How can I adopt healthy eating habits?

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Judy Caplan
Nutrition & Dietetics

If you have not grown up in a home where the significant adults modeled healthy eating habits, all is not lost. There are so many books, articles, videos, and shows on healthy eating habits that all you really need is the desire and motivation to start learning. Best of all there are registered dietitians in every community who can help you develop healthy eating habits and at the same time make it easy and long lasting. Visit www. eatright.org to find a registered dietitian near you.

Be honest about what you really want to do about your eating habits. The simple question is: Are you motivated to change? If your answer to this question is "no," you will not be able to change your eating behavior, and this is probably not a good time for you to try to do something about your diet. You may want to change your eating habits at another time.

If your answer to this question is "yes" -- great! You understand that some degree of motivation is necessary to change behavior and to keep it going over the long term. You have to want to make changes in your eating in order to be successful.

Let's examine more closely the degree to which you're motivated to change your eating habits. Rate your level of motivation with 1 being a little motivated to 10 being completely motivated.

It's important to find your own reasons for changing your eating patterns. Eating a healthy diet needs to be important to you personally in order for you to be motivated to change.

If you rated your motivation as 4 or greater, you're ready to get started. Remember, you don't have to be a "10" -- completely motivated. If you rate yourself at midpoint on the scale, you still have enough motivation to start changing your eating habits.
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Kat Barefield, MS, RD
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You can adopt healthy eating habits by setting weekly goals that you feel confident you can achieve. Use the SMART goal setting strategy to help you make consistent progress. SMART stands for specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic and time-bound. Here are a few suggestions:
  • Eat 1 fruit at lunch 5 days a week.
  • Eat a high-fiber cereal 4 days a week.
  • Pick 3 healthier alternatives from my favorite restaurants by the end of the week.
  • Keep a log of everything I eat 6 days a week.
Create any goal that you’d like to work on, set 1-3 weekly goals and calculate your success percentage at the end of each week. Eventually you’ll master each goal and your habits will become second nature.
Ximena Jimenez
Nutrition & Dietetics

Healthy eating habits start at home, these are some tips to achieve your goal:

  • Whole grains: whole wheat breads and tortillas and brown rice
  • Low fat dairy products
  • Fruits: fresh, canned, packed in its own juice and frozen
  • Vegetables: fresh, low-sodium canned and frozen
  • Lean cuts of meat, chicken, turkey and fish
Cindy Gay
Nutrition & Dietetics
When shopping, think fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean meat and low fat dairy.

Prepare a shopping list with those categories. Buy those foods first.

When eating, fill 1/2 the plate with fruits and vegetables. Include 1/4 whole grains and 1/4 lean meat or substitute dried beans. Drink a glass of skim milk with every meal.

Eat fresh fruits between meals.

Eating 1/4 cup of roasted unsalted nuts, almonds, walnuts or sunflower seeds 2 or 3 times a week add essential nutrients.

Olive oil, canola oil and soft "smart blend" margarines or benecol provide essential fats. Include small amounts daily.
 
 

There are many ways to accomplish this challenge; however one of the simplest ways is by journaling. This allows you to evaluate what types and amount of foods you are consuming. From this point you eliminate one to two foods weekly that have had a negative impact on your body such as processed foods or ice cream and incorporate one two positive foods such as fruits or lean proteins. Challenge yourself for five weeks and the results will be astounding.

Kelly Currier
Nutrition & Dietetics
It takes time to develop a habit. If you start slow and focus on one or two goals at a time, you will be more likely to be successful in creating lifestyle changes instead of temporary habits. Here are some goals you could start out with. Just choose one or two until you feel like it is a habit, then move on.
  1. Drink at least 8 glasses of water daily. Keep a tally somewhere to keep track.
  2. Start consuming whole grain bread products. That includes breads, cereal, rice, pasta, crackers, and granola bars. Look for the word "whole" as the FIRST ingredient in the ingredients list. Then look for the product with the highest amount of dietary fiber.
  3. Eat at 2-3 servings of fruit daily. Snacks are a great place to get more fruit. You can also keep frozen berries on hand and add them to your cereal or oatmeal in the morning.
  4. Eat 2-3 servings of low-fat dairy daily. Skim milk is a low calorie but satitsfying and nutritious beverage. Yogurt makes for a great snack. Lowfat cheese also works.
Get an olive oil spritzer bottle. Instead of using PAM you can use healthy, olive oil in smaller amounts for cooking. You save yourself calories, but the calories that you do get are nutritious.

