Sneha Sunny is a general physician who enjoys educating and spreading awareness through her writing.
I don't believe in hitting the gym every day to develop those perfect Instagramable abs. I don't believe that's a necessity. But I do believe in eating clean and being fit, so that I can stay healthy for as long as I live.
But eating healthy, and moreover, sticking to a healthy eating plan for a longer period of time can be very challenging. It's easy to say in theories, but practically it's pretty hard. Especially for someone who has been an unhealthy eater for a very long time.
I decided to practice more healthy habits last year, and my journey till now has been one roller-coaster. There were months where I did pretty good: ate healthily and was regularly working out. I lost a lot of weight by eating right (not less) and working out for 1-hour max 4-5 days a week.
But then there were months when I ate well but couldn't work out. Then sometimes I couldn't maintain doing either because of my work schedule. I'm sure a lot of you go through similar situations. After all, we're not perfect.
However, developing good habits doesn't require you to be perfect. It needs patience, repetition, and discipline. Prioritizing is important. It's like what they say: Nobody is too busy, it's just a matter of priority.
I'm only halfway through my journey. There's still a lot of road to cover, but I can say that I've learned quite a few things so far.
Experience, for sure, is the best teacher.
Here are some of the things that helped me stick to healthy eating.
1. Stop Buying Processed and Packed Foods
The trick is simple. You don’t buy, you don't eat.
Being a night owl I know how important a mid-night snack is. I had this bad habit of munching packed junk food at night. The chips that were meant for "once in a while snacking" were bought in the evening and disappear by night.
One day I completely ran out of them and didn't have time to buy more packs. But out of habit, when it was mid-night I felt crazy hungry, and I had to consider eating an apple that day as I didn't have anything else with me. I continued eating an apple every night for a few days and that eventually became a habit.
Now I snack only on fruits, and packed junk no longer suits my stomach (literally).
When I stopped eating packed foods I lost 6-7 lbs in a couple of months, without any other dietary changes or workout.
This was my first step to healthy eating.
2. Prepare Your Own Meals and Keep It Simple
You need to do two things:
Firstly, cook your food at home. Preparing your own meal actually reduces the appetite.
Secondly, make simple food that doesn’t require a fancy recipe or a long list of ingredients.
Now, let’s be real. We all are not a professional chef. It’s not necessary that we all enjoy cooking. Preparing a meal using rare seasonal herbs every single time is not practical.
Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Besides, sometimes you just want to grab something, especially when you are starving after a long day.
So just make a simple sandwich or simple pasta, using whatever spices that are available on your counter.
Don’t go real professional right at the beginning stage, because you will get demotivated just by the thought of going through that many steps to make a single dish.
3. Carry Homemade Food to Snack on at Work or School
Well, this is a no-brainer.
Packed food, no matter how healthy they claim they are, are unhealthy. They contain all sorts of unhealthy fats, artificial sweeteners, and preservatives.
Artificial sweeteners actually increase your sugar cravings. You might consume it thinking you are cutting down calories but at the end of the day you might end up eating more sugary stuff than usual. They are even linked with high blood pressure and heart diseases.
Preservatives, according to a study, can also have side effects, ranging from headaches, palpitations, allergies, to even cancer!
So you see, you are not choosing right if you are choosing packed food. Dump your habit of "grabbing something on the way".
Homemade foods are proven to be healthy; contains a balance of nutrients, contains less harmful fats and more healthy fats, minus preservatives.
Homemade snacks promotes weight loss. So buy some raw material and get started with something simple.
4. Make Small Changes and Keep Them Realistic
Let me put it this way.
Suppose you were previously eating 4000 calories per day, and now you've realized that you want to be healthy and decide that you will cut down the extra unnecessary calories. So you make a diet plan of 1000 calories per day.
Now, you see the problem here?
Okay, I'll guide you through it.
When you make dietary changes it puts a variety of changes in your body, both positive and negative. For example, when you cut down a lot of calories at once, you will feel hungry throughout the day. That is, apart from being moody and fatigued all the time.
