If you have ever felt confused or even intimidated by how to start eating healthy, you are not alone. There are thousands of articles, books, and infinite resources of information on the topic—all of which can be overwhelming off the bat! However, the reality is: Healthy eating is simple, easy, and approachable. All you need to do is stay consistent with daily habits, make informed decisions, and manage your self-control.
New Dr. Olson‘s Review Notes appear at the end of the story.
Take the first steps towards this positive lifestyle change by implementing the following strategies to make eating healthy easier over time:
1. Throw out junk food
The first step to take on a healthy eating journey is to throw out all the junk food in your home. By doing this, you eradicate the temptation of giving in to a craving. Did you know that some studies have suggested that junk food alters the brain1 in obesity-prone animals and humans in a way that is similar to what occurs in addiction? Processed food is purposely manufactured that way to encourage you to keep buying it (think added sugar and salt)!
2. Be realistic and specific to your goals
Ask yourself what goals you personally want to accomplish. Is it reducing the consumption of red meat, learning how to count calories to lose a certain amount of weight, improving your current physical condition, or something else?
Be realistic about how you plan to make every goal a reality. Even accomplishing short-term goals are a milestone—don’t discredit them. Start small by replacing all your drinks with water as opposed to soda. Or begin eating vegetables with every meal for one week. Short-term goals act as the foundation for your long-term ones. Lifestyle changes don’t happen overnight. They take time and are never instantly gratified.
3. Prepare a grocery list ahead of time
Never go to the grocery store when you’re hungry or lacking a prepared list. Doing so makes you more prone to buying things impulsively and spending money on unhealthy items. Before you make your next trip, have a healthy food list ready in your pocket. Then stick to the corners and edges of the grocery store. That’s where the produce and raw proteins are sold. Everything else in middle aisles is mainly comprised of processed and canned foods and snacks usually with too much sugar or salt. Save yourself the temptation by completely avoiding this whole area.
Be sure to read the labels on the food before you buy. Nutrition labels provide information about calories, macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, fats), and percent of daily values supplied per portion of the food. Changes to the labels in 2021 have made them easier to use.2 including preservatives and other additives (such as coloring dyes) in descending order of predominance. By reading the ingredient list, you can see whether or not something has been processed with chemicals as opposed to being prepared organically or sustainably.
4. Prep meals ahead of time
Meal prepping3 helps you establish and solidify what your diet plan will look like for the week. This removes the factor of feeling inclined to grab take-out during a work break or buying a meal on a whim. Moreover, meal prepping saves you time and money!
Dedicate a day to cooking an entire week’s worth of meals. You’ll never have to come home worrying about what to eat for dinner again or feel tight on time because there’s always a delicious and wholesome meal waiting for you in the fridge.
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To take meal prepping one step further, always pre-chop fruits and vegetables once they’re taken home from the grocery store and package them in containers.
5. Be mindful of how you prepare food
Just because a type of food is healthy, such as green beans or a piece of salmon, it does not mean it stays nutritional if prepared in an unhealthy way. Avoid frying your food in oil, deep-frying them, or heavily salting them. These elements add excess amounts of sodium and fat to your foods. These additions automatically counter the food’s nutritional value. Instead, sauté, bake, or grill meals using non-stick pans4 with a small amount of cooking spray.
Additionally, healthy meals don’t need to be bland and dreadful to eat. There are numerous spice combinations you can use on food that is even more delicious than salt and actually have beneficial properties. For example, ginger is a common spice in Asian cuisine that has been shown to have multiple bioactive activities including anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and anti-nausea.5
6. Simplify your meal recipes
A recipe, like healthy eating, does not have to be complicated. The best basic rule to follow is to eat a plate comprised only of vegetables, whole grains, a healthy protein, and fruits—according to studies illustrated on a chart from Harvard’s School of Public Health6. For example, a meal that satisfies this recommendation is a plate of grilled chicken, steamed vegetables, whole grain rice, and a small fruit bowl, and a glass of water on the side.
7. Snack healthy throughout the day
To keep your appetite at bay and raise you up from moments of low energy, eat healthy snacks throughout the day. Unsalted nuts make great snacks7 that not only taste good but are also filling.
If you’re a diabetic, snacking is especially beneficial since it helps to regulate your blood sugar level. Snacking also prevents large spikes in blood sugar levels from occurring which may reduce your likelihood of developing cardiovascular issues, obesity, and Type 2 diabetes in the long run.
