I’ve been thin most of my life (minus the freshman 15 in college), but I have definitely not always been healthy. I was addicted to sugar (my mantra was, “I never say no to cake”). I could not function without multiple cups of coffee. I ate cereal, sandwiches and pasta every day before realizing that gluten makes me tired and bloated.
In my mid-twenties I swung the other way and ate a super-strict paleo diet for several years. This taught me a lot about healthy eating, but ultimately I was following someone else’s rules instead of creating a diet and lifestyle that worked best for me. Plus, once I had a baby I wanted to spend less time in the kitchen.
These days I eat healthy, whole foods without spending hours every week in the kitchen the way I used to.
Here the top 9 tricks that have worked for me to eat healthier every day without blindly following someone else’s strict diet plan.
Swap one processed food per day for a whole food
(I’m defining a processed food as anything with a lot of added ingredients.) Swap fruit yogurt (tons of sugar) for plain yogurt with fresh or frozen fruit and a drizzle of honey. Swap a morning granola bar for an apple with natural peanut butter.
Stop calling yourself “good” or “bad” based on your food choices
Food is just food. Food can make you healthier or unhealthier, but it doesn’t make you a good person or a bad person. Stop saying, “I was so good at lunch, I had that salad” or “I was so bad last night, I had a third glass of wine.” When your food choices become just food choices again, instead of an indication of your worth, they will lose some of their power.
Find out your Tendency for habit change
Writer Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and Better than Before, created a framework for how we respond to inner and outer expectations. Once you know your Tendency, you can set up your own healthy eating routines accordingly. You can take the quiz to find out your Tendency here.
Don’t keep unhealthy foods in the house
I’m a sucker for ice cream, so I refuse to buy it at the grocery store. Instead, my family makes a weekend outing to a local ice cream place. If your roommate or partner has a stash of treats that you crave, corral them all into a single cabinet and consider it off-limits.
Ask your body this question, from life coach Susan Hyatt: What would feel like love?
Your body will not lie to you. Your body probably doesn’t want to eat a cheeseburger, fries, and a milkshake; it’s your brain that’s craving that. What feels like love to your body may be a bowl of soup and some hearty bread. It might be the leftover stew your partner made last night. Your body will tell you what will nourish it. So, ask your body: What would feel like love?
View food as fuel
Instead of viewing food as reward or punishment, view it as fuel for your life. The food you eat fuels exercise, work, parenting, creativity – whatever you want to create in your life. If you want to create something beautiful, fuel your body with beautiful food.
Be observant: notice how you feel in relation to what you eat
Does ice cream make you bloated? Do you always feel tired and foggy after lunch? Do you feel irritable at 10:00 AM when your coffee or sugar high crashes? Once you notice some patterns, try changing what you eat and see if you feel different.
A little treat goes a long way
When I was pregnant, I looked forward to one yummy dessert a week. I planned for it, I looked forward to it, and I enjoyed it. Savor your treats instead of scarfing them down. If pizza is your downfall, eat a salad first and limit yourself to one slice instead of 3.
Surround yourself with positive input about food
Follow farmers on Instagram so that your feed is filled with photos of luscious produce. Read articles and books about healthy living. Susan Hyatt’s Bare Daily is a great membership site that will provide personalized encouragement for whatever healthy changes you want to make. Melissa Hartwig’s Food Freedom Forever is a great book if you’ve struggled with yo-yo dieting that hasn’t worked.