Almost everyone would probably agree that sticking to a healthy diet is often a challenge. However, following a nutritious diet can help you to achieve and maintain both physical and mental health benefits. If you’re looking to completely overhaul your diet, or simply to add some healthier options to your current meal plans, consider these tips.
(1) Make the changes gradually. If you are trying to cut out soda consumption, for example, you don’t have to go straight from 4 sodas per day to nothing but water. Reduce from 4 to 2 initially, and add in a healthier option that you still can enjoy, like seltzer water or a lower-sugar sports/electrolyte drink.
(2) Be wary of advertisements and claims on labels. If something sounds like it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Just because a sugary cereal is saying that is now “whole grain,” that doesn’t make the marshmallows it also contains a healthy breakfast option. Learning to pay attention to the nutrition facts and ingredient lists on the labels is the best way to really know what that food item contains.
(3) If you are cutting out a food or beverage that you typically enjoy, try to re-frame it in order to focus less on what you are missing and more on what you are gaining—whether it’s the opportunity to try something new, or the money are you saving by no longer buying that soda or that marshmallow cereal.
(4) Turn the process into an adventure: try a new section of the grocery store or maybe a new grocery store altogether, to try to find new foods to support your healthy changes. Or seek out new recipes to try online. Or treat yourself to a new healthy cooking cookbook, which might help inspire you with its photos.
(5) Engage your family and friends in the process too. Keeping in line with making gradual changes, try your own version of “Meatless Mondays,” or “New Veggie Wednesdays” and turn it into a potluck or a dinner party.
(6) Utilize social media to keep you informed and inspired. Seek out healthy eating groups on Facebook, or follow nutritionists and health-focused chefs on Instagram.
(7) Plan ahead. If you’re going to be out running errands or putting in a long work day, have snacks that travel and store well so that you’re less tempted to run to the vending machine or to the fast food place when hunger strikes.
(8) When eating out, don’t be afraid to ask. Most eating establishments are now carrying healthier versions of items, or else you can make requests for substitutions. Even at our favorite local coffee shop, they now offer a vegan salad, oatmeal, and fruit, as well as “alternative milks” such as coconut, soy, or almond.
(9) Take advantage of experts in the field. There are several organizations that provide ongoing education and resources about healthy eating. NutritionFacts.org, Forks Over Knives, and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) are just a few examples.
(10) Think about why you are trying to eat healthier. Is it to have more energy? To help manage your weight? To set a good example for your significant other or your children? To make more animal-conscious choices (i.e., by eating vegetarian or vegan)? Keeping this motivation in mind will prove helpful when temptations strike or when you find yourself falling back into older patterns and habits.
About Jessica L. Langenhan, MD, MBA
Jessica Langenhan, MD, MBA, a Medical Director with Beacon Health Options, has provided patient care in various settings, including inpatient units, community clinics, and private practice. She has been certified in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and she has held clinical directorships with a focus on administrative protocols and program development. She received her M.D. from The George Washington University School of Medicine and her MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management. She completed her residency in Adult Psychiatry at UC Irvine Medical Center. She has also recently received her 200-hour certification as a yoga instructor. Interests include nutrition, physical fitness, vegan baking, reading, and travelling.