Knowing definitive steps to eating healthy makes achieving optimal health and wellness a little easier. With all the (sometimes conflicting) ideas and strategies out there, having a clear-cut plan on what and how to eat healthy can up your chances of making this major lifestyle change stick.
Your Eating Habits Matter
Having access to healthy food and maintaining an ironclad set of healthy eating habits may help you maintain a healthy weight, a healthy heart, and healthy bones.1
Whether it’s from controlling the amount of calories you consume, or because you’re fueling your body with more whole foods from a high-quality diet, good eating habits may also help get you down to a healthy weight.2
In addition, what you eat also impacts your mental health. Making sure your meals are fortified with the right vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and other nutrients helps support overall brain health.3 This means your moods and focus are greatly dependent on what you feed your body.
Finding The Right Diet
Now, there’s a lot of conventional wisdom spread online or by your well-meaning network of friends and family. It can be daunting and confusing to cut through all the noise around what it means to make and sustain a healthy diet that’s right for you.
With all the conflicting concepts, having a set of clear steps to eating healthy can help you make a plan (and stick to it).
Of course, you should always consult your doctor before making any major changes to your diet and eating habits, especially if you have any health concerns. You can also consult with a certified nutritionist for a tailor-fit diet plan if you have specific or unique needs that must be met.
But otherwise, this list of steps to eating healthy food can be a good place to start your journey to a healthier you.
Step 1: Determine How Many Calories You Should Be Consuming
Put simply, the calories you get from the food you eat make up the energy your body needs to survive and function. Every person has a specific number of calories they need each day in order to make sure their digestive system is functioning, their brains are working optimally, and that they’re able to perform physical movement.4
The general consensus is this: Eating less calories than you need can help create weight loss. But creating too much of a calorie deficit won’t be good for your body, either. Also, more important than how many calories you consume is the quality of the calories themselves. Where you get these calories from matters.5
So, whether your healthy eating habits are aimed towards weight loss or just to better your health generally, being aware of the importance of calories is a good place to start.
Computing Your Calories
Generally, men are advised to consume around 2,500 calories a day. Women are advised to target around 2,000.6 These numbers are subject to change based on age, current health, and fitness levels. But the general rule is to consume much less than this ballpark figure in order to lose weight.
There are many fitness apps and online calculators that can help you find that so-called magic number, but you may find it limiting (especially when it doesn’t take into account your fitness levels and other pertinent info). A good tip is to research the ideal number of calories you should be eating to reach your goal weight, and strive for that number instead.7 Being aware of your limit can help you control your portion sizes and space out your meals more effectively.
Similarly, rather than crunching the numbers, it may be in your best interest to look at where your calories are coming from, too. Because the nutrients you get from the same amount of calories between two foods can vastly differ.
Step 2: Eliminate Added Sugar And Processed Foods
Consuming a lot of added sugar and processed food is detrimental to your health. It could contribute to your risk of developing weight or blood sugar issues.8
You might be shocked to discover just how much sugar is hiding in your favorite foods — even the ones conventionally thought of as healthy. This is why any list of healthy eating tips includes limiting or even eliminating the sweet stuff. Here are some best practices:
- Choose fresh vegetables and fresh fruit over canned preserves, bottled juices from concentrate, or store-bought smoothies. Eating foods closest to their natural form is often healthiest.
- Cut down on your reliance on added sweeteners and artificial flavorings for your coffee, tea, and breakfast items, like oatmeal and pancakes.
- Stick to water instead of flavored beverages like iced tea and sodas.
- Learn how to read food labels to determine the sugar content of your packaged food items. There are a lot of names synonymous with added sugar. Knowing how to identify them among listed ingredients can really help you avoid it.9
Step 3: Try To Avoid (Or At Least Limit) Saturated Fat
Like sugar, a lot of the common food that forms your daily diet could be high in saturated fat. This is the type of fat that contributes to weight gain and potential heart problems.10
Saturated fat is present in a lot of animal products, so think about your red meat, dairy, and processed foods consumption. While experts say it’s fine to limit your intake of saturated fat to about 10 percent of your total calories per day, it’s best to consider all the various ways you can slowly cut down.
Since a lot of pantry staples contain saturated fat (think processed meats like bacon, burger patties, and dairy, like butter and milk), take the time to plan some substitutions or swaps. Find a cooking oil and bread spread that has little or less saturated fat (like olive oil), and rotate your proteins to include more lean chicken and fish (low or no saturated fat) instead of relying on your usual steaks and burgers.11
Step 3: Figure Out Stumbling Blocks To Forming Healthy Eating Habits
Aside from cutting down on sugar and saturated fat, it’s best to identify and isolate existing habits and behaviors that could be detrimental to your plan to eat properly. Start a food journal and list down what and how much you eat in a day. Come clean about your snacking, how much takeout food you order weekly, and how much food waste and spoilage you actually incur.
These insights may help you figure out if:
- You’re snacking on unhealthy stuff unnecessarily.
- What triggers your snacking habit — it could be boredom, force of habit, or even emotional eating.
- You don’t devote enough time to food planning and preparation.
- You don’t have enough time to eat or have access to proper meals.
Similarly, there are a lot of common bad habits that undermine healthy eating. Check this list and see if they apply to you, and think of ways to address the issues:
- Not packing a healthy lunch and relying on unhealthy options.
- Skipping meals or crash dieting.
- Eating too fast.
- Not measuring your portions properly.
- Snacking on convenience foods high in sugar and saturated fat.
- Drinking your calories in the form of sweet beverages.12
Step 4: Stock Up On Nutritious Ingredients
Now that you’ve addressed the negative habits that could be preventing you from eating healthy, it’s time to implement good strategies. One of these is making sure your refrigerator and pantry are stocked with healthy eating staples that constitute a well-balanced diet and learning simple but tasty ways to prepare them.
Some good ingredients to have on hand:
- Eggs, beans, nuts, and legumes (good sources of protein if you’re avoiding red meat)
- Green leafy vegetables (most vegetables contain a ton of essential nutrients, plus very versatile — meaning easy to cook with)
- Canned fish, like tuna and salmon
- Greek yogurt
- Nut butters13
These are all healthy ingredients that are versatile enough to form the building blocks of a hearty breakfast, a simple lunch, and lots of snacks you can bring with you to work.
Make Healthy Eating A Priority
Healthy eating habits aren’t formed overnight but armed with the right strategy outlined above, some good old willpower (and of course, your doctor’s go-ahead), you’re well on your way to eating healthy this year.