8. Practice the healthy eating mindset
A healthy eating mindset is defined by being mindful of your eating habits and decisions. Focusing on the flavor and texture of the food you eat enhances your enjoyment of the meal. It also slows down eating which allows food cravings to pass and helps you eat less.8
Having a healthy mindset includes practicing self-control in the face of junk food and understanding why it’s better to make a healthy decision rather than an unhealthy one.
9. Satisfy your cravings with wholesome alternatives
Whenever you crave something salty or sweet, seek out healthy alternatives. For example, if you have the urge to eat a pack of cookies, opt for eating fruit instead. If you have savory cravings, a burger or any other greasy food may emotionally satisfy them. But don’t give in because filling up on those foods often ends up making you feel worse.
Dip carrot sticks or celery stalks in homemade chickpea spread to satisfy the craving and get a fiber bonus. Try olive spread smeared on whole-grain crackers to calm a craving for salty food. Be creative, but always choose fresh, whole foods over highly processed foods with added salt or sugar.
10. Exercise in conjunction with eating healthy
Last but not least, add exercise to a healthy diet habit to reap the full benefits of a wholesome lifestyle. Daily exercise may also help maintain your weight and reduce your chances of developing chronic diseases. It also boosts mood and improves your overall emotional and sense of physical well-being.9 Exercising also increases your self-awareness of how food affects you over time, which is another factor that impacts potential food choices.
The bottom line
Once you have the right strategies in mind to tackle healthy eating and take action to follow them, staying healthy will become easier over time. Don’t give up on trying to live a healthy lifestyle. If mistakes happen along the way, remember that it’s normal, and don’t be discouraged. What really matters at the end of the day is being intentional with this lifestyle change to improve your well-being and overall quality of life.
In conclusion, stay consistent with healthy eating habits and remember that a positive and dedicated attitude towards healthy living is just important as eating clean.
Related Content: Healthy Eating Tips for Nurses & Doctors Who Work Long Hours
- Max F Oginsky, Paulette B Goforth, Cameron W Nobile, et al. Eating ‘Junk-Food’ Produces Rapid and Long-Lasting Increases in NAc CP-AMPA Receptors: Implications for Enhanced Cue-Induced Motivation and Food Addiction, Neuropsychopharmacology.
Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label. Food, and Drug Administration, current 02/10/21
Meal Prep: A Helpful Healthy Eating Strategy. Harvard School of Public Health, The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/2017/03/20/meal-prep-planning/
Healthy cooking tips. Better Health Channel. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/healthy-cooking-tips
Bioactive Compounds and Bioactivities of Ginger ( Zingiber officinale Roscoe). PubMed, 2019 May 30;8(6):185. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31151279/
Healthy Eating Plate, Harvard School of Public Health, The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-eating-plate/
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31958750/ Bioactives and health benefits of nuts and dried fruits. PubMed, 2020 Jun 1;314:126192.
- Heidi Godman, Contributor. 11 Benefits of Mindful Eating, U.S. News, Health. 2019 Oct. https://health.usnews.com/wellness/food/articles/benefits-of-mindful-eating
Neuroscience of exercise: from neurobiology mechanisms to mental health. Neuropsychobiology PubMed 2013;68(1):1-14.
Medical Reviewer Notes by Dr. Olson
First, congratulations to Trevor for being clean and sober. I work as a psychiatric consultant in a substance use disorder clinic and I know it isn’t always easy, but one of the things that helps with recovery is to replace old ways of trying to feel good with new ones that are healthier. I support all of his recommendations.
I would add one thing: keeping a food diary. I use the app “My Fitness Pal,” although there are many others. It really gives me some accountability and as I review my daily behavior, it impacts the food choices (e.g. a bedtime snack) and keeps me on track. It also allows for increasing your daily calorie allowance and that helps with motivation when I just don’t feel like going to the gym or taking my dog for a longer walk.
Trevor McDonald is a freelance content writer who has a passion for writing. He's written a variety of education, travel, health, and lifestyle articles for many different companies and is currently writing for Sober Nation.
Trevor graduated from Penn State University in 2012 with a degree in Communications and subsequently moved to California to pursue his dream freelance writing, which he's been doing for close to 8 years.
He is a member of the American Communication Association and Editorial Freelancers Association. You can find articles by Trevor on New Life Outlook, SOS Safety Magazine, The Self Improvement Blog, and many more.
In his free time, you can find Trevor running with his dog, playing his guitar or outside enjoying about any type of fitness activity imaginable.