Similarly, you are going to quit soon if you've never gone for a run before and try to pull off a 10 mile run on the very first day of your health plan. You most probably will end up with a pulled muscle. So, that's not good!
You are never going to get through your program if you don't give your body enough time to adapt. Give time to your body to slowly get used to the new settings. Cutting down large amount of calories at once will traumatize your metabolism. You don't want that. You need a healthy metabolism to support weight loss.
Therefore, make small changes at once. Don't go from 4000 calories to 1000 calories. Speaking from experience, you'll end up binge eating. So instead, start by cutting 200-300 calories at a time. This will help prevent the hunger, fatigue and, moodiness.
When it comes to exercise, start by going on a 30 min walk or run. Don't just start doing marathon right from the very first day.
Bring about one small habit change at a time. Maybe start by quitting alcohol and drink more water. This way you will be able to make all the new changes a habit.
And remember, it takes anywhere between 02-254 days for a behaviour to become a habit. So be patient.
5. Start the Diet and Exercise at the Same Time
Remember, when I told you to add one change at a time, like 10 seconds ago? So, this is the only exception to that rule.
According to a study conducted at Stanford in 2013, it was found that people who start exercising and make dietary changes together are likely to get better results as compared to those who start with either dietary change or workout individually.
In fact, changing only diet-- like what most people do-- may actually interfere with establishing a consistent exercise routine.
Psychologically if you see, you are more likely to care if you are putting a lot of efforts into something.
I started going to zumba classes back in February of 2018. During that time I became very conscious about what goes in my body and in what amount. Me going to the gym for any purpose was an achievement in itself because my old self could never imagine myself inside a gym following instructions. So when I did join, I felt it would be a complete insult to my efforts if I don't eat right. I started eating more fruits, and my choices in terms of food became very healthy.
It's best if you start the diet and exercise plans together, rather than individually.
According to the same research, the second best option is to start exercising first.
6. Follow a Diet That Has Foods That YOU like and Contains All MacroNutrients
This is important because if you'll force yourself to eat something you don't even like, you'll end up quitting very soon.
There are hundreds of different types of "diets" floating on the internet today. Honestly who knows what long term effect they put on our bodies. Most of the articles we read about them praise about the good effects. But what about the bad ones? Do these diets have any side-effects?
I believe in balanced eating. As long as you are keeping everything in moderation, you are good.
Some of these diet tell you do completely stop eating certain macronutrients, but the truth is your body needs them for its normal functioning. Each of the macronutrient (fat, protein and carbohydrates) have a specific role in our body, and there's a reason why a balanced diet chart always have all of them.
Also, an ideal food should be easily available and affordable. This is why I suggest you go for the things that are locally available to you.
This is the rule that I follow: if it's coming from the ground, it's healthy.
Go to the supermarket pick up some stuff that comes directly from the Earth; not processed, not packed but fresh. Prepare a simple dish (remember point number 2?) and enjoy the flavour. See whether you like it. Don't like it? No worries, there are plenty of healthy food out there to choose from. And yes, there's something available for everyone.
This is why it is important to try out different foods.
If you'll choose the things you like to eat your chances of sticking to healthy eating would be more.
7. Don't Starve Yourself
Starving yourself is the worst thing you can do to your body. It's plain cruel in my opinion.
Personal opinions aside, starving yourself actually is very harmful to your body.
When you starve yourself, your blood sugar levels fall down, and that leaves you craving for more. So when you do eat the next time, you overeat to compensate.
Starving also slows down your metabolism. This means, for sure you'll lose weight in short-term, but once you'll resume eating normally you will easily gain weight as more energy will be stored as fat in your body due to slowed down metabolism.
You will lose your muscle mass and you'll be fatigued all the time. You might even develop an eating disorder.
Other than this starvation can cause some serious health problems like headaches, low blood pressure, menstrual problems in females, constipation, dehydration, confusion, etc.
So overall, it's not a good idea to starve yourself to lose weight.
Eat everything, moderately, and workout. This is the key to a healthy life.
8. Practice Mindful Eating
What is mindful eating?
