If you’re interested in healthy eating habits then it’s probably worth defining what a habit is. It’s actually a behaviour which is routinely repeated and is mostly done unconsciously. There’s been many studies which have tried to determine how long it takes before you can define a behaviour as a habit. It’s widely believed the time can range between 18 and 254 days with the average being 66 days.
This figure came from a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology after Phillippa Lally, a health researcher and her team looked into it. Behavioral psychology writer, James Clear wrote an excellent piece on this called How Long Does it Actually Take to Form a New Habit? (Backed by Science).
The first thing is probably mind set. You have to make the decision you’re going to change old habits and form new ones towards eating healthier. Take a look at your diet to see where improvements need to be made. What are your bad eating habits and what can you do to change them?
First Step to Healthy Eating Habits
Start with breakfast as that’s where the day begins. Many people don’t eat breakfast because they say they don’t have time in the morning. That’s rubbish of course! It’s more like the habit of staying in bed too long means you don’t give yourself enough time.
The old saying that breakfast is the most important meal of the day is true. You need to give your body energy to face the day, so having food first thing is important. If you’re the type of person who just doesn’t have time to eat in the morning, perhaps you need to look at your habit of staying in bed until panic time! The snooze button has a lot to answer for, well not the button itself but the fact that you keep using it.
Imagine a world without a snooze button, would you be late? Of course you wouldn’t. Make time in the morning to eat breakfast, get up twenty minutes earlier. Once you form the habit it’ll feel natural. Of course, you should have a healthy breakfast, something that will keep you going until lunchtime if possible.
The occasional not so healthy breakfast probably won’t hurt as long as it isn’t too often. If you really don’t have much time first thing, perhaps you could at least consider a protein bar.
Eating and Snacking
If you do need to eat between meals it shouldn’t be a problem depending on what you have. Fruit is a good option and not too filling. If you are feeling hungry have a little to eat, otherwise by the time you get to the next meal you may be really hungry and then you might eat too much to compensate.
You can add some fruit to your breakfast if you’re having a high fiber cereal, it’ll add a good flavor. Vegetables are also important, if possible have half your dinner plate filled with them. It’s been advised that we should eat five portions of fruit and vegetables each day to help maintain maximum health. If possible that should be three portions of vegetables and two of fruit.
Drinking plenty of water will also help as it’s surprising how filling it is. The Institute of Medicine reported that the average daily intake of fluids for women should be about 2.7 liters and 3.7 liters for men. That doesn’t all have to be just water but it is best. Our body is made up of about 60% water and drinking it will help to flush out toxins plus it’s also good for our body tissues.
Make Changes Slowly
It’s important to make any changes slowly or you could be setting yourself up to fail. Don’t make bad foods off limit to yourself to begin with, try cutting down on them. You know the saying, a little bit of what you fancy does you good. That’s not strictly true but there is some meaning in it.
Cut down on portion size. A lot of us were brought up to eat everything that’s put on the plate – and you’re not leaving the table until you do! Chances are that formed a bad habit of eating too much.
Portion sizes have tended to get bigger in recent years, particularly in restaurants, so if it’s in front of you, it all gets eaten. Smaller portions will be a good habit, after all if you do want some more, you can have a second helping if you need it. You might also consider serving your meals on a smaller plate as it’ll look full with smaller portions.
When to Eat
Smaller portions through the day should help with your healthy eating habits and if you can, avoid big heavy meals at night. Now that’s obviously difficult if you have a busy lifestyle and are out working all day.
Studies have shown that it’s better if you can do your eating around the times when you’re active and then give your body a long break until breakfast. It’s thought that may help to regulate your weight. If you do have to eat at night, the earlier the better and avoid after dinner snacks as they’re usually high in calories and not good before bedtime.
Cut Down Rather than Cut Out
Cut down on sugar and salt, you don’t have to cut them out completely, just have less of them. If you start to drink water rather than sugary drinks, that’ll be a start. If you have sugar in your tea or coffee, gradually cut it down and eventually right out.
Ask anyone who doesn’t take sugar in tea or coffee anymore and chances are they’ll tell you they’d find the taste awful if sugar was added. Buying unsweetened food will also help – you can add sugar, but you can’t take it away.
You can cut down on salt in the same way by avoiding processed foods as they usually contain a very high amount salt. Most foods have enough natural salt in them anyway and adding it might mean you’re getting too much. By slowly cutting back on salt and sugar you’ll change your taste buds without noticing too much difference.
Don’t Be a Couch Potato
Exercise is another important factor that goes hand in hand with healthy eating. If you go to the gym that’s great but as long as you’re getting at least some exercise it’ll be a part of changing your habits for the better. Walking is a really good exercise and isn’t like having to do a daily routine. Take a look at our article, Fun Workouts for some ideas on keeping fit.
If you do go for walking as your exercise of choice a fitness tracker can come in useful as it will count how many steps you’ve taken. You can use this to keep a check on how useful the walking is to you and you can gradually increase the amount of steps each time. You can also keep a check on how many calories you’ve burned off after each walk.
Just Get Started – it’ll soon be a Healthy Habit
We often form habits when we’re not paying attention, so they’re easily made, but changing them is another story. You’ll have to have the desire to change, but not just in your mind. You need to take action and stick at it. Take small steps, gradually introducing the changes. There’s a good chance you’ll slip a bit at some point, but don’t beat yourself up for it. Recognize it, regroup and carry on.
There’s so much conflicting information available that tells us how our lifestyle should be, but in the end it all comes down to you. You can get professional advice, you’ll know what’s good and bad for you, but it’s only you who can make the decision to change.
Once you’ve made the decision to change and form a new habit, then it’s about shifting your thinking and using some willpower. Allow yourself time, remember it takes an average of 66 days to form a new habit, keep at it and eventually healthy eating habits will be just the norm for you.