When people consider eating healthier, they often believe they have to give up the foods they love. They envision meals of salads, plain foods, and lean meats with nothing added to them. Just the thought of trying to live the rest of your life eating bland foods every single day is draining. Who wants to live like that?
Fortunately, eating healthier doesn’t mean you’ll never eat the foods you enjoy. You can eat healthily and still enjoy and look forward to what you’re eating. Plus, it doesn’t have to require significant changes to what you’re doing. Instead of making big changes that can feel overwhelming, focusing on small, manageable tasks can help you turn these changes into lasting routines.
How Small Changes to Your Eating Can Lead to Big Results
When you’re trying to eat healthier, it’s tempting to change everything at once. We want to live healthier as quickly as possible. However, living a healthier lifestyle is a long-term process that requires consistency. Making small, more manageable changes can help you establish healthy routines that last.
- More realistic
- Easier to achieve
- Easier to maintain consistently
- Likely to increase your feelings of confidence in maintaining healthy eating habits
Small changes make the process of eating healthier more enjoyable. As a result, you can establish these changes as lasting habits.
5 Small Eating Changes You Can Make to Live a Healthier Lifestyle
When selecting small changes, focus on those changes that are practical for you. Also, consider focusing on only one or two changes at a time, so you don’t become overwhelmed and give up.
As you make changes to your eating, take time to praise or reward yourself. These small changes are meaningful. They are helping you move towards your long term goal of living a healthier life. Here are five small changes that you can make to eat healthier.
1. Read food labels
Most Americans incorporate prepackaged foods like cereals, bread, canned goods, and more. These types of food can save you time and can be useful in a healthy lifestyle. However, some foods that claim to be nutritious may not be as healthy as you think. Reading food labels allows you to make healthy, informed choices instead of relying on the containers’ advertising.
For instance, many low-fat or fat-free foods that you may think are healthy contain added sugars or preservatives that aren’t good for you. These foods may be adding more sugar to your diet than you realize.
Another advantage is ensuring you’re eating one portion size at a time instead of several. You may discover that you were eating more calories than you thought.
When reading labels, look for prepackaged foods that don’t contain many ingredients and use ingredients that you recognize. For example, when selecting a breakfast cereal, make sure the first ingredient is an actual whole grain and not a refined grain. Consider the amount of added sugar, salt, and artificial chemicals.
You can still use prepackaged foods, but you can select healthier options that fit your lifestyle goals by reading the food label.
2. Slowly cut back on added sugars
Ideally, less than 10 percent of our total daily calorie intake should come from added sugars. In reality, most Americans eat much more. Added sugars are common in prepackaged and prepared foods, sugary drinks, and sweets. You may also add sugar at home to hot drinks, like tea or coffee.
Fortunately, cutting out even a little sugar from your diet can have big health benefits, like lowering your risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes. If you gradually cut back on your sugar intake, your taste buds will adjust so that after several weeks foods and beverages will still taste sweet even though you’re using less sugar.
Reduce your sugar intake gradually, so you don’t feel deprived or experience an increase in cravings for sugary foods and drinks. When setting up your plan, you can try one of the following:
- Gradually reduce the amount of sugar you add to your coffee, tea, or other beverage. If you typically add two teaspoons of sugar to your coffee, try adding one and a half teaspoons for one to two weeks and then reduce that amount by another half a teaspoon until you no longer add any sugar.
- Sauté or roast your vegetables to bring out their natural sweetness
- Make your own sauces and salad dressings so you can control the amount of added sugar.
- Add spices like cinnamon, vanilla, or nutmeg to help bring out your foods’ natural sugar flavor.
3. Put treats out of sight
If you have a cookie or candy jar sitting out in your kitchen, you’ll be more tempted to grab a treat mindlessly. Instead, place treats like sweets or chips (anything that you have trouble controlling your portion size) out of sight and in places you don’t access as often, like harder to reach cabinets. This strategy can make you less likely to see or think about the foods, which will help reduce your cravings for them.
4. Prep healthy, easy to grab snacks once a week and make them easy to find
When you need a snack or quick meal, it’s tempting to grab a prepared, prepackaged snack or food, but these often are high in added sugars, salts, and preservatives. Instead, take time once a week to prepare healthy snacks or meals that you can grab when you’re busy.
Alternatively, buy fresh or frozen veggies that are already prepped like bagged baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, or frozen bagged vegetables. Frozen vegetables and fruits retain their healthy nutrients, but avoid the frozen foods that have added sauces.
Some examples include:
- Peeling and cutting carrots that you can eat with hummus
- Cooking whole grains like brown rice or whole-wheat pasta in advance, so you only need to reheat it
- Hard boil eggs for the week
- Wash berries or other fruit and place in easy to grab portion-sized containers
- Plan to cook enough of dinners to have leftovers for lunch
Lastly, be sure to place the healthy snacks prominently in your cabinets and refrigerator, so you easily see them when you’re looking for something to eat to reduce temptations.
5. Replace sugar-sweetened drinks with water or sparkling water
If you regularly drink soda, sweetened iced tea, sports drinks, or other sugary beverage, cutting back even by one drink can have a significant impact on your health. Consuming one or more sugar-added drinks a day may be linked with an increased likelihood of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Cutting out sugar-sweetened beverages can be challenging, especially if you drink several a day. You’re more likely to make the change last if you start small. Start by reducing your intake by one.
Let’s say you drink seven sodas every week or once a day. Decide to drink only six a week for the next week. Decide which days you’ll drink soda and which day you won’t. Then, determine in advance what you’ll drink instead of the sugary beverage. For instance, maybe a restaurant you commonly go to sells delicious unsweetened iced tea. Select that as the day you’ll skip the soda and drink unsweetened iced tea instead.
If you drink multiple sugary beverages a day, you could decide to replace one of those drinks every day. Maybe instead of having a soda or sweetened coffee mid-afternoon, you choose to replace it with a non-sweetened, calorie-free sparkling water or unsweetened hot herbal tea.
Water is always a healthy choice, but sometimes only drinking plain water can get boring. Try adding fruit slices, lemon or lime juice, or drinking hot lemon water to add more variety. By gradually replacing sugar-sweetened drinks with healthy alternatives, you’ll reduce the amount of added sugar and calories in your diet.
Small, Consistent Changes to Your Eating Lead to a Healthy Lifestyle
Living a healthier lifestyle doesn’t mean you have to make big changes. Making small, manageable changes to your eating can have a significant impact on your health. The critical part is to make changes that are practical and sustainable for you.
You also may find that as you maintain these small changes, your confidence in yourself, and your ability to live a healthy lifestyle will grow. As a result, it will be easier to make and sustain other small changes that help you achieve a balanced, healthy lifestyle you enjoy.