But as simple as this sounds, for many people, it just isn't that easy. If you have grown up eating junk food regularly, eating out all the time, or not having healthy, home-cooked meals readily available, eating healthy probably just doesn't come naturally to you. But this doesn't mean it's impossible. It simply means you might have to work a little bit harder at first to build good eating habits into your daily life.
First of all, let's clear up a couple of myths.
Eating healthy doesn't mean giving up all of your favorite foods! It doesn't mean you have go vegan, give up ice cream, or stop enjoying those holiday chocolate martinis with friends.
What it does mean is learning a bit about the food you eat - both what's in it, and where it comes from. It means becoming more conscious about your food choices. And it means learning to cook at least some of your own meals for yourself. If you can embrace these three things, you will automatically start eating much healthier.
But just for kicks, here are 5 more healthy eating rules from registered dietician, Abby Langer, that will help you build healthier food habits, while still enjoying what you eat!
Yep - you heard right! Rule #1 is to eat dessert! :-)
We humans were born with a sweet tooth (in fact, it's literally encoded in our DNA), so it's no wonder why so many of us struggle with consumption of too many sweets. Unfortunately, many diets try to deny sweet things altogether, which leads most dieters to "fall off the bandwagon" sooner or later, and give up on eating healthy as "too hard."
In fact, eating sweets isn't the end of the world. As long as you eat healthy in general, and watch your portion sizes, there's nothing wrong with having a little something sweet if that's what you're craving.
While counting calories can be counterproductive for some, you may want to at least watch that your sweets intake doesn't exceed a certain calorie level that you can set for yourself (Abby recommends around 200 calories per day). This can keep you from going overboard, and will also lead you to choose lower calorie sweets which may be healthier for you (such as fruit or dark chocolate).
If you do end up indulging more than you should, first of all, don't beat yourself up about it (see Rule #5), and just try to make sure it doesn't happen too often.
Rule #2: Have One Meal Every Day That is Mostly Vegetables
While you don't have to cut out meat entirely, research has shown that people that consume more vegetables than meat are much healthier and live longer. Personally, I grew up with multiple vegetables on the table at almost every meal, so no meal is complete to me without at least one good helping of veggies! You should be eating at least 5-6 servings of vegetables per day (some estimates say as high as 9-12 servings), which means at least 2 1/2 cups of veggies per day - but more is better.
If you have trouble fitting veggies into your meals, try making one meal per day mostly vegetables. One easy way to do this is to eat a big salad every day. You can add other ingredients to your salad, like healthy fats (olives, avocado, etc.), cheeses, beans, or even meat, but make the bulk of your salad veggies, and eat this as a main meal (it works great for lunch). That way, even if you don't have enough veggies at your other meals, you'll know you already had most of your vegetable servings for the day.
Other ideas for consuming more veggies include snacks consisting of raw vegetables of your choice (cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, celery, red and green peppers, radishes, or whatever you like) with dip, vegetable stir fry packed with all kinds of veggies, or grilled or oven-roasted vegetables.
If you enjoy smoothies, you can also make vegetable smoothies with carrots, beets, spinach, kale, or other vegetables. Personally, I like my smoothies with fruit, and don't care for the veggie kind, so if you don't either, don't try to force yourself to drink them. Remember that the key to making healthy eating an ongoing part of your lifestyle is to enjoy it!
Rule #3: Be Prepared
Okay, here's where you have to do a little prep work. But once you make it part of your routine, it will get easier. Preparing your own meals is a necessity if you're going to eat healthy. Being able to control and know exactly what you're eating is imperative. This means you are going to need to learn to cook for yourself (we've got some tips on our cooking page, and also lots of healthy, delicious, and easy recipes over on our health blog). Get used to bringing food with you wherever you go. Have lunch and healthy snacks on hand at work, at home, and on the go. This way, when you get hungry, you won't be tempted by poor food choices. (Plus you'll save a ton of money over eating out!)
Salads (see Tip #2 above) make great portable lunches, and they're super fast and easy to throw together in the morning. Just toss some pre-washed greens with diced avocado, feta cheese, olives, canned tuna or garbanzo beans, or whatever other toppings you like into a jar or other container, drizzle on some olive oil and vinegar, and you have an almost instant healthy lunch that will go with you wherever you go!
You can also do the prep work ahead of time, and make your lunches the night before. My husband and I like to portion out our leftovers from dinner into lunch-sized Tupperware containers before putting them in the fridge. In the morning, we just grab one and go!
Rule #4: Keep a Lid On the Drinks
You probably know that soda (yes, even "diet") is a major culprit in weight gain and related health issues, but other drinks aren't innocent either. If you're drinking a lot of anything other than water, you're probably not doing your health any favors. For one thing, beverages don't usually register as food to your body, so you can drink a whole lot of something that's full of calories, without even realizing it. Also, since most drinks don't contain a lot of nutrients, your body absorbs the calories from sugary drinks very quickly. This means you're consuming a lot of calories in a short amount of time, and really not getting much (if any) nutritional value in the bargain.
If you drink smoothies, make them yourself, don't have them too often, and make sure they include protein and fiber to mitigate the impact of juice or fruit on your blood sugar. Adding ingredients like chia seeds or flax seeds will help with both of these, and will fill you up better as well.
If you drink alcohol, limit consumption to no more than one drink per day, and be aware that most drinks - even wine - do contain calories which add up.
Rule #5: Don't Feel Guilty About What You Eat
Did you binge on Halloween candy last night? Don't beat yourself up about it! Whether you ate something you "shouldn't," had more than you intended to, or downed an extra drink or two, feeling guilty about your food choices can actually be counter productive. If you do over-indulge, rather than feeling guilty about it and then using that as an excuse to scrap your healthy eating plan altogether, just give yourself a pass, remind yourself that one slip won't make a difference to your health or your weight, and go right back to eating healthy.
It's okay to have an extra treat once in a while, though hopefully, if you're following all of the rules above, you won't be feeling deprived anyway. In fact, by making healthy eating a part of your lifestyle, the improved health, energy, and vitality that you feel may just be reward enough!
To your health,