Eating a well-balanced diet keeps both your body and mind healthy. In this article, you’ll find out how to eat healthily, why it’s challenging and how to stick to a healthy diet.
Why is Healthy Eating Important?
In order to function properly, your body needs the right kind of fuel. A healthy diet allows you to maintain concentration, improves your memory, increases your mental well-being, and boosts your energy, which translates into more productivity and living a more fulfilling life as a result. Additionally, including a variety of healthy foods in your diet protects you from developing diseases such as anemia or diabetes.
A healthy diet is also said to prevent cardiovascular diseases which are currently one of the top causes of deaths in the U.S.  Similarly, eating food rich in antioxidants can reduce the risk of developing cancer by preventing free radicals damage. In addition, making sure your diet isn’t filled with too many carbohydrates and fats allows you to maintain a healthy weight.
As you can see, eating healthily comes with a number of benefits. So why do most people prefer eating processed foods and experience cravings?
Why is Healthy Eating So Difficult and Why Do We Have Cravings?
Eating snacks triggers our brain’s reward system that causes our bodies to release dopamine – the feel-good hormone. So, the next time you smell the food that caused a positive reaction in your brain, you might start salivating and experience cravings. Another reason unhealthy foods are so addictive is also that when we feel down, we tend to turn to food that can make us feel better in the moment, which creates an emotional dependence on snacks. As a result, whenever you struggle to cope you might use snacks to improve your mood and further strengthen that association.
Additionally, it seems that the texture of food matters as much as the taste does. While vegetables and fruits have a bland consistency, salty snacks are crispy. In fact, crisp producers spend a lot of time researching the perfect amount of crunch that feels great in your mouth.
As for sweet snacks, chocolate, ice cream, and such create a salivary response that allows them to cover more of your taste buds, resulting in a more pleasant feeling. Similarly, the level of carbonation in soda matters – when it’s flat, it no longer tastes so nice.
How to Make Your Diet Healthier
The key to being healthy is eating a balanced diet and giving your body all the nutrients, it needs. Here’s what changes you can make in your diet:
- Include a lot of fruits and vegetables to eat a balanced diet
It's recommended that you eat between five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables per day. And the good news is, it doesn’t matter if they’re fresh. Frozen fruits and vegetables are as healthy, and you can keep them in your fridge for as long as you like. The easiest way to make sure you eat enough every day is to include them in your every meal. For example, you can have a banana for breakfast, a portion of broccoli for lunch and a celery stick for supper.
- Eat more fish to improve healthy eating
Oily fish is rich in 3-omega fats which improve blood circulation, prevent blood clots, lower blood pressure, and keep your heart healthy. These types of fish include salmon, sardines, trout, herring, pilchards, and mackerel. Just remember that it’s best to stay away from smoked fish because it can contain too much salt.
- Cut down on saturated fat
Unsaturated fat isn’t harmful but saturated fat is as it is associated with heightened levels of cholesterol, which can cause heart and circulatory diseases. You should have no more than 20-30 g of saturated fat per day. The food that contains it include pies, cheese, cakes, biscuits, fatty meat such as lamb chops, processed meats such as sausages, butter, cream, lard and so on. Instead, you should opt for eating unsaturated fat found in nuts, avocado, oils, seeds, and fish.
- Cut down on sugar
Known as ‘the white death’ sugar is the worst ingredient you can include in your diet. Eating a lot of sugar isn’t only linked to weight gain but can also make you feel constantly tired. You should try to reduce the intake of sugar found in fizzy drinks, sweets, and cereals and replace it with sugar found in honey or fruits.
- Reduce your salt intake
Bad news for crisps lovers; you shouldn’t eat more than 6g of salt per day as it can raise your blood pressure and put you at risk of developing heart disease. Unfortunately, salt is now added to most types of food so you might have to read the labels to make sure it doesn’t exceed your daily intake.
- Include starchy carbohydrates
Starchy carbohydrates include food such as pasta, rice, bread, or potatoes and are high in fiber, calcium, vitamin B and iron. Including them in a diet is especially important for people whose goal is weight loss as fiber can make you feel full and prevent you from overeating.
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How to Stick to Your New Diet
Whether you’re an emotional eater or just have a sweet tooth, sticking to a healthy diet isn’t easy. Here are a few tips that will help you achieve that:
- Don’t make it easy for yourself to eat unhealthy food
One of the reasons people prefer ready-made meals is because they save them a lot of time – all you must do is leave the food in a microwave for a few minutes and voila, the dinner is ready. If you tend to rely on processed food because your lifestyle is busy, this habit might be particularly difficult to break but you can make some small changes that will help you eat fewer snacks.