It simply means giving attention to your food. It's not just eating slow and chewing more like what most people believe.
I like to put it this way: mindful eating means to notice the texture, the flavour, and the realization that you are what you eat . Realization that your food is going to provide you nutrition and is going to make you healthy. Noticing how full you are after eating your food, and how good your food makes you feel throughout the day.
So yeah, it literally means to pay attention.
It has been proven that mindful eating can help you with weight loss.
Mindful eating was also found to be beneficial to control binge eating in a research.
Don't eat while watching TV or making a presentation. Sit down at your dining table, set up the mood and eat slowly.
It takes 20 minutes for your brain to register that you are full. Eating slow will help you eat exactly how much you need to eat and prevent overeating.
Mindful eating needs practice and patience, and in the world full of gadgets, self-control as well. Put your damn phone down for 20 minutes and eat with attention!
9. Know the Difference Between Hunger and Craving
It is very important to know when you are physically hungry and when it's just your emotions telling you to eat.
Why is it important? Because emotional eating can cause binging.
So, how to differentiate?
Hunger comes from the stomach. It's when your stomach feels empty. It will intensify over time and it will not go away if you wait for some time or do something else.
Cravings, on the other hand, come from the mouth. If you wait for some time, it will go away and the cravings will not intensify over time but the emotion to eat will.
When you go on and open up that packet of chips, ask yourself, am I really hungry? Where is the desire to eat coming from?
If you have difficulty in identifying, the simplest technique is to wait for 5-10 minutes, and put your attention to something else for a while, and see if it goes away. If yes then it was your taste buds calling you, if not then go feed something to your poor stomach.
If are able to differentiate these two and are able to control your cravings, you can declare yourself a pro in terms of healthy eating, because controlling yourself is the one thing which most of the people fail at.
10. Track Your Progress
What is the best thing in the world when you work hard? To see positive results. Isn't it?
How good did it felt when you got good grades in school? Or how amazing did it felt when your work got praised at your office and led you to a promotion?
Pretty good, huh!
The same thing applies here.
Use apps to monitor your progress, or include it in your bullet journal. Or maybe just use a simple diary or notebook. Write down from where you started, and where you've reached till date. How much weight you have lost and what healthy habits you successfully incorporated in your daily life.
Take advantage of your android phone, and click plenty of pictures from every angle possible.
Go back and see these notes and pictures once in a while to see how much you have progressed.
Believe me when I say this, there is no bigger motivational factor than a positive result.
Healthy living is not easy, at least for the beginners. Like I said before it needs patience, repetition, and discipline to continue having a healthy lifestyle, and it takes time and efforts for adopting good habits.
It's important that you try and give your 100%. Don't give in to your cravings, and workout regularly. And if you do fall out of healthy living sometimes, remember that tomorrow is always a new day to start over.
A healthy lifestyle starts with healthy choices. Are you making the right choices?
The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don't want, drink what you don't like, and do what you'd rather not.
- Harvard Health Publishing. (2011, February). Mindful eating - Harvard Health.
- Mills, S., Brown, H., Wrieden, W., White, M., & Adams, J. (2017). Frequency of eating home cooked meals and potential benefits for diet and health: cross-sectional analysis of a population-based cohort study. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 14(1).
- Sanjay, D., & Sharma. (2015). Food Preservatives and their harmful effects. International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications, 5(4).
- Shaikh-Lesko, R. (2013, April 21). Change diet, exercise habits at same time for best results, study says.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2018 Sneha Sunny
Caroline on June 15, 2020:
Thank you for this great article.
Sneha Sunny (author) from India on May 31, 2018:
Thank you for your kind words! I'm glad you found it informative. Also, I'm happy to know it made you laugh. Thanks for stopping by. :)
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 28, 2018:
I finally began a healthy eating plan about five years ago, and the key, for me, was in wanting to do it and staying committed.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 26, 2018:
Hard to believe that mine is the first comment. This is an excellent article about ways to gain or maintain good health by adopting good eating habits and exercising. I laughed at that last quote.