Everywhere you turn these days you’ll find information about the benefits of eating healthy. We all know that eating less sugar and more fruits and vegetables will make us feel energized, healthier, and happier. But, beginning to make changes to your eating habits acan be daunting—especially if you’re not sure where to begin. Here are a few tips on how to incorporate healthier foods into your diet and be patient with yourself along the way.
1. Know that it’s a process
Making any change in your life, especially related to food, is a process. It’s not going to happen overnight and having realistic expectations for yourself will help to make the transition easier and more enjoyable. Ask yourself why you are trying to change your diet. Then come up with a few small, specific goals attached to due dates. For example, eat one serving of vegetables at every meal starting this Monday. Or, learn to make three new healthy dinners by one month from today. Put these goals somewhere where you will see them often. Reminding yourself of your goals and why these changes are important to you will help you to stick with it.
2. Think about adding, not subtracting
One of the reasons that many people give up on new goals is because they try to make too big of a change too quickly. When thinking about making your diet healthier, start small and think about adding new foods to your repertoire rather than taking familiar foods away. Love pasta? Maybe switch it up this week with whole wheat or brown rice pasta with some arugula and sun dried tomatoes. Crave something sweet in the mornings? Try a smoothie with vanilla almond milk, frozen banana, fresh spinach, and some hemp protein power. Tend to overeat at dinnertime? Start off your meal with a colorful salad or a bowl of homemade vegetable soup and you’ll be able to increase your vegetable intake while cutting back on the main course. Small changes add up over time, so keep it simple and manageable.
3. Get in the kitchen
One of the best things that you can do for your health is to learn to make meals from scratch in your own kitchen. If you’re new to cooking, start small and aim to prepare a few simple dinners at home over the next month. Soups, curries, and stir fries are great for beginners because they’re almost impossible to mess up!
If you’re already kitchen-savvy, bump it up a notch. Challenge yourself to prepare more ingredients from scratch. For example, learn how to cook your own beans rather than using canned. Or, learn to prepare a style of food that you aren’t as familiar with. The more meals that you prepare yourself the more control you have over what you eat and the healthier you can make it!
4. Find some inspiration (and check out the farmer’s market)
If you find yourself relying on the same dinners every week or starting to lose momentum for making healthier changes, it’s time to get inspired! Check out some new cookbooks, food magazines, or recipes online. Or try venturing to a different part of town and eating at a new restaurant.
I also recommend shopping at your local farmer’s market if you are not doing it already. Not only is eating local and seasonal better for the planet, it’s more affordable, healthier, and tastier. Anyone that’s bitten into a mushy apple in July can tell you about how much better things taste when they’re actually in season. Farmer’s markets also give you the chance to explore new fruits and vegetables and find out recipe suggestions from farmers themselves. Plus, if you go home with a fresh bunch of kale and some ripe tomatoes, you have no excuses not to have some delicious veggies at your next meal.
5. Get support!
It’s always easier (and more enjoyable!) when we try something new with a buddy. Enlist the support of a friend or family member and help each other to make healthier changes. Swap recipes, try out new restaurants together, or send each other home with leftovers from healthy dinners. Having a “health buddy” can help you to feel supported in your decision to eat healthier and stay on track.
6. Don’t stress
Food should be enjoyable, not stressful. If you find yourself worried or stressed about your progress (or maybe lack of progress), take a step back and figure out why. Are you trying to make too many changes at once? Are you stuck and don’t know how to proceed? Are you losing momentum and questioning your reason for making the change in the first place? Once you discover the reason behind the stress, it’s much easier for you to figure out how to manage it and make your transition to healthier eating a more enjoyable one.
7. Be kind to yourself
We all have cravings for less-than-healthy foods from time to time and there are certainly situations that call for a little chocolate. If you are occasionally allowing yourself an extra treat (but are otherwise eating healthy), then embrace it and don’t feel guilty. However, if you find yourself indulging in dessert every night, think about that impact on your decision to eat healthier, then come up with a plan for healthier eating moving forward.
Obsessing and beating yourself up over unhealthy eating isn’t going to inspire you to want to change – it’s going to make you feel guilty! No one likes to feel guilty and it’s certainly not fun to associate food with guilt. Be patient with yourself and know that nobody has a perfect diet, but making healthier choices add up to a healthier and happier lifestyle.