Making changes to your lifestyle can be incredibly difficult–especially when it means giving up the things you enjoy. But with a little bit of guidance and encouragement, you can do it…and without feeling deprived.
Here are nine tips to help you break unhealthy eating habits and start living a more vibrant life–for good.
Start your day right.
Starting your day with a nutritious breakfast is crucial for any healthy lifestyle.
Research shows that a well-balanced morning meal is linked to improved physical and mental well-being, lower sugar consumption, and higher intake of vital nutrients like fiber, iron, vitamin C, and calcium. It can also reduce cravings for less healthy foods.
To set yourself up for lasting energy, stable blood sugar levels, and fewer cravings, opt for protein, fresh produce, and perhaps some whole grains.
Here are some simple, tasty breakfast ideas to get you started:
- Scrambled eggs with fresh fruit and whole grain toast
- A tofu scramble with spinach, onions, and tomatoes (if you don’t eat eggs)
- Oatmeal with cinnamon, fresh apple slices, and a drizzle of honey
- Unsweetened organic Greek yogurt with fresh berries and almond slices or low-sugar peanut butter granola
Drinking water not only quenches your thirst, but helps reduce cravings and increases feelings of fullness.
Some studies even suggest that drinking plenty of water can help you burn more calories. Plus, replacing sweetened beverages with water is a great way to reduce your calorie and sugar intake.
Aim for between four and eight 8-ounce cups a day, depending on your body weight and level of physical activity. And be sure to drink a full glass between meals.
Many of us eat quickly and mindlessly, or turn to snacks when we’re stressed. Practicing mindfulness brings your focus to the present moment, helping you eat slowly and consciously rather than automatically.
This helps you become more attuned to your body’s hunger and satiety signals, allowing you to differentiate between emotional and genuine physical hunger.
Consider the quality of the foods you consume, and check labels for wholesome, natural ingredients. While eating, try to stay fully present in the moment. This makes eating a more pleasurable experience and reduces your risk of overindulging.
This practice also sharpens your awareness of triggers that prompt you to eat when you’re not hungry, allowing you to make healthier choices.
Make healthy swaps.
If you often reach for chips or cookies between meals, try swapping those snacks for fresh veggies or fruit with cheese. One study found that children making this switch reduced their daily calorie intake by 72%, despite cheese’s high fat content.
Vegetables and fruit are packed with fiber and nutrients, meaning they help you feel fuller, longer. This means they help curb cravings afterward.
Not to mention, you’ll be cutting back on calories, salt, and processed foods.
Get enough sleep.
Sleep deprivation disrupts your body’s balance by increasing levels of a hunger hormone, ghrelin, and decreasing leptin, a satiety hormone. This imbalance triggers greater hunger and cravings for less healthy foods.
Prioritize getting a minimum of seven hours of sleep each night to keep your appetite in check and support your overall well-being.
Recent studies show that aerobic exercise like walking, running, bicycling, and swimming can actually reduce appetite by modifying hormone levels, including ghrelin.
Regular exercise also has a beneficial impact on your mental health, which can influence your ability to make healthier eating choices. Whereas fatigue and stress often lead us to reach for less nutritious food options, feeling a sense of vitality, strength, and optimism due to physical movement can empower us to choose foods that reinforce those positive feelings.
Aim for 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity at least five days a week.
Try a new hobby.
Another way to break “bad” eating habits is picking up a new hobby. Engaging in enjoyable activities can combat boredom and stress, reducing the temptation to resort to emotional or mindless eating.
Our fundamental needs–including eating–trigger the release of dopamine in our brains, making them pleasurable and motivating us to keep satisfying those needs. By discovering new avenues for pleasure and keeping yourself engaged, you can break the pattern of using food as a coping mechanism to navigate daily challenges.
Start with baby steps
Diving into extreme dietary or lifestyle changes can backfire, leading to intense cravings, feelings of deprivation, and bounce-back overeating.
While all of these tips to change unhealthy eating habits can be helpful, try adopting them gradually. Make a commitment to yourself to adopt small daily changes, like substituting fresh fruits or veggies in a meal, or opting for a salad over a burger–and build from there.
These smaller, manageable, more gradual shifts can stack up to significant results over time–and you’ll be more likely to stick with them.
Breaking “bad” eating habits involves making lifestyle changes, mindful choices, and addressing emotional triggers. But don’t get discouraged. Small steps can lead to huge improvements in the long run, supporting a fuller and longer life.