Are you looking to improve your health, lose weight, and start eating healthy, but overwhelmed with the amount of information available online?
Every day we are bombarded with healthy eating advertisements and testimonials on new healthy diets.
Keto, Paleo, Whole30, Carnivore…It is never ending.
For years I would jump diet to diet. After some success, inevitably I would fall back to my old habits and binge eating.
The good news is – Over the past 10 years I have learned a ton about how to build healthy eating habits and hacking your way to healthy food choices.
In this article, I am going to share the 6 most important habits for healthy eating that I have found over the past decade.
The 6 Most Important Habits for Healthy Eating
Habit 1: Learn to Cook
The cornerstone of healthy eating habits is simply learning how to cook.
If you know how to follow basic recipes and can make delicious meals at your house, eating a balanced diet is infinitely easier.
The great news is that cooking is both easy and fun. If you are able to read this article on healthy eating habits, you are able to follow a recipe and eat nutritious meals.
One of the largest barriers to cooking is having the right equipment and ingredients.
If I were learning to cook today, I would simply start with:
- Cast Iron Skillet (10-12 inch)
- Chef’s Knife (8 inch)
- Cutting Board (Plastic)
- Mixing Bowl
- Baking Sheet
- Large pot
To get started, focus on learning how to cook 3 great meals that you enjoy eating. By the time you have mastered these 3 recipes, you will be a better cook than the average person!
Habit 2: Meal Prep Sunday
In 2015, I randomly stumbled upon the idea of Meal Prep Sunday and this became a staple of my week.
Rather than deal with cooking and cleaning at every meal throughout the week, why not batch it into one day and do it all on Sunday?
The idea is pretty simple and takes about 2 hours on a Sunday:
- Plan: Come up with 3 meals made up of healthy foods for the week. Adjust the recipe to make enough to feed you for 3 meals each (making 9 total meals ahead of time)
- Grocery Shop: Buy the Ingredients
- Meal Prep: Follow the recipe, cook the 3 meals, and portion into glass or tupperware containers for the week
- Clean: Clean it all up
For starters, this takes literally 2 hours and takes care of all of your lunch and dinner for the week. This can be done with a movie or football game in the background.
The powerful part of Meal Prep Sunday is that all of your meals for lunch/dinner have already been portioned. The barrier to entry of healthy eating has been removed and it is actually easier than eating something else.
The reality is, when you are hungry you are going to take the least path of resistance and eat what is available to you. Rather than grabbing packaged foods or unhealthy foods with a bunch of saturated fat, you will have delicious meals with healthy fats available to eat immediately in your refrigerator.
I can promise you that if the food is cooked and in the refrigerator, you are going to eat it rather than bingeing on empty calories.
Meal Prep Sunday makes eating a healthy diet simple and is one of the most powerful healthy eating habits.
Habit 3: Empty House of Junk Foods
I’ve learned over the years that I am just as weak as anyone when it comes to willpower. If there is junk food in the house, you better believe I am going to eat it.
It’s almost like my mind plays tricks on my and I get food cravings for whatever is in the pantry in the afternoon.
The reality is, this is true for everyone. Willpower is a finite resource and at some point you are going give into the craving and make poor food choices.
The easiest was to get around this is to get rid of the junk food and alcohol in your house completely and create a positive eating environment.
Literally go to the pantry right now and throw it all away. This includes the packaged, foods, chocolate chip cookies, and all of the other junk.
Removing the junk food from your environment makes unhealthy eating hard. You will have to jump in your car and drive somewhere to fill that craving, which you most likely won’t actually do.
One of the simplest healthy eating habits is adjusting your environment and literally throwing away the bad foods that you binge eat.
Habit 5: Eat Enough Protein
People that are working out for performance should get between 0.8g and 1.2g of protein per pound of bodyweight.
One of the most basic mistakes people make when attempting to build healthy eating habits is simply not getting enough protein.
People fail at eating enough protein because it is something that you must plan out in advance and potentially supplement with.
For me, I focus on buying enough lean protein each week at the grocery store to last me 7-10 days. This is often a variety of different protein sources, but the bulk of my healthy diet consists of chicken breasts and lean ground beef (93/7 or higher).
The great thing about protein is that it is satiating, meaning if you eat the correct amount of protein you will not be hungry or deal with random food cravings.
When building healthy eating habits, most people should set a goal of eating 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.
Habit 5: Track Macros
As we get more serious about developing healthy eating habits and work towards getting to a healthy weight, learning how to track macros is the logical next step.
Tracking macros is simply keeping a log of what you eat throughout the day with a focus on overall calorie count and macronutrient breakdown.
This is definitely a more advanced habit, so if you are new to healthy eating habits, I would focus on the first 4 eating habits on this list.
So what are Macronutrients?
- Protein: Chicken, Red Meat, Oily fish, etc
- Carbohydrates: Fresh Fruit, Vegetables, Potatoes, Brown Rice, White Rice, Whole Grains
- Fat: Nuts, Olive Oil, Avocado, etc
How do we Track Macronutrients?
There are many apps available to track macros, but the easiest option is the MyFitnessPal app.
Each time you eat something, input into MyFitnessPal what you are eating and all of the macros will be tracked in the background
Habit 6: Be Lenient 1-2 Meals per Week
The habit that everyone loves..the CHEAT MEAL!
But wait – won’t I have trouble losing weight if I take a break from my diet once or twice a week?
The reality is, you need to focus on long term sustainable change rather than quick fixes. In order to build healthy eating habits, you need lifestyle change.
Part of this lifestyle change means having fun and enjoying yourself. You are not going to destroy your fitness by enjoying a cheat meal once or twice a week.
Focus on the 80/20 rule..Most of the time you should be dialed in on your nutrition plan, but there is wiggle room to have some fun a few times a week.
The hardest part is to not let the 80/20 rule turn into the 50/50 rule. Before you know it, you will be eating mindlessly and consuming way more calories than you realize (not to mention saturated fats, sodium intake, and trans fats).
To solve for this, I save my cheat meals for either Friday or Saturday night and I try not to go off the rails. This means on Saturday I am still eating a healthy breakfast, working out, and focusing on my overall health.
When it comes to dinner, I am a little more lenient and will have some pizza or a cheeseburger.
Setting Expectations for Healthy Eating Habits
If you are trying to build healthy eating habits, the #1 thing you should focus on is long term lifestyle change.
Sure – You can jump on a 4 or 8 week diet and see progress, but the sad reality is most people that do this see weight gain as soon as they stop.
If you want better health and to build healthy eating habits, you have to start with your daily habits (this truly is the secret).
Long term change comes from the small actions we take each day, so start by making small incremental changes for the long term.
If you want to improve your health, focus on building daily habits that can be sustained for the long term.
It will make a big difference in your life if you focus on the 6 Habits for Healthy eating, which are:
- Learn to Cook
- Meal prep Sunday (and develop a meal plan)
- Empty the House of Junk Foods
- Eat enough Protein (1g per pound of body weight)
- Track Macros
- 80/20 Rule
Developing these habits will lead to long term health, but will also result in sustained energy