"John Tantillo, Ph.D. is a TV, Radio and Social Media Branding Expert with over 30 years experience in Behavioral Health Care Branding"
What you eat matters. If you fuel your body with poor quality foods, it may not be able to perform at its best, both physically and mentally. But breaking the pattern of unhealthy eating can prove challenging. And with all the health trends out there, from celery juice to the keto diet to intermittent fasting, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and confused. The good news is it doesn’t have to be this complicated. Taking some small, practical steps can help get you out of that unhealthy eating rut and jump-start a healthier lifestyle.
It sounds tedious, but meal prep is key when trying to break out of old eating habits. Let’s say you don’t prep anything. You’re running out the door late to work on Monday and don’t have time to pack a lunch or even a breakfast. When you get to work, the first stop is the coffee shop next door. You grab your latte along and a croissant to eat before a meeting. Next thing you know, it’s lunch time, and your co-worker asks if you want anything from the burrito place downstairs. Since you don’t have lunch, you order a steak burrito. The afternoon gets late and your stomach is growling. You head into the kitchen to grab what looks like a healthy granola bar but is actually packed with sugar. Next thing you know, you’re at the office late and don’t feel like making dinner. Uber Eats it is.
Without a plan, you end up eating whatever food is most convenient. Most of the time, that’s not the healthiest choice.
Try making meal prep a part of your Sunday routine. This is where you can do all the “heavy lifting”—washing fruits, cutting vegetables, cooking meat or fish and maybe even baking a healthy dessert. Then each night, you can portion out what you’ve made for the week for work the next day. This can be something like a salad or roasted veggie bowl for lunch. Snacks can include a veggie-like carrots, an apple, and nuts. Chia-seed pudding is a good breakfast that can be made the night before. If you’re more of a smoothie person, you can just throw washed fruits and veggies into a blender in the AM and take the smoothie to go. When you get home from work, your veggies will already be chopped and ready to cook. And guess what? It really doesn’t take THAT much time. Maybe 20 to 30 minutes on Sunday and 5 to10 minutes each evening.
Check the ingredients in your packaged foods
Even though a brand may be advertising something as healthy, it doesn’t mean it is. There are so many misleading labels on our food packages nowadays. Instead of going by the marketing labels, check the ingredients. Look for foods with real ingredients that you recognize. If you don’t recognize something, research it online to see what you would be consuming. You’ll also want to look out for foods with sneaky added sugars. These sugars creep into items like dressings, sauces, and even chips.
Eat before going to a party or happy hour
Eating before you are going somewhere TO eat may seem like a weird hack, but some people find that it works. When you go somewhere hungry, you may be more likely to eat the first thing available or gorge on the high-calorie appetizers. Having a healthy snack or something small beforehand can limit the amount you eat. For example, you may be more likely to pass on the bread when going out to dinner or avoid chips at a party.
Another tip is to eat a meal before going to see baseball games, shopping at the mall or to a concern. These places usually lack healthy options or, if they have them, they are way overpriced. Eating beforehand can stop you from simply grabbing something simply out of convenience. And it can save you money as well.
Change your snacking choices
The last thing you want to do is feel deprived of the snacks you love. Finding healthier versions of these snacks can be a game changer. Let’s use crackers as an example. Instead of avoiding those altogether, look for clean brands (Simple Mills) that you can pair with hummus.
Peanut butter is another favorite. An alternative could be sliced apples and almond butter or a date stuffed with almond butter and topped off with coconut.
Changing your eating habits doesn’t necessarily mean skipping dessert. Who doesn’t love having a sweet treat after dinner? There are some great recipes with real ingredients that can be found through simple Google searches and even Instagram. Try searching terms like “refined sugar-free cookies” or “paleo banana bread.”
Some good dessert recipes include gluten-free pumpkin bread and chocolate chip tahini cookies For those who don’t have time to bake for the week but have a chocolate craving, try buying a cleaner chocolate brand like Hu Chocolate (found at Whole Foods) to munch on after dinner.
If you’re on the go, nuts are an easy snack to pack and take with you.
Changing your eating habits takes time and the one thing you don’t want to do is deprive yourself. This is not sustainable and can lead to falling back into old unhealthy habits. By making a few small changes, you can build your way to better eating patterns and an overall healthy lifestyle.