In today’s vibrant and fast-paced world, sticking to a healthy diet is sometimes easier said than done. Most of us know the feeling.
For starters, just sifting through the array of healthy diets to figure out which one is best for you can be a contest.
But even after you’ve picked out a meal plan or eating pattern, maintaining that healthy diet day in and day out has its fair share of difficulties.
The good news is, no matter how tough it might feel some days, sticking to a healthy diet is possible, and it doesn’t even mean that you have to give up your favorite foods.
There are tons of tips and tricks that make eating healthy easier, and most of them are simple and free.
Here are 09 of our favorite ways to stick to a healthy diet.
1. Eat a diet rich in whole foods
There are many ways to follow a healthy diet, and no two nutritious diets look exactly the same.
Still, most successful, long-term healthy diets have at least one thing in common: They’re rich in whole foods.
Whole foods are those that have been minimally processed, such as:
- whole grains
- nuts and seeds
- eggs and dairy
- fresh animal proteins
Whole foods are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that support a healthy gut and reduce the risk of chronic diseases like obesity and diabetes.
On the contrary, ultra-processed foods like chips, candy, and sodas are more likely to promote inflammation and encourage chronic diseases.
2. Learn the right diet for you
It’s not uncommon to hear about diets described as being the “best” or “healthiest.”
Yet, no one diet works best for everyone.
We each live in a unique set of circumstances influenced by genetics, our health, work schedules, family, cultural traditions, and more.
No single diet can perfectly account or accommodate for so many individual factors.
In the end, the “best” healthy diet for you is the one that makes you feel your best and that you can stick with for the long haul.
3. Surround yourself with healthy foods
In recent years, researchers have found that people around the world are eating more ultra-processed foods than ever before.
Ultra-processed foods are those that have been made by industrial processing. They tend to contain additives like sweeteners, thickeners, stabilizers, and other ingredients that make the foods last longer and taste better.
Some examples of ultra-processed foods include fast food, frozen dinners, and sugar-sweetened juices and sodas.
Not only are ultra-processed foods tempting due to their flavors, but even being in the presence of these types of foods can affect brain chemistry and behavior.
You can help avoid the temptation to eat these foods by keeping them out of your house, limiting your access to them at home.
On the other hand, keeping your fridge and pantry stocked with nutrient-dense, whole foods is a great way to keep your healthy diet in mind and encourage yourself to have those nutritious foods more often.
4. Keep filling snacks on hand
Often, it’s the moments when we find ourselves feeling extra hungry and tempted with a tasty treat that we forget about the healthy eating plans we had in mind for the day.
Though craving foods from time to time is completely normal, researchers have found that in moments of extreme hunger, our cravings tend to get even stronger.
Keeping nutritious and filling snacks on hand is a great way to keep cravings at bay until your next full meal.
Snacks that are high in protein and fiber can help keep you feeling full.
Some examples are:
- fresh fruits and veggies
- hard-boiled eggs
- mixed nuts and nut butters
- hummus or roasted chickpeas
- whole grain crackers
5. Savor your favorite foods
Have you ever felt like there’s one food you just can’t live without? Fortunately, you don’t have to!
Depriving yourself of the foods you love and crave can actually end up backfiring.
In the short term, it tends to make your cravings for those foods even stronger, especially for people who are more susceptible to food cravings in general.
Some research has even found that feeling satisfied rather than deprived while dieting is linked to a higher rate of weight loss.
Rather than completely giving up the less nutritious foods that you love, try having them only occasionally while practicing portion control.
6. Avoid an all-or-nothing approach
A common barrier people encounter while working toward improving their diets is falling into an all-or-nothing mindset.
An all-or-nothing thought might sound something like this: “Well, I’ve already ruined my diet for the day by having that piece of cake at the office party earlier, so I might as well forget my plans to cook at home tonight and grab takeout instead.”
These types of thoughts usually look at situations in black and white, or as “good” and “bad.”
Instead, try to look at each individual food choice you make during a day as its own. One less-than-ideal choice doesn’t have to snowball into a full day’s worth of similar choices.
In fact, having high self-esteem and confidence in your ability to make healthy choices tends to be associated with better health outcomes, so don’t let one small stumble bring you down.
7. Plan ahead for eating out
For many people, potlucks, happy hour, and dining out are something to look forward to. But for someone struggling to stick to a new or healthy diet, they can feel like another hurdle to overcome.
Restaurant meals tend to be higher in calories, sodium, sugar, fat, and ultra-processed foods than meals cooked at home, and they often come in large serving sizes.
Plus, in social settings, our own food choices are heavily influenced by the choices of the people around us.
Simply put, it’s easy to overdo it when eating out, and maintaining a healthy diet while eating out can be very challenging.
Still, there are ways to make it easier. Having a strategy in mind before you get to a restaurant or gathering can go a long way toward easing your mind and helping you feel prepared to navigate eating out.
Here are a few of our favorite tips for eating out:
- Research the menu before you go.
- Eat a piece of fruit ahead of time.
- Stay hydrated during the meal.
- Order your meal first.
- Take your time and savor your meal.
08. Monitor your progress
Self-monitoring is an easy and effective way to keep track of your progress on your own.
It can be as simple as keeping a journal of the foods you eat each day or as detailed as using a smartphone or web-based app that tracks the details of your daily calorie intake, weight, activity levels, and more.
When self-monitoring your progress, remember that weight loss and gain are not the only ways to measure how far you’ve come. In some cases, they might not be the best way to measure progress either.
People choose to follow healthy diets for all types of different reasons. For example, you might choose to focus on how your dietary changes have affected your physical or mental health, rather than how much weight you’ve lost.
09. Be patient with yourself
Sticking to a healthier diet is a marathon, not a sprint.
Learning the best diet for yourself takes trial and error, and some days will be easier than others, so try not to feel discouraged if it takes longer than you’d like for your new habits to set in.
As long as you set realistic expectations for yourself, remain committed, and continue to reevaluate your progress, your diet is likely to keep moving in a positive direction.