you eat… in bed? in front of the TV? in the car?) can affect your food choices, too. It’s easier to eat healthy when your eating habits are healthy.
Read on to learn how to make a difference.
Identify your bad eating habits
Take a look at your eating habits and determine which ones make you healthier and which ones do not. Understanding that some of your habits encourage unhealthy eating is a good first step in improving how you eat.
Do you eat too fast? It can take 20 minutes for your brain to realize that your body has had enough to eat. Scarfing down a burger at your desk while you work or text may happen so quickly that your stomach doesn’t have a chance to send you signals of satiation. Eating food too quickly can have you eating more than you should.
Do you load your plate with too much food? Research shows that people eat more from fuller plates, even if they’re not still hungry. Dialing in the right portion size is a good way to improve your eating habits. It’s better to put too little than too much on your plate. You can always come back for seconds.
Do you make a point to eat every last morsel? This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, you don’t want to waste food. But you must have the right portions to begin with. Restaurants may load a plate with enough food to feed three people. You don’t need to clean your plate. Stop eating when you’re full, and take the rest home.
Do you skip meals? Skipping meals is an unhealthy eating habit. It can lead to binge eating, over-indulging, and excessive snacking. Plus, you can end up so hungry that you make bad choices. Establish a regular eating schedule.
Do you only eat one type of food at meals? Yogurt, breakfast cereal, even salads can become your go-to food when you’re in a hurry, and then it can become a habit to reach for that single food at mealtime. You can’t get all the nutrients you need from a single type of food. You also feel more satisfied after eating if you have a balanced meal with a variety of foods.
Do you eat when you aren’t hungry? This one is pretty straightforward. If you aren’t hungry, you shouldn’t eat. But we often eat out of boredom, because there’s something tasty in the break room, or even because we saw a tempting TV commercial for a favorite food. Snacking for the sake of snacking is a bad eating habit.
Do you have dessert after every meal? The occasional sweet is OK. Having a bowl of ice cream or a slice of cake after lunch and dinner, seven days a week, is not. Sweets like these provide a lot of empty calories. This habit can cause you to replace nutritious foods with those empty calories, or to store extra calories as fat. The World Health Organization puts the healthy sugar limit at 20 grams a day for women, 36 for men. Break the dessert habit and save sweets for special occasions.
Replace bad habits with good habits
Once you have identified your bad eating habits, you can work towards replacing them with good habits. Be mindful about portions, don’t skip meals, avoid unhealthy junk foods, make a point to eat healthy nutritious foods, and limit snacking.
Look at the bad eating habits and replace them with their healthy counterparts.
- Replace pies and cookies with fresh fruit.
- Save snacks for times when you’re actually hungry.
- Eat at least three different foods at each meal.
- Schedule meals and enjoy them for at least 20 minutes.
- Take reasonable portions and stop eating when you feel full.
Embrace those good habits
Whether you need to manage your portions, stop skipping breakfast, or eat food more slowly, you must embrace the good healthy decisions that you make. Habits won’t stick if you don’t commit to them.
Try doing things that can bolster your new healthy habits. Remove unhealthy foods that might be tempting from the household. Make a point to try new, healthy foods and strive for balanced meals.
Make it fun by trying out an app like Habitica or finding an accountability partner for your new habits.
You won’t always have to force healthy eating habits. They can become a normal part of your daily routine.