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Bite-Sized Habits for Healthier Eating

By: Jennifer Fleming PhD, MS, RD, LDN

Most will agree that 2020 came with many unexpected challenges that we are looking forward to having behind us. Because it’s the start of a New Year doesn’t mean everything will return to “normal” right away. Likewise, you will not automatically be prepared to make significant lifestyle changes and engage in new and healthier habits.

Rather, think of the start of a new year as a time of renewal. When we resolve to take the small steps needed to become healthier and let go of our bad habits. For many, this typically includes a goal to eat healthy. But what does it mean to eat healthy? Healthy eating is not only about the foods we eat, but it is also about our relationship with food. How we think and feel about our eating habits can be almost as important as the foods we choose to consume. These are a few essential habits of healthy eaters: 

Being mindful of your motivation. 

Sustainable behavior change requires internal motivation. When making resolutions, consider what changes you would like to make and why you want to make them. What makes you feel committed to reaching your goal? If eating healthy foods and exercising makes you feel physically and mentally better, those internal motivations will make you more likely to build new, long-term habits. In contrast, eating healthier because your friends are is an external motivator, is less likely to help you reach your goals.

 

Being attuned to eating.

Be aware of what your body needs and wants and choose foods that make you feel good while you are eating them and afterward. Eat when you are hungry, but before becoming ravenous. Also, learn to stop eating when you are satisfied or slightly full, but before reaching the point of feeling “stuffed.” Be mindful of what you are eating on every eating occasion and what you have consumed throughout the day. Not paying attention to how much you are eating can quickly lead to overconsumption.

 

Avoid always expecting perfection. 

This means avoid the temptation to engage in all-or-none thinking (“I ate that doughnut for breakfast, so I might as well eat a double cheeseburger for lunch”), or allow one meal choice to make or break your mood or your plan for the rest of the day. Healthy eaters view each eating opportunity as a new chance to make a wise choice.

 

Keep it simple. 

Healthful eating is eating in a way that suits your lifestyle and supports your health, without the need to try each new diet fad. Healthy eaters cook at home frequently, even if it means preparing simple meals. They tend to use fresh, whole foods, but don’t shy away from lightly processed (and low in sodium) convenience foods like canned beans and frozen vegetables to make life a little easier. When dining out, stick to core healthy eating habits, making nutritious choices that still appeal to your taste buds, but allow yourself to splurge a bit on special occasions.

 

Make your goals SMART. 

A SMART goal is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely. If you’re looking to incorporate more vegetables into your diet, why not set a goal to try one new vegetable each week – you never know; you may be missing out on a tasty vegetable you never thought to try. If you only like certain varieties, make a goal to try a different vegetable at your evening meal on at least three occasions each week. You may even choose to replace foods such as white bread, rice, or pasta with the vegetable of your choice. You will be getting more nutrients from the vegetables than from the starchy “white foods.” Also, the increased volume and fiber from the veggies will leave you feeling satisfied, while the accomplishment will help develop confidence and a sense of pride, improving your well-being.

 

Lastly, remember to celebrate the small victories. Even if you don’t accomplish your goals as quickly as you want to or in the exact way you had planned, it’s still important to celebrate that you’re working toward making a positive change!

And right now, we could all use a little more positivity in our lives.

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