What’s the one thing that holds most people back from getting healthier?
It isn’t a small budget, disliking kale, hating the gym, or not knowing how to cook.
The answer I hear time and time again is lack of time.
At least, that’s what most people believe.
The truth is, “lack of time” is just an over-simplified answer that hides the real obstacle.
The actual reason we struggle to maintain healthy eating habits is our perception that healthy living is this troublesome and tedious transformation that requires a million changes.
The real reason is overwhelm.
The perception that living healthier is complicated and demanding is what makes us feel we just don’t have the time.
But what if our perception changed?
Uncomplicate Healthy Living
Getting healthier doesn’t need to be this big, cumbersome, and tedious process.
Unlike what you may see on Instagram or magazines, eating and living healthier doesn’t require you to book a yoga retreat halfway around the world, make complicated fresh meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with trendy ingredients you’ve never heard of, or show up to the gym every day.
You only have to do one thing:
Start Where You Are
Instead of worrying about overhauling your lifestyle in one day, start by making small but significant changes that contribute to a healthier you.
The time you spend procrastinating to start a healthier diet because it’s “too much work”, is time you can spend making simple, small, and almost effortless healthier choices that go a long way.
You don’t have to start out big, you just have to start.
These are 10 small and effective eating habits you can pick up today to get healthier (without having to drop everything else in your life):
1. Satisfy your cravings with crunchy veggies and berries
If you’re a fan of snacking, it may seem damn near impossible to give up salty and crunchy chips, pretzels, cookies, and other soul-comforting snacks.
But you don’t have to.
Studies show that snacks contribute to nutrient intake and better diet quality.
This study found that eating breakfast, lunch, dinner and 1 to 2 snacks per day increased the intake of several micronutrients, except cholesterol, vitamin B6 and sodium.
You don’t have to kill your snacking habit, but you can make it healthier for you by swapping processed foods with nourishing and delish whole foods that are completely snackable.
If you like crunchy and savory snacks, eat this:
- Roasted chickpeas
- Carrots, red pepper, or celery with hummus
- Kale chips
- Roasted cauliflower (aka cauliflower popcorn)
- Air popped popcorn (avoid the store-bought version)
- Baked sweet potato fries
If you have a sweet tooth, eat this:
- All berries: all types of berries, and particularly blueberries, are low in sugar and high in antioxidants
- Homemade smoothie pops
- Strawberry chia jam and nut butter on whole wheat toast
- Strawberry overnight oats
- DIY trail mix: nuts of your choice, dark chocolate pieces, and a few raisins
- Fruit pops dipped in dark chocolate
2. Trick yourself into snacking less
If you’ve ever eaten a full bag of chips or a pizza by yourself (no judging here) – don’t worry, you’re not some kind of monster.
Our brains are wired in a way that it’s hard for us to stop eating when there’s plenty of food in sight.
Studies suggest that eating is an automatic behavior.
The more we see, the more we grab, and the more we eat.
Our food environment can simply make us eat more without us realizing.
Fortunately, there’s a simple solution: Portion your snacks in small containers and put the rest away. As simple as that.
Like the saying goes: Out of sight, out of mind.
When snacks are out of your immediate attention and away from your reach, you don’t have the option to overeat.
Next time you go into the kitchen for a snack, serve yourself a portion, and leave the rest in the kitchen – don’t bring it with you.
3. Drink water on autopilot
Unlike snacks, you want to keep water with you as often as you can.
Drinking more water is one of the easiest things you can do to boost your health quickly.
Evidence shows it improves physical performance when exercising, helps maintain cognition performance and alertness, improves gastrointestinal transit, improves kidney function, keeps your skin healthy, and maintains a healthy blood pressure, blood volume, and heart rate.
The easiest way to make a habit out of drinking plenty of water is to make it automatic.
Personally, I’ve found that keeping a 0.5-liter jar of water (that I refill 2-3 times per day) at my desk helps me stay hydrated.
Here’s what you can try:
- Find a glass or metal container you love (ditch plastic), use it exclusively to drink water and get in the habit of taking it with you wherever you go. That way you’ll associate that bottle with water intake every time you see it, which will work as a reminder, and after a short while of carrying it around it will become second nature to keep it with you.
