Healthy Eating

Overview

What is healthy eating?

Healthy eating is about balance, variety, and moderation. It means that you eat enough, but not too much, and that you eat a variety of foods that give you the nutrients you need to stay healthy. All foods, if you eat them in moderation, can be a part of healthy eating.

Why pay attention to what you eat?

Healthy eating will help you get the right balance of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. These nutrients keep your heart beating, your brain active, and your muscles working.

Healthy eating will help you feel your best and have plenty of energy. And it is one of the best things you can do to prevent and control many health problems, such as:

  • Heart disease.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Type 2 diabetes.
  • Some types of cancer.

How do you make healthy eating a habit?

A good first step in changing a habit is knowing why you want to change. Your reason for healthy eating is really important. If you do it because you want to, you are more likely to have success.

What makes you want to change how you eat? Do you:

  • Want to feel better and have more energy?
  • Want to improve your health?
  • Want to prevent or treat health problems, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes?
  • Have another reason for wanting to do this?

Whatever your reason, you may already know what areas you want to work on. Maybe you want to cut back on high-fat snacks or eat more high-fiber foods.

If you like, you can write down your reason for wanting to eat more healthy foods. You may have more than one.

How can you start eating in a healthier way?

If you're trying to eat in healthier ways, you may need to change some of your daily habits. But you don't need to make huge changes. Over time, small changes can make a big difference. So change your eating habits a little bit at a time.

For example:

  • Try switching from white rice to brown rice or white bread to whole-grain bread. Or drink water instead of high-sugar drinks.
  • Focus on adding healthy food to your diet, rather than just taking unhealthy foods away. For example, add vegetables to sandwiches or add fruit to yogurt and cereal.
  • Help yourself make healthy choices. Keep more healthy foods, like fruits and vegetables, at home. Put your snacks on a plate instead of eating from the package.

Where can you get support?

Your family and friends can help you change how you eat, but you also can get help from others. Maybe you could see if any neighbors or coworkers want to change how they eat. You could join a healthy-eating class or support group. Or you could look for online forums and chat rooms.

Getting Started

Healthy eating starts with learning new ways to eat, such as adding more fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and cutting back on foods that have a lot of fat, salt, and sugar.

You may be surprised at how easy it can be to eat healthy foods and how good it will make you feel. Healthy eating is not a diet. It means making changes you can live with and enjoy for the rest of your life.

Healthy eating is about balance, variety, and moderation.

Aim for balance

Having a well-balanced diet means that you eat enough, but not too much, and that food gives you the nutrients you need to stay healthy. So listen to your body. Eat when you're hungry. Stop when you feel satisfied.

On most days, try to eat from each food group. This means eating a variety of:

  • Whole grains, such as whole wheat breads and pastas.
  • Fruits and vegetables.
  • Dairy products, such as low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese.
  • Lean proteins, such as all types of fish, chicken without the skin, and beans.

Look for variety

Be adventurous. Choose different foods in each food group. For example, don't reach for an apple every time you choose a fruit. Eating a variety of foods each day will help you get all the nutrients you need.

Practice moderation

Don't have too much or too little of one thing. All foods, if eaten in moderation, can be part of healthy eating. Even sweets can be okay.

If your favorite foods are high in fat, salt, sugar, or calories, limit how often you eat them. Eat smaller servings, or look for healthy substitutes.

Getting started on healthier eating

If you're trying to eat in healthier ways, you may need to change some of your daily habits. But you don't need to make huge changes. Over time, small changes can make a big difference.

Here's how to get started.

  • Start slowly.

    Small changes are easier to make than big ones. So change your eating habits a little bit at a time. For example, try switching from white rice to brown rice or white bread to whole-grain bread. Or drink water instead of high-sugar drinks.

  • Add some healthy foods.

    Focus on adding healthy food to your diet, rather than just taking unhealthy foods away. For example, add vegetables to sandwiches or add fruit to yogurt and cereal.

  • Help yourself make healthy choices.
    • Keep more healthy foods, like fruits and vegetables, at home.
    • Pack a healthy lunch and snacks for work.
    • Have friends or family try a healthy meal with you.
    • Put your snacks on a plate instead of eating from the package.
    • Limit how often you eat out.
  • Try mindful eating.
    • Be aware of your hunger and respond to what your body tells you.
    • Try to include foods that you enjoy eating. They can be healthy or just something you like.
    • Fully enjoy the flavor, smell, texture, and color of your food.
    • Take your time when you eat.
    • Avoid distractions, such as screens or books, while you eat.

Learn more

Watch

Dealing With Barriers to Healthy Eating

One of the important steps in changing your eating habits is figuring out what your barriers are. A barrier is anything that causes you to slip up in your goal to make a lifestyle change. The best way to overcome barriers is to identify them ahead of time and have a backup plan to deal with them.

For example, lack of time is a common barrier to healthy eating. You may tell yourself that you're too busy or that you have more important things to do than shop for and make healthy meals.

What has stopped you from changing your eating habits in the past? What do you think might stop you in the future? Write down those reasons. Then for each of your reasons, write some ideas for how you could get around it.

Lack of time

When your life gets hectic, finding time to shop for fresh food or to prepare healthy meals can be hard.

It might help to think about your food choices in a different way. Start by trying to imagine a healthier you. And then come up with something small, something that works for you. After you've thought of an idea, it might help to write it down. Give it a try.

