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March 03, 2021 / Alena Kharlamenko, MS, RD, CDN

How to Eat Healthier (and Stick to It!)

Young woman chopping vegetables on wooden cutting board in sunlit kitchen.

The food we eat affects how well our bodies function, from our brain health to our digestion and immunity. It also impacts our longevity and risk of developing chronic diseases, which is just one of the reasons why you might want to eat healthier.

There’s never a wrong time to adopt healthier eating habits, so if you feel like you missed out on making New Year’s resolutions, don’t worry. You don’t have to wait until the new year, new month, or even the beginning of the week to start making healthy choices. And the best part is that it isn’t all-or-nothing. Even changing one aspect of your diet for the better will have a positive impact on your life. In fact, maintaining a consistent, healthy diet long-term has more health benefits than quick fixes or dieting. In this article, you’ll learn how to eat healthier, along with tips and tricks to make your positive changes stick for the long haul.

What Does a Healthy Diet Consist of?

If you’re wondering how to eat a healthier diet, start by looking at your plate. A healthy eating plate can serve as an easy-to-understand guide to building nutritious, balanced meals. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health recommends the following breakdown for creating a healthy eating plate:

What Are the Best Types of Foods to Maintain a Healthy Diet?

Now that you know what foods to incorporate into your plate and overall diet, you can have a better idea for how to stock your kitchen for easy-to-make, healthy pantry recipes. Here’s a brief list to get you started:

Tips for How to Eat Healthier

And now, for the real reason you’re here: tips on how to eat healthier. Our eating habits are shaped by so much more than the food around us, and our lifestyle choices can have a huge impact on the healthy choices we make. Find out the various ways you can help yourself eat healthier.

Tip #1: Be your own personal chef

Swap the restaurant dishes for homemade meals and you’ll feel the difference immediately. When you prepare your own food, you have more control over the quality of the ingredients, portion sizes, and nutritional value. It’s also more cost-effective and will save you money in the long run. It’s a common misconception that eating healthy is expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. You can eat clean on a budget by planning your meals, making a grocery list before you head to the store, and making food with ingredients you already have at home.

Instead of looking at cooking as a chore, make it fun. Is there a new recipe you’ve been wanting to try? Is there a restaurant meal you’ve always wanted to recreate at home? Now is your time to shine! Challenge yourself to get creative in the kitchen. And if you feel like you’re in a cooking rut, you can find inspiration on Instagram or TikTok, Pinterest, food blogs, cookbooks, or any of the many delicious recipes here on PlateJoy.

Tip #2: Have a plan

Just like with any goals you set in life, going into something with a plan is a sure way to achieve success. So why would it be any different when it comes to eating healthier? Planning your meals ahead of time can help you avoid stress and indecision when it comes to making healthy choices. By meal planning, you can be clear about what you’re going to eat and what food you should shop for too.

The one caveat here: be realistic. Do you have plans for dinner one night or a brunch on the weekend? Do you prefer takeout at the end of a long week? Is lunch provided at work? Make sure to take these factors into account in your meal plan. This will help ensure that you don’t plan meals you don’t actually anticipate eating and will help you reduce food waste and save money at the same time. Looking for where to start? Create your own custom meal plans and personalize your options with your goals in mind.

Tip #3: Stay hydrated

Good hydration is vital to health and can affect your energy levels, physical and mental health. Water aids digestion, cushions joints, and can help regulate body temperature, blood pressure, and heartbeat. Drinking more water can even contribute to an improvement in the quality of your diet. A 2016 study found that increased water consumption was linked with eating fewer calories and consuming fewer sugar-sweetened beverages, along with a reduced intake of saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar. If you’re motivated to improve your hydration, do yourself a favor and stick to mostly water or sparkling water instead of reaching for sugary drinks to keep your added sugar intake to a minimum.