And of course, exercise! This is probably the most effective way to develop healthier eating habits. When you exercise, you feel better and you are more likely to care about what you are putting in your body.
 
Adopting healthy eating habits takes practice and a sound strategy. Eating is one of the few choices you have to make every day.

Choose plant based foods with a high nutrient content grown in clean well tended nutrient rich soil. Choose animal based foods from your local sustainable farmers that were pasture raised, processed by a sanitary processor and fed a clean healthy diet.

Pay attention to quantity and work to understand your food triggers in an effort to minimize poor nutrient free choices. Take it one day at a time because you will need to start over every day.

Begin by replacing one unhealthy food a day with a healthier alternative. For example, replace a pastry or candy with a piece of fresh fruit or a bag of chips with a small handful of nuts. Replace sugary drinks with flavored teas (one tsp of sugar is about 15 calories) or just water. By eliminating unhealthy foods gradually you won't miss the foods you are currently eating and before you know it you'll be feeling so good that processed foods will not be well tolerated by your system. Once your body is clean of excess sodium, simple carbs and additives in processed foods, you will naturally crave the healthier alternatives. The closer your food is to its natural state the healthier it is for your body.

Creating good eating habits can be as simple as making small changes each day.

Start by learning to read food labels. Take the time to measure your food so you can see what a serving really looks like and how many calories are in a particular serving. You will end up arming yourself with information, like how many calories and fat grams are in a serving a mayonaise. It just might make you start looking for another sandwich dressing.

Track your calories. Simply jot down what you are eating each meal. Track fats too. Keep it simple and try not to overwhelm yourself at first. Just get an idea of how much you're consuming each day. Remember, counting calories is similar to budgeting money. Try to budget to your calories. You need a certain amount of calories each day just for living - depending on your gender, body type and activity level. Then apply simple math; if you are consuming more calories than you need, you will gain weight. If you eat less calories than you burn, you will lose weight.
Don't think you need to diet or starve yourself to 'eat less than you burn.' Too few calories can lead to health problems. Our goal is good health!

Keep it simple! Simple choices, substitions or small changes can create huge results over time. Try eating slower, chewing more and sipping water in between bites and you might find that you're feeling fuller with less food. Fill half your plate up with vegis before serving yourself starches and meats. Try eating half the desserts or treats you normally would. Keep healthy snacks on hand like clementines when you have a sweet tooth, light popcorn when you need something salty, or baby carrots when you need a crunch-fix. Avoid filling the pantry with things wrapped in plastic that are all too easy to tempt you. Above all, learn to pay attention to your own body and how you are feeling; if you are really hungry, when you are full, and if you are eating out of boredom or emotion.
  • Don't deprive yourself.
  • Do make an effort to choose clean food, good food that will nourish you.
  • Don't complicate things and get overwhelmed. 
  • Do keep your changes simple.
  • Don't beat yourself up if you have a setback.
  • Do stay focused and be aware of what you are eating and how your body is feeling.
  • Do drink lots of water, about 2 glasses per meal.
  • Don't expect or look for a 'quick fix'.
  • Do expect results over time, it's the healthy way.
Making changes in how we eat and eating well can be challenging. Obstacles abound. Many of us are responsible not only for the food we eat but also for the food eaten by our families, who may resist our efforts at change. Finding the time to prepare fresh, healthy meals amid our other commitments is often difficult. Junk foods are cheap and available everywhere, while healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables and whole grains are often less available and more expensive. In addition, food represents comfort for many of us, so cutting out certain foods may make us feel deprived and can lead to backlash bingeing.

Despite such challenges, we can adopt healthy eating habits. If you are looking for ways to get fresh, local produce, try starting your own garden (even a few herbs on the windowsill can make a difference), shop at farmers' markets or food cooperatives, or join a community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm. If cooking every day seems exhausting, set aside one day a week, when you can prepare some of your favorite dishes in quantity and freeze portions to be reheated later. Or form a supper club with friends and neighbors or a lunch group with coworkers, in which members rotate cooking and cleaning responsibilities. If you have children at home, try involving them in meal planning and preparation; teaching them to cook may help give them a healthier relationship with food.

You may want to start with changes in certain meals rather than your entire diet. For example, try eating a substantial breakfast, choosing from whole-grain breads and cereals, eggs, fruit, and yogurt. Or substitute nutritious snacks such as carrots or apples with nut butter for the baked goods, candy bars, or coffee that may be your habitual pick-me-ups. When choosing to eat more healthy foods, you may find it helpful not to forbid yourself other foods entirely. Try thinking of them as a rare treat to be savored.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.