  1. Think about a food choice you've made when you were stressed or short on time.

    Let's say you stopped for a burger and fries. How did you feel afterwards? Were you disappointed in yourself? Or maybe you had low energy or just didn't feel your best.

  2. Now, think about making a healthier choice.

    Picture yourself making a fresh sandwich filled with tasty greens or other vegetables. How would you feel then? Would you feel proud of yourself for staying with your plan? Would you feel more energized? Feeling good about your choices may help you feel a little less stressed.

  3. Take a small easy step.

    Think about some small, convenient steps you can try this week.

  4. Make a commitment.

    Out of all of your steps, which one do you feel most confident about or ready to start? That commitment is a big first step toward healthier eating.

This is your commitment to yourself. Focusing on the benefits can help you make healthy eating a priority, even on your busiest days.

Learn more

Watch

Making Change a Habit

When you're trying to change your eating habits, you have a better chance of success if you make a plan. Key steps in a plan include:

Having your own reason.

Knowing why you want to make a change can help give you the motivation to succeed.

Setting goals you can reach.
  • A long-term goal is something big you'd like to work toward over time.
  • Short-term goals are the small steps that will help you reach your long-term goal.
Tracking your progress.

This helps you see how far you've come. Try using a notebook or a smartphone app to track your eating.

Preparing for slip-ups.

Plan ahead for things that might get in your way. You'll be better prepared to deal with them if they happen.

Getting support.

The more support you have, the easier it will be to change your eating habits. Ask friends and family for help and encouragement.

Have your own reason for healthier eating and set goals you can reach

Healthy eating isn't about strict diets or eating a certain food. And it's not about giving up all the foods you like. That may work for a while, but for most people it doesn't last.

Now might be a good time to explore some things you could do to eat in a healthier way. Start by thinking about your biggest reasons for wanting to eat healthier. It also helps to think of a small change that could work for you and that you'll enjoy.

  1. Find your reason.

    You probably know that healthy eating has lots of benefits, like making you feel better or giving your body what it needs. But to make lasting changes, it's helpful to find a reason for making the change that matters most to you.

    Maybe you want to feel healthier or have more energy. Or maybe you'd like to set a good example. Whatever your reason, it can help give you confidence. And your confidence can grow as you start to see the benefits.

  2. Think about what works for you.

    Changing daily habits isn't easy. So think about what's worked for you before. Maybe you're proud of a change you made in the past. Try to learn from your own strengths.

    It's okay to look to others for ideas or motivation too, if it helps. But try not to compare yourself to others too much. What works for someone else may not work for you.

  3. Plan to make it easy.

    What changes can you stay with over time? The key is to make healthy eating as simple as possible. You might think of it this way: Try to eat healthy foods in a moderate amount. You can do this by making small, daily changes that you enjoy.

    For example, you could try switching out an ingredient in a meal you like for something a little healthier.

    Maybe that means using a lighter (lower-calorie) salad dressing than you normally use. Or you could add some veggies or fruit to your favorite meal.

    You can try new things without giving up all your favorite foods.

Track your progress

When you're building new healthy-eating habits into your lifestyle, it helps to track what you do each day. Your food journal helps you see what works and what you might want to change.

Here are things you can track.

  • Track your foods.

    Write down what you ate at every meal including breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.

  • Track your challenges.

    Sample challenge: "I skipped lunch because I had a meeting."

  • Track your success.

    Sample success: "I had a high-fiber breakfast with fruit, whole grains, and protein. I didn't feel hungry until my morning snack 2 hours later."

  • Track your insights.

    Sample insight: "I've been having trouble fitting lunch into my schedule. I think I'll keep a few healthy frozen meals in the work freezer so I can be sure to eat lunch."

A daily food journal shows your patterns and habits that you want to keep or change.

Prepare for slip-ups

It's perfectly normal to try to change a habit, go along fine for a while, and then have a setback. Lots of people try and try again before they reach their goals.

What are the things that might cause a setback for you? If you have tried to change a habit before, think about what helped you and what got in your way.

By thinking about these barriers now, you can plan ahead for how to deal with them if they happen.

There will be times when you slip up and don't make your goal for the week. When that happens, don't get mad at yourself. Learn from the experience. Ask yourself what got in the way of reaching your goal. Positive thinking goes a long way when you're making lifestyle changes.

Get support

When you're making healthy eating changes, ask for support from friends and family. Let them know why healthy eating is important to you and what your challenges are. Ask a loved one to try new healthy meal ideas with you. Or simply ask for encouragement when you need it.

Support can come from lots of people. Your family and friends can help you change how you eat, but you also can get help from others. Here are some ways to find support.

  • Find a "food buddy."

    See if anyone in your neighborhood or at work wants to change how they eat. Many people find that having a partner or "food buddy" makes the change easier.

    Your food buddy can remind you how far you've come. He or she can support you when you're having a hard time following your eating plan. You and your buddy can talk about healthy recipes, ways to plan regular meals, and how to fit small amounts of your favorite foods into your food plan, for example.

  • Join a healthy-eating class or support group.

    People in these groups may have some of the same barriers that you have. A local hospital or other health facility may have a wellness center or support groups.

  • Look online.

    The Internet has many online forums and chat rooms for people who are trying to make changes in food choices. You can read and leave messages and chat online with others for support.

Learn more

Watch

Credits

Current as of: February 28, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.