The key is tricking your brain into thinking that eating healthily is the best option. So instead of putting unhealthy snacks on the display, try to keep them out of sight and fill your cupboard with healthier options instead. When you’re in a hurry next time, you’ll be more likely to grab a banana than search for that bag of crisps you hid somewhere at the back.
- Ask yourself if you’re hungry or just bored
Many people eat out of boredom, not because they’re genuinely hungry, which can lead to overeating and developing unhealthy habits. The next time you want to eat another serving of fries, ask yourself, am I hungry? Focus on any physical sensations you might be experiencing and imagine that you’re about to eat broccoli. If you don’t feel like eating it, chances are you aren’t really hungry.
- Learn how to recognize your emotions
If you’re an emotional eater, you tend to turn to food whenever you experience negative emotions, be it anger, hurt or frustration. If you want to avoid relying on food to deal with what’s going on in your life, you must learn how to recognize your emotions first. To become more mindful and aware of your mental state, set aside some time to meditate every day. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, you’ll be able to tell if you want to eat out of hunger or emotions next time.
- Find alternatives to improving your mood with food
On a similar note, the best way to break a harmful habit is to replace it with a new one. Think of how you can improve your mood without negatively impacting your health. For example, whenever you feel down you might reach out to your friends for support, watch your favorite TV show or go for a walk.
- Remind yourself of the benefits of healthy eating
When it comes to healthy eating and a balanced diet, benefits outweigh everything else. Sure, watching a movie without popcorn might not be as satisfying but at least you won’t suffer from heart disease in the future. Some people find it helpful to write down the benefits of healthy eating and leave it somewhere you can look at it every day. This might make you think twice before you give in to cravings next time.
- Track your healthy eating progress
Describing your progress is a way to measure it and once you’ve realized how far you’ve come, you’ll have more motivation to keep going. You can keep a journal where you describe your previous and new habits, as well as meals you ate during the week. But be careful not to get too obsessed with it – there’s nothing wrong with having a snack here and there if it’s in moderation.
- Don’t give in to the craving straight away
Wait for a few minutes and drink a glass of water to see if it goes away. A lot of times, cravings are just your body’s way of letting you know that you’re dehydrated. You can also brush your teeth to kill your craving in an instant.
- Plan your meals in advance
Not having a specific plan will make you more likely to grab unhealthy snacks when it turns out you left cooking until the last moment. Try to prepare a weekly meal plan and only buy food that you need when shopping.
- Ditch all-or-nothing thinking
Many people might give up dieting because they expect instant results, while changes come gradually. Similarly, you should not put yourself under pressure to only eat healthy food from now on because it’s not realistic and setting goals this ambitious will only make you give up the moment you give in to a craving.
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- Replace snacks with healthy alternatives
Healthy snacks will never taste as good as unhealthy snacks, but they don’t have to be totally tasteless either. Fruits such as berries or bananas are great chocolate alternatives and nuts are a great go-to snack when you crave something salty. You can also find vegetable sticks that taste like standard crisps but are a bit healthier.
- Consider using exercise to your advantage
This one depends on whether you’re one of the people who crave snacks after physical exertion or not. If you fall into the second category, you should increase the amount of exercise in your routine.
Long term changes take time, and you can’t expect to change your approach straight away. But if you start adding more and more healthy foods to your diet, you’re already making huge progress. Congratulate yourself on even the smallest effort.
How to Have a Healthier Diet: Easy Tips and Tricks
There are also small changes you can make in the way you eat food and cope with cravings:
- Use a smaller plate to improve healthy eating
A lot of people tend to overeat because they use big plates. Investing in smaller plates will help you keep your weight at bay and make you feel equally satisfied. Our brains can’t tell much difference between small or big portions if the plate is fully covered with food.
- Use a smaller glass
Similarly, whenever you feel like drinking soda, pour it into a small glass. It’s better to fill a small glass than drink half of a big glass.
- Keep your snacks out of the package
Our brains are naturally more attracted to brighter colors so you should leave crisps in a bowl, where it's less likely to grab your attention. As for snacks like chocolate, you can wrap it in a tin foil and kill two birds with one stone – you’ll be less likely to notice it and more likely to grab something that it’s left on display and can be eaten straight away.
- Increase your water intake
When you keep yourself hydrated and have a glass of water before meals, you’ll feel fuller and are less likely to experience cravings.
- Eat a variety of meals to improve your healthy eating
Try to add new flavors to your diet to make sure you satisfy your brain’s need for novelty. You could for example experiment with spices.
About the Contributor
Joanna Cakala is a multilingual writer based in the UK. Combining a degree in Psychology and passion for writing, she started her freelance journey penning articles on mental health.
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