- Mark your bottle with specific times (eg. 10 am, 11 am, 12 pm), so you remember to drink water at those times and manage to finish it by the end of the day.
- If you don’t want or can’t mark your bottle, set reminders on your phone or desktop to drink every one or two hours. If you’re just getting in the habit of drinking more water, reminders are a great way to get you started and kick in that automatic behavior. After a week you probably won’t need the reminders anymore.
4. Drink your greens
You’ve probably seen everyone and their mother drinking green smoothies by now, and for a good reason.
Green smoothies are a stupidly simple and delicious way to enjoy all the nutrients in plants that we’d struggle to get if they were, for example, only in salad form.
You can easily pack 3-4 cups of greens in a single glass before the day even begins.
I like to think of green smoothies as a fast lane to a happy + healthy body.
To get the most benefits out of your green smoothies, use more veggies and fewer fruits.
Here’s one of my favorite green smoothie recipes:
- 3 cups of spinach
- 1 cup of mango
- 1 banana
- 1/2 avocado
- 1 tbsp flaxseed meal
- Blend everything together and enjoy!
Pro tip: mango is a star ingredient that makes all green smoothies taste great.
5. Listen to what your body needs
One of the main reasons people have harmful eating habits is the lack of attention to what their body is telling them.
Does this sound familiar?
You’re in the computer typing away, and you start to feel hungry, but you ignore it for a while because you’re too busy with your work. Then, when you realize it, you’re so hungry that you end up having a ridiculously large portion and eat more than you intended.
Or maybe you’re served a large portion at a restaurant, and you eat until you feel satisfied, but you don’t stop there. You continue eating even though you’re full because you don’t want to seem rude or waste food. Then you feel heavy, bloated, and uncomfortably full afterward.
It’s not always easy to listen to what your body needs, but it can make a world of difference in how you feel.
When you make the conscious effort to pause and listen to what your body is telling you – whether you’re satisfied or hungry – you can make a healthier decision for yourself.
If you’re feeling hungry, be self-loving enough to take a break and nourish your body.
If you’re feeling satisfied, don’t be afraid to take leftovers home and put them in the fridge.
When you act accordingly to what your body is telling you, you’ll feel lighter and happier.
6. Savor your meals
A simple way to listen to your body is eating with awareness and without distractions.
When you eat at the table with your loved ones – instead of in front of the TV or at your desk – you’ll be more focused on your meal and how it makes you feel.
Sure, sometimes we like to just kick back and have pasta while binge-watching Netflix – but eating at the table when you can will help you be more mindful about your body cues.
Evidence suggests that people who eat while distracted (such as when watching television or playing a game), tend to eat larger portions because it’s more difficult to pay attention to physiological satiety cues.
In this study, women who ate a dessert while distracted reported feeling less satisfied with their food and a higher desire to keep on eating than non-distracted participants.
Entertainment pulls away our focus and makes it hard to notice whether we feel satisfied or hungry.
Try to enjoy distraction-free meals with your partner or family more often, and when you do eat in front the tv, serve yourself a moderate portion to avoid overeating.
7. Meal plan like you mean it
Raise your hand if you’ve ever been personally victimized by the stress of not knowing what to cook for dinner.
Personally, half of the week I’m too busy to get in the kitchen at night and cook an elaborate dinner – so meal planning is a life saver.
Meal planning and prepping on the weekend will save you from the dreaded “what’s for dinner?” question because you’ll have fresh and delicious food waiting for you in the fridge.
Here are the basics of meal planning:
- Make a menu for the week with fun and easy recipes you’re actually excited to make. This will give you the motivation to follow through.
- Make a list of the ingredients you need for the recipes.
- Shop the ingredients.
- Cook all the recipes ahead of time on Sunday or Saturday, and store them in glass containers in the fridge.
- For foods that don’t keep well in the fridge for a week, such as roasted veggies, simply prep them (cut, dice, season), store in the fridge, and cook them on the day you’re going to eat them.
- Kick back and enjoy having finished a week’s worth of cooking in one day.
To learn more about how to meal prep like a boss, go here.
8. Don’t skip your meals
One of the most effortless things you can do for your health is to be regular with your eating times.
