No matter how much you want to commit to a healthy diet, it can be tough to get started, and even tougher to stick to it. All too often we find ourselves craving foods we've denied ourselves, or giving into temptations. Sometimes we feel so guilty or stressed we don't even enjoy those diversions from the healthy eating path.
Eating healthy can put a strain on our social and family relationships, if our friends, family, and colleagues don't share our commitment. Worse still, sometimes sticking to a healthy diet can seem so expensive or complicated it doesn’t seem worth the effort anymore.
Well, put that negativity aside. We’ve got eight great tips to help you find - and keep - the motivation to eat healthy. You don't have to avoid social activities, you don't have to give up your favorite foods, and you don't have to suffer or spend a lot of money. Instead, these tips will help you take control of your eating habits, and even make healthy eating fun!
Tip #1: Keep a food diary
It’s well established that keeping a diary of what you eat is one of the best ways to help you stay on track with a healthy diet. If you have to write down your food, you’ll think twice about having that cupcake from the office party, and you can’t ‘sneak’ any junk food snacks. You’ll also see if there are any patterns to what you eat that might be getting in the way of your plans to eat right. You could see if there are certain times of day when you break down and have some chocolate, if you are getting hungry between meals, or if you eat better during the working week or on your days off.
It’s also a really good way to find positive motivation in your eating habits too. Having a record of every day that you made good choices and stuck to a plan is going to provide you with some immediate satisfaction that you can eat healthily every day. If you’ve hit a few roadblocks, your food diary can show you that you’ve been able to get back on track!
Tip #2: Make A Meal Plan
If you can't find healthy food when you need a snack, or you come home from work tired and hungry and there’s nothing easy to prepare, you are more likely to take a shortcut and grab fast food or a take-out for immediate gratification. With a little planning though, you can make sure there is always a better choice handy!
Start with mapping out your main meals for the week. Take into account any change in your schedule - for example, is there a night when you will be working late and won't want to cook? Or do you have a busy weekend running errands and will need to eat on the go? Make sure your weekly meal plan matches what is actually happening in your schedule, and you’ll be much more likely to stick to it and not choose unhealthy shortcuts.
Use your plan to make a shopping list, and when you go to the grocery store, stick to it! Don't let yourself be swayed by special offers or tasty looking goodies that don't fit with your plan. When you get home, sort out your food when you put it away, so you can find exactly what you need each day, and keep your meal plan where you can see it, like on your fridge.
Tip #3: Prepare snacks ahead of time
Snacks are one of the easiest places to lose track of your healthy habits. You are most likely to snack when hunger pangs sneak up on you, you are bored or sick, or you are under stress. Many people find that they have a regular snacking pattern, like when that afternoon sleepiness hits them. Others snack at more random intervals. Understanding your snacking patterns will help you overcome them. We're not talking about not snacking at all - ‘grazing’ a little during the day is perfectly healthy if you nibble on the right foods!
Once you’ve planned your meals, look at your food diary and see what’s happening with your snacks. If you need to snack during the day - and that’s okay - make sure you have pre-prepared healthy options. Pre-cut raw veggies, tubs of berries, pre-measured and bagged nuts are all great, and by preparing them you can manage your portions. This way, you can easily snack without throwing your goals off track.
If you snack as a response to stress or fatigue, see if you can predict when you are likely to feel tired or anxious and have a healthy snack handy. Snacks that take some time to eat, or a bit awkward, are often best for these situations because they also keep your hands busy. Grapes still on the stem, pistachios still in the shells, anything that slows you down and gives you more to do are great snacks for stress or boredom snacking.
Tip #4: Have a Food Buddy
Chances are your friends, family and colleagues have a lot of influence on what you eat, and it may not be a positive influence. Frequent lunches out during the workweek, going for a drink after work, taking the family to the movies - all of these things may be great social activities, but they can wreak havoc on your food goals. Instead of denying yourself the opportunity to spend time with friends and family when you think it might tempt you away for healthy eating - or simply giving into temptation straying off your plans - try getting your friends and family on your healthy eating team.
The best way is if you have even a few friends who are also committed to healthy eating. They can help you feel okay about choosing the salad bar when everyone else is having pizza slices, or use their numbers to get colleagues to swap an after work trip to the bar for a game of frisbee once in a while.
Even if your friends and family don't share your passion for healthy eating, letting them know about your goals, and helping them understand why your health is important to you, can turn them into allies. Even a simple thing as a friend moving the bread sticks to the other end of the table when you are out for a meal, or just not offering you a handful of Raisinets at the movies can be a big help. If they know you don't see those actions as rude, but actually as really kind gestures, then they can keep a lot of temptations at bay!
If you are trying to lose weight or adapt to a food intolerance or allergy, a food buddy who shares your challenge with you can be a great motivator. You can turn to each other for support when cravings hit or you fall off the healthy eating wagon, and you can share healthy rewards when you’ve both had a week of eating well, like going to a spa together or to a game or a show.