Tip #4: Enjoy more fish

Another tip on how to eat healthier is to dish up more fish. The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings of fish, especially fatty fish, per week. While salmon might be the first thing that comes to mind, fatty fish also includes options like mackerel, herring, sardines, and albacore tuna. These fish are particularly high in the heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA.

Eating fish not only has heart health benefits, but research has shown that it is also linked with lower mortality from major causes like respiratory disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. Now, if you’re excited to start eating more fish but don’t know where to start, try making these Mediterranean tuna quinoa salad bowls or spicy salmon and butternut squash curry.

Tip #5: Ditch the all-or-nothing attitude

When it comes to healthy eating, a perfectionist approach can actually derail your health goals and cause more harm than good. Remember that it’s how you eat most of the time that truly matters. If you’re developing health-promoting eating habits and happen to eat a brownie or a slice of pizza, don’t fall into the trap of feeling guilty about it. Allow yourself to eat what you’re craving and lose the restriction mindset. This will help empower you to make nutritious choices most of the time and incorporate fun foods when you want them.

Tip #6: Enlist the support of others

Having a good support system can help you achieve your goals and ensure that your healthy habits stick. Making changes to your diet can sometimes be challenging, so having a go-to person when the going gets tough can help you in the long run. Whether it’s your partner, best friend, coworker, or family member, find someone (or two or three people!) who can help support you with your healthy eating goals.

A few ways to involve your support system include:

If you’re on the lookout for some more inspiration on how to get your coworkers involved, check out these healthy eating challenge ideas to get you started.

Tip #7: Boost your physical activity

Exercise is one of the most commonly suggested ways to improve health and wellness, and for good reason. Breaking a sweat has been shown to boost your mood, give you more energy, improve your gut health, and help you sleep better. Not only that, but exercise can even motivate you to eat healthier. A 2019 study of over 2600 adults found that a consistent exercise routine was linked with regulating food intake and making healthier food choices, such as eating more fruits and vegetables and less fried foods and soft drinks.

So, whether you enjoy walking outside, cycling indoors, or practicing yoga, find a form of exercise you enjoy and stay consistent with it.

Tip #8: Prioritize quality sleep

If you don’t think that sleep affects how you eat, think again. A 2013 study showed that people with sleep insufficiency actually ended up eating more than when they had sufficient sleep. Another study showed that sleep deprivation led to wanting more high-calorie foods than when people were well-rested. Think about it this way: calories from food provide energy and when you’re sleep-deprived, you’re likely lacking energy. To make up for that, your body looks for ways to give it more energy, this time in the form of calories.

So, if you want tips on how to eat healthier, I would be remiss not to recommend getting a good night of sleep. More specifically, the CDC recommends seven to nine hours of sleep each day for most adults.

The Takeaway

Making healthy choices isn’t always necessarily easy, and can be challenging at times. When instant gratification, ease, comfort, and convenience are at play, it’s important to remember the deeper reasons why you want to eat healthier. Is it to support your lifestyle, health, or energy levels? Whatever the reason, keep it front of mind to help you stay motivated.

And don’t forget - a healthy diet is just one way to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Proper hydration, good quality sleep, consistent exercise, and a solid support system play a role as well. Meal planning can also help you achieve your health and nutrition goals. Whether you’re looking for vegan or keto meal plans, PlateJoy’s meal planning services can help support you on your journey to eating a healthier diet.

Alena Kharlamenko, MS, RD, CDN
Registered Dietitian and Nutrition Consultant @ Alena Menko Nutrition

Alena Kharlamenko is the founder of Alena Menko Nutrition, a food and nutrition blog where she publishes healthful, plant-forward recipes and makes nutrition approachable with easily digestible information. She’s also passionate about gut health and is a Monash FODMAP-Trained Dietitian. When she's not cooking up a storm in the kitchen or behind her computer, she can be found exploring the vast culinary scene of NYC, traveling around the world, or hiking and spending time in nature. You can find Alena on Instagram @thebalancedbite or on Facebook @AlenaMenkoNutrition.

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