The best way to achieve a lifetime of health and fitness is to build sustainable healthy eating habits.
Whatever your goal – to lose weight, get stronger, maximise your workouts, or just to improve the quality of your health and your life – healthy eating is a core component, arguably the most important component of that goal.
A nutritionally dense diet has SO many benefits for weight control, sports performance, longevity, good skin, improved mood, and reducing your risk of chronic preventable illness.
But geez, it’s tough to know where to start, or even where to look.
Some people want you to cut out carbs, some are telling you to cut fat, others are telling you to eat a bunch of fat, others say sugar is bad, others say sugar is good and vegetables are bad, others want you to live on rabbit food all day … I mean, who do you listen to?
No wonder it feels overwhelming to start!
Here’s the good news: you don’t have to restrict calories, count calories, or cut out food groups (in fact, you shouldn’t).
The best way toward sustainable results is to build simple healthy eating habits that are easy to maintain in the long run. You can eat nutritiously, feel healthier, reach your goals, and still live your real life.
Here are 12 healthy eating habits I’ve added to my lifestyle (note: added to, not cut out) so I can have my cake and eat clean too.
Eat the rainbow
If eating fruit and veggies feels boring, you’re doing it wrong! Variety is the spice of life.
Aim to eat an array of fruit and veggies in all different colours, rather than just sticking to the same old steamed broccoli every night.
Different vegetables are made up of different vitamins and minerals, so choosing a variety means you’ll get the whole spectrum of micronutrients.
The easiest way to do this is to make a list of all the fruit and veggies you’ve always loved, and then just go nuts at the fresh produce aisle of your supermarket.
Google recipes and get experimenting with different healthy ways to prepare veggie rich dishes.
The more veggies you have on hand, the more you’ll eat.
And I promise – you need to be eating more veggies than you think.
“Crowd Out” Your Diet With Veggies, Lean Protein, Fruit, Wholegrains & Good Fats
Okay, so by now we know that restriction and deprivation based diets don’t work, right?
So how do we ensure we eat healthily?
By “crowding out” your diet with veggies, fruit, lean protein, whole grains and unsaturated fats.
Rather than focusing on cutting foods out, focus on adding as much healthy food in to your day as you can.
Shop regularly for fresh produce
Picture this: it’s breakfast time.
You go to your fridge and open it up to find half an onion and three beers. The pantry has a packet of ramen and a bag of Hot Cheetos.
So, you Uber Eats in a three pack of red velvet donuts and a tall mochaccino with cream.
Okay, so this may be a slight exaggeration: but you get the idea.
When there’s no healthy food to hand at home, you’re more likely to order in, or reach for something less nutritious.
The more healthy food you have in plain sight, the more likely you are to reach for it.
Just like with your workouts, make weekly grocery shopping a non-negotiable appointment in your calendar. This way you can load up on fresh produce, lean protein and healthy snacks to always have on hand.
(It saves you a bunch of money, too.)
Can’t get to a grocery store? Get a grocery order delivered online.
Like, order in the red velvet donuts because you just really felt like red velvet donuts, not because you had no food in the fridge, you know what I mean?
Bonus tip: If you have time spare, meal prep a few healthy snacks or meals, so that you have them ready to go. It just makes healthy eating a no brainer.
Cook more meals at home
What is the three word sentence every woman wishes their man would say to her?
If you guessed “I love you”, you would be wrong, because the real answer is, “Let’s order takeaway”.
Listen, cooking is honestly not my favourite, but if you want to eat nutritiously and hit your goals, you’ve got to cut down on the amount you eat out/order in.
Restaurants don’t cook for health – they cook for flavour, which often means adding just a tonne of oil, sugar and salt. It’s no bueno.
It’s great to enjoy a meal out every so often, and to chill out on the couch with takeaway, but aim to cook meals at home as often as possible.
Firstly, this will save you just a TONNE of money.
Secondly, you’ll be able to watch how much salt you add to your food, how much oil you add to the pan, and serve a portion size that feels reasonable to you.
If you find cooking daunting, don’t worry. There are a BUNCH of amazingly simple recipes online and meal delivery services like Hello Fresh with easy to follow recipes that walk you through the whole thing step by step.
Who knows? You may even discover a new found passion.
Did you know it takes 20 minutes for your gut to communicate to your brain that it’s full?
If you eat super fast, you can overeat without realising it, long after your stomach is fully satisfied.
The easiest way to make sure you’re not eating to the point of over full is to slow down with your eating.
Eat with a knife and fork, and put your cutlery down between bites. Chew each bite fully, and really notice and be present for the flavours and textures of your food.
If you’re eating with company, pause a moment and focus on the conversation. The more slowly you eat, and the more present you are for your meal, the less likely you are to overeat (and the more you honestly enjoy the pleasure of eating).