Tip #5: Set Healthy Rewards
Having something to look forward to if you stay on track with your healthy eating goals is a great way to stay motivated. Being able to reward yourself with something special after a week, or a month, of good habits will not only help you feel good about what you've achieved, but it might keep you from cutting corners. If you set yourself a reward you really want, and you know if you have a sneaky candy bar you can't - in good faith - reward yourself, then you are more likely to shake off the craving and pass up the candy.
The rewards should not be unhealthy food. We'll talk about how the occasional indulgence can still fit into your plans, but it should never be a reward. That conditions your mind to think that you are withholding something yummy, rather than replacing it with something else just as tasty but also healthy!
Instead, your rewards should not have anything to do with food. It might be to buy something you’ve been saving for, but rewards don't have to be expensive. Taking a day off to spend at the beach, going to see your favorite sports team, or a trip to a spa or a massage are all great rewards that don't necessarily break the bank and don't involve food.
Tip #6: Have Fun With Food
Too often healthy eating is seen as all about denying ourselves the foods we really want to eat. That doesn't need to be the case at all. There are so many interesting, delicious food choices out there if you take the time to look for them. Healthy eating simply doesn't have to be about sacrifice.
Instead, if you are feeling frustrated with your healthy diet, or experiencing increasing cravings for salty, sugary, oily snacks, try shaking up your eating a bit. All too often it’s just that we’ve gotten in a rut with the foods we are choosing, dropping back to the same shopping list week after week. Spend a little time looking for some new healthy food ideas that can inspire you and keep you motivated.
Searching online for creative cookbook ideas is a great place to start. Subscribing to a healthy eating magazine can bring new ideas to your mailbox every month. Social media sites like Pinterest and Facebook are full of groups and ideas that can put the fun back in your meal plan.
If you find a recipe or idea that piques your interest, build it into your meal plan so you can look forward to shopping for, preparing, and of course tasting your new project. It can even be a great way to bring your food buddies into the mix - serve a new dish to your friends, or get your family to help you make the recipe.
Tip #7: Organize Your Kitchen
Not being able to find your healthy food, whether it's a quick snack, a leftover that’s still safe to eat, or the ingredients for a meal - is a sure way to send your eating plans off track. If you are tired, hungry, or in a hurry, it’s especially important that you find a good choice quickly so you don't sneak out for a takeout, order a pizza, or pop something into the microwave.
Set yourself a plan to get your kitchen under control. If you have the time and it works for you, take a day and get it all done at once. If that seems overwhelming, map out a plan to do just a few minutes each day. It will all fall into place faster than you think, and once your kitchen is under control you’ll be able to find what you need - and what’s good for you - quickly and easily.
Have some fun with organizing your kitchen too - this doesn't have to be a chore. Investing in some stylish storage containers (especially if you're like me and the lids to your containers are always missing) can make managing leftovers easy. I like to use different colored lids for each day I put something in the container and in the fridge. That way I know right away how long something's been in storage, so I know what to eat first!
Pretty baskets or a bowl for fresh fruit will keep healthy nibbles handy. A new set of knives, or just sharpening your old ones, will make preparing snacks or ingredients a lot more fun.
Tip #8: Don’t Cheat, Eat
At some point, even the most motivated healthy eaters give in to a temptation. Well, maybe not the most die-hard vegans, but the rest of us break from time to time. Instead of thinking of these slips as you falling off the healthy eating wagon, take charge of your cravings - don't wait for a craving to hit. Decide what foods you really want that don't typically fit a healthy eating plan, and schedule them in. If you know you are going to have macaroni and cheese on Saturday night, you'll be less likely to hit the pizza on Friday afternoon.
In other words, don't let yourself think of occasionally having some less-than-healthy foods as cheating. Instead, think of them as part of eating. But don't let yourself lose control of your goals.
Pick your favorite foods, the ones you really don't want to live without, and schedule them into your meal plan. At the same time, really take the time to enjoy them. With careful planning, you can control your portions, and look forward to some guilt-free favorites. If you schedule your treats, then you can take the time to sit down and appreciate them, rather than rushing them because you grabbed them in a hurry or because you were stressed. Chances are you’ll also find that your ‘special meals’ aren’t really all that unhealthy, as you’re avoiding impulse eating that typically leads to more salts and sugars.
We hope these eight tips will help you find - and keep – the motivation to eat healthy. You’ll see that they are also about taking control, not just of your diet but of how food fits into your life.
That's important to remember - eating healthy isn't just a good idea, it’s a lifestyle. It affects your work, social, and family relationships, your budget, and we all know how food can affect our emotions and our energy. Apply these tips to help you take charge of your eating in a way that it fits into a healthy, positive mindset, where food is not a problem or a challenge anymore.
Have you got tips or strategies that have helped you stick to a healthy diet or some favorite recipes? We’d love to hear them!