Creating healthier eating habits is all about taking it one day at a time. Balance is essential, as is going easy on ourselves with the knowledge that some days will be harder than others. What really counts is that we try our best to be consistent and to foster healthier eating choices where we can.
Eating regular and nutrient-dense meals that include foods from all the food groups – or as many as possible, helps ensure that your body and mind have enough fuel to power through the day.
Skipping meals, such as breakfast or lunch, may cause cravings later in the day or night, which could lead to over-indulgence or eating a larger meal than you intended. The same goes for crash dieting, if we deprive our bodies for too long, we are more likely to overindulge shortly afterwards.
Balanced meals and snacks that contain various food groups and all the macronutrients (protein, starch and fats) will leave you feeling fuller for longer. Eating whole foods that are nutrient-dense and minimally processed are less like to leave you feeling hungry long before your next meal. They are also more likely to be healthier, to contain more fibre, vitamins and minerals than heavily processed foods, and be less calorie-dense.
Each day, you should try to eat a combination of fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, eggs and dairy and meat. Balance and variety is an essential part of any diet.
A fibre-rich diet that includes eating at least two fruit and three vegetables daily is good for your gut microbiome and overall health and wellbeing.
Because it takes some time for our brains to register that our stomachs are full, eating your vegetables as a starter or first (in a plated meal) – when you are the most hungry – may help you get your daily dose of greens. It may also mean that you eat less of the other parts of your meal, which may not be as healthy or nutritious. Overall, this may help you eat fewer calories per meal and maintain a healthy weight.
Mindful eating is key to maintaining healthy eating behaviours and habits. Turn your meals into an occasion – set some time aside to eat and indulge in the flavours, textures and colours of your food.
Slowing down, chewing thoroughly and stepping away from your desk or other distractions like the television, computer or gaming console will help you focus on your food. When you eat slower, you feel fuller much faster, and might not even finish your whole meal. In fact, those who eat slower are more likely to eat less. It may take up to about 20 minutes for your brain to register the signals from your stomach that it is full. Eating slowly, or at a slower pace, is one easy way to help you maintain portion control, eat fewer calories per meal serving, and to ensure that you eat the correct amount of food or calories for your body, age and lifestyle.
Getting enough sleep leaves us feeling rested and ready for the day ahead. Often, when we haven’t had enough sleep, our body runs low on energy, which causes food cravings and may make us feel sleepy. More often than not, when we feel tired we crave foods and snacks that are nutrient-poor and higher in salt and sugar content. A lack of sleep also disrupts our appetite as we have been awake for longer and may feel the need to eat more or snack more frequently. Not only is sufficient sleep good for your mental and physical health, but it also helps you concentrate better and leads to increased productivity, while boosting immune function.
Cultivating healthier eating habits need not be hard, start with one (or the easiest) and build from there.