Skipping meals can make you hungry, cranky, moody, tired, and upset your stomach, especially if you have gastrointestinal conditions.
By eating regular meals, you stay alert, satisfied, and maintain a happy digestion.
There’s controversy on whether skipping meals can be harmful or helpful to your metabolism, but research finds that skipping meals can be harmful if you consume too many calories at once when you do eat.
This study found that people who consumed all the day’s calories in 1 large meal instead of 3 separate meals, exhibited higher levels of glucose levels and a delayed insulin response – factors that could lead to diabetes. They had higher levels of ghrelin as well, the “hunger” hormone.
In other words, it’s healthier for you to distribute your calorie intake throughout the day than to eat a high amount of calories at once.
If you do skip a meal, don’t overcompensate on your next meal by eating too much.
So, even if you are busy, make your eating schedule a priority.
9. Eat bacteria
The community of bacteria that lives in your gut is called the gut microflora or microbiota.
This collection of living organisms is incredibly important to your health because it participates in many important processes:
- Proper digestion
- Gastrointestinal health
- Mood regulation
- Immune system protection
Your gut health plays a central role in your overall health, and the best way to keep it thriving is by eating good bacteria, also called probiotics.
Probiotics keep your gut flora diverse and balanced so it can do its job.
Studies show that a disturbance in your gut microbiota (called dysbiosis), can lead to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria in your gut that can promote diseases like asthma, candida, celiac disease, type I diabetes, type II diabetes, HIV, Crohn’s disease, gastroenteritis, obesity, and arthritis.
The best way to get good bacteria is by taking a high-quality probiotic supplement that contains multiple strands and proper amounts of bacteria.
You can also get beneficial bacteria from fermented foods such a kombucha, kimchi, yogurt, natto, sauerkrat, and miso.
10. Wean off soda and sugary juices with sugarless (but flavorful) drinks
Sugary drinks are ubiquitous, so it can be a challenge to stop drinking them if you’re used to them, but it’s not impossible, and you’ll feel so much better when you do.
Evidence shows that soft drinks are the biggest contributor of added sugar in the U.S and a significant contributor to the obesity epidemic. They can also lead to type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Sodas and juices are loaded with sugar, which wreaks havoc on your system by skyrocketing your blood sugar levels, leading to insulin resistance and excess glucose – factors that contribute to type 2 diabetes.
High levels of blood sugar can alter your mood, make you jittery, and cause energy crashes.
Because the sugar from drinks is simple – which means it doesn’t come with fiber, fat, or protein that slow down its absorption – your body processes it a lot quicker and dumps it into your bloodstream in large amounts.
This causes a peak in blood sugar that makes you feel energetic.
Then, when the blood sugar drops quickly, you feel exhausted.
Instead of going cold turkey and drinking just water, you can replace soda and juices with healthier drinks:
- Flavored water: Cut up strawberries, mint, and orange, add them to a bottle filled with water, and keep it in the fridge for a couple of hours so the fruits can infuse the water. You’ll have a refreshing and flavorful drink. You can use any fruits you like, that is just my favorite combo. If you miss the fizziness of soda, you can do it with sparkling water instead.
- Kombucha: Kombucha is a fantastic way to get good bacteria for your gut and substitute soda. It has flavor, fizziness, and probiotics.
- Iced tea (the good kind): Making tasty iced tea is easier than you think. Just pour two cups of cold water over one large bag of tea (or preferably, a tbsp of loose leaf tea) and steep overnight. Then remove the tea bag (or drain the loose leaf), serve over ice and enjoy.
Make it as easy as possible
If you’ve been thinking about eating healthier but don’t know where or how to start, take the first step today by making different and simple choices.
For your next meal, eat without distractions and pay attention to when you’re satisfied.
Instead of soda, drink flavored water next time.
Before you sit at your desk, bring a bottle of water with you.
All those little choices we make daily are what make us healthy or unhealthy, not a big one-day transformation. Real transformation is on our daily habits.
By snacking on veggies and fruits, serving moderate portions, keeping snacks out of sight, keeping a bottle of water with you, drinking green smoothies, listening to your body, eating mindfully, meal planning, eating on schedule, consuming probiotics, and replacing sugary drinks, you’re doing wonders for your health.
Pick a healthy change and start today.