Honour your cravings
If you’re really craving something, go for it. You’re way better off to eat one Snickers bar than you are to eat 423 million other “healthier” things trying to satisfy the craving.
We love what we love and the heart wants what it wants.
Don’t try to do any weird shit like eat a clove of garlic wrapped in a basil leaf because you crave pizza (or whatever, I don’t know, I’ve done some crazy things in my dieting past). Just eat the slice of pizza and move on.
If you feel like your cravings are all over the show, there’s one trick I’ve learned that’s really helped me so far. Put the craving on layby for five minutes.
Give yourself total permission to eat what you crave – in five minutes’ time. Then have a big glass of water and distract yourself.
If in five minutes’ time the craving is still there, have at it and enjoy your craving guilt free. But nine times out of 10, that craving will disappear with time.
Make simple swaps
Where it feels like no skin off your nose to do so, swap out calorie dense items for nutrient dense counterparts.
For example, you could choose:
- Whole grain bread instead of white bread
- Brown rice or Basmati rice instead of plain white rice
- Baked, boiled or mashed potato over fries
- Low fat dairy over full fat dairy
- Soda with kombucha
- Fresh fruit instead of dried fruit or fruit juice
- Air popped popcorn instead of chips
- Non-alcoholic wine instead of full strength wine
- Sunflower/canola oil for extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil
- White baking flour for wholemeal baking flour
Drink plenty of water
You probably need to be drinking more water than you currently are.
If you’re not sure how much, try this simple rule of thumb:
Your weight (in kg) x 0.033 = the litres of water you need to drink a day
And you may even need a little bit more than this amount if you’re working in air con, are very physically active, or unwell.
Not only is drinking enough water very important for the proper function of your body at a cellular level, it’s also really helpful for your fitness goals.
Water has been shown to benefit weight loss, increase your metabolism, and reduce your appetite.
Prioritise drinking water over every other type of beverage – and that includes fruit juice, by the way (read why).
Eat your veggies first
When it comes to bang for buck in the calorie and nutrient department, veggies are the clear winner.
They deliver minimal calories for maximum nutrition, so they provide bulk and fullness with minimal caloric cost. This isn’t just important for weight loss, it’s important to your health in general.
The easiest way to make sure you eat more veggies is to eat them first on your plate: when your appetite is at its peak.
You’ll eat far more than you would if you left them til last: and you’ll likely eat less of the other higher calorie stuff on your plate. This is one of my favourite healthy eating habits! It’s an effortless way to sneak in more veggies!
Follow the Australian Dietary Guidelines
Government nutrition guidelines have been developed by qualified dieticians who know their shit, have studied the science, and have made recommendations that benefit the greater population.
It’s the easiest way to ensure a balanced diet without counting calories or cutting food groups.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines give you an idea of what you should be eating, and in what quantities, in order to maintain a balanced diet. It’s what I’ve been following these past four weeks, and I’m seeing great results.
No day is ever going to look perfect (that’s why they’re called “guidelines”) but when you can keep these principles in mind, you’ll naturally make healthier choices.
P.S. If you’re worried about intolerances, allergies or other special dietary needs, talk with your doctor, who can run the right tests and put you in touch with a qualified expert who’ll design the right plan for your body.
Just don’t cut out a food group because someone told you to on Instagram. It can cause imbalances, deficiencies and other metabolic problems in your body.
Create balance rather than an “all or nothing approach”
An all or nothing approach is the fastest path to insanity, burnout, an unhealthy relationship with food, and feeling like a failure when it doesn’t all work out.
Listen, nothing in life is ever perfect, and your diet never will be.
And that’s okay.
There are going to be birthday parties and holidays and emergencies and beach days and barbecues and celebrations and illnesses and worse.
That’s why it’s key to have a mindset of balance and consistency over perfection.
For sure do your best to stay true to your goals, but remember that it takes more than one slip up to derail your results, just like it takes more than one workout to see results.
Make 80% of your meals about nutrition, and live your one short and glorious life for the other 20% of the time.
Otherwise, what’s the point?
This journey is more than just one moment and your meal. Don’t beat yourself up, or write the whole thing off.
Just put one foot in front of the other and choose something nutritious the next opportunity you get.
Eating healthier can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be.
In fact, I would argue that, rather than a rigid, convoluted eating plan, the easiest way to consistently meet your nutrition goals is to build healthy eating habits like following the nutritional guidelines, eating mindfully, eating mostly vegetables, and adopting a mindset of consistency over perfection.
Healthy eating habits, adopted gradually over time, are the key to a lifetime of health and fitness. By building sustainable healthy habits, day by day you’ll step into the healthy lifestyle you’ve envisioned for yourself without overwhelm and without restriction.