Many people who struggle with their health or weight say they’ve tried every diet or food plan under the sun, without any long-term success.
The changes they make end up being short term and their old eating habits soon return, leaving them disheartened and demoralised.
The reality is that there’s no need to cut whole food groups or deny yourself the pleasure of eating.
On the contrary, limiting your nutritional intake will only make you feel tired, lethargic and lacking any willpower to make sensible food choices.
The key to success lies in developing healthy eating habits that will not only help you reach your goals, but will also leave you feeling full and with plenty of energy to do everything you want to do.
Healthy eating habits are all about putting changes in place that are sustainable in the long term.
Here are a few eating habits which, once you’ve made them part of your routine, will have you set up for life.
1. Eat Healthy Unprocessed Food
Many of the packaged foods we buy today are aimed at convenience and involve the minimum of preparation time on our part – but they’re not that healthy.
They often contain high amounts of preservatives, man-made colourings and other added chemicals, and as 12WBT dietitian Georgie Moore explains, there are other downsides.
“Packaged foods tend to be higher in fat, salt and sugar than food cooked from scratch, while lacking nutrients and fibre,” she says.
Get into the habit of preparing meals from unprocessed foods and you will reap the health benefits.
This means cooking with fresh vegetables, lean meat, eggs and milk and eating plenty of fruit, nuts and legumes.
Try this: One of the best healthy eating habits you can put in place is to chuck out your toxic packaged and processed foods.
Instead, stock the pantry and shelves with beautiful fresh ingredients so they’re at arm’s reach when you’re ready to eat.
2. Switch to Healthy Whole Grains
Whole grains offer far more nutrients and fibre than their refined “white” varieties.
And in a 2012 study at the University of Copenhagen, researchers found that overweight people who ate wholegrain wheat products lost more weight than those who ate refined wheat, and they also came out with lower cholesterol.
“Whole grains tend to have a lower GI (glycaemic index), so they help keep you feeling fuller for longer and maintain your energy levels and concentration,” Georgie says.
On the taste side, whole grains have more texture, flavour and nuttiness than refined ones.
Try this: As a fast and simple way to improve your eating habits, choose wholemeal or wholegrain bread next time you hit the bakery.
And in the supermarket, buy brown rice instead of white, and wholegrain pasta.
Adding whole grains such as quinoa and buckwheat to salads and other meals will add a heap of nutrients.
You can find these in a health food store or the health food aisle of your supermarket.
3. Change to Healthy Cooking Methods
The more you “do” to your food, the less it does for you.
So avoid things like deep-frying, which drenches your food in unnecessary calories, and boiling vegetables until they’re drained of colour, as this will sap them of nutrients.
- Grill or barbecue meat, fish and vegetables.
- Stir-fry meat and vegetables, using just a little olive oil or a light spray of cooking oil.
- Steam vegetables until they’re lightly crunchy.
- Use herbs, spices and ground pepper instead of salt.
- Use balsamic vinegar or lemon juice instead of salad dressing.
- Make your own sauces rather than using bottled or sachet versions – for example, using fresh tomatoes as your base combined with herbs and spices.
4. Eat Healthy Portion Sizes
In today’s supersized world, it can be hard to know what a healthy portion looks like.
All the advertising we see seems to be aimed at encouraging us to eat and drink a lot.
Plate sizes in restaurants get bigger and bigger, as do the servings themselves.
So it’s little wonder that many of us consume more than we need on a daily basis, as our eating habits have changed without us even realising it.
Try this: “Imagine a plate on the table in front of you,” says Georgie.
“For the ideal lunch, a quarter of the plate would be taken up by lean protein, another quarter would be filled with low-GI or wholegrain carbs, and the remaining half would be filled with salad or vegetables.”
For dinner, eat a little less than at lunch.
“The chances are that all you’ll be doing after dinner is watching TV or going to bed, so you don’t actually need a lot of energy,” Georgie says.
5. Understand Healthy Eating-Out Options
Restaurants and cafes can seem like a minefield, not least because their portions are often much bigger than we need.
It’s also tempting to go for the less healthy menu options. But that doesn’t mean you can’t put healthy eating habits in place when you’re out with friends.
Georgie suggests using the plate-portioning guide (see above) to help you when eating out. And you don’t have to eat everything on your plate!
- See if the restaurant’s menu is available online and choose your meal before you go out.
- Choose an entrée-sized dish for your main course and bump it up with a healthy side salad.
- Ask for dressings and sauces to be served on the side.
- Ask for rice or extra vegetables instead of chips.
- Set aside half the dish and ask for it in a takeaway container.
6. A Food Diary Will Help Your Healthy Eating Habits
Keeping a diary of everything you eat and drink throughout the day will give you a clear picture of how much you’re consuming and how healthy it is.
It’s not until we write everything down that we can see where to improve.
Try this: Grab yourself a small notebook and start your diary today.
If you’re unsure of how many calories are contained in the foods you’re eating, a pocket-sized book such as Michelle Bridges’ Australian Calorie Counter (Penguin, $9.99) will provide the answers.
Check out this story on how to keep a food diary.
7. Healthy Eating at Social Events
For most of us, it’s impossible to avoid work gatherings or birthday bashes, where lots of food and alcohol are on offer, and the next day we’re wracked with remorse if we’ve over-indulged.
Set up some healthy eating habits for these situations to stay on track.
- Eat a healthy, filling snack to take the edge off your hunger before you arrive.
- At a buffet, fill your plate once and then stand away from the food table.
- Look for the most healthy option: a grilled piece of fish or lean meat, for example.
- Load up on salad and vegetables.
- Skip cheeses and dessert, or share a little with a friend or partner.
8. Plan Your Healthy Shopping
It’s too easy to eat takeaway if there’s nothing in the fridge or put together something naughty when it’s filled with unhealthy foods.
But if your fridge and pantry are stocked with healthy options you’ll be able to make better choices when you’re hungry.
The secret to healthy shopping is to plan ahead.
Try this: Set aside a regular time to create a shopping list based on healthy options for each of your meals and snacks during the week, and then set aside a regular time to shop.
9. Treats Can be Healthy Too!
We often think of certain foods as “bad” and cut them out altogether.
However, this can set us up for failure because we end up craving them all the more and then bingeing.
Try this: Set aside one meal a week to indulge in as a treat.
This is the time to eat something you may have otherwise kept out of your healthy eating plan. And don’t feel guilty about it!
10. Water: Nature’s Healthy Drink
Water is essential for life – it’s required for digestion, absorption and transportation of nutrients, for elimination of waste and to regulate body temperature.
According to the Australian Dietary Guidelines a healthy amount for men to drink is 2.6 litres per day and women should have 2.1 litres (or 8 to 10 cups per day).
Try this: Ditch sugar-packed soft drinks. Instead, buy yourself an aluminium drink bottle and keep it on hand, filled with water, to sip on all day.