Eating healthy can help you lose weight and have more energy.
It can also improve your mood and reduce your risk of disease.
Yet despite all these benefits, maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle can be difficult.
Here are 14 ways to stick to a healthy diet.
1. Start with Realistic Expectations
Eating a nutritious diet has many benefits, including potential weight loss.
However, it’s important to set realistic expectations.
For example, if you pressure yourself to lose weight too quickly, your plan to achieve better health may backfire.
Researchers found that obese people who expected to lose a lot of weight were more likely to drop out of a weight loss program within 6–12 months (1).
On the other hand, setting a more realistic and achievable goal can keep you from getting discouraged and may even lead to greater weight loss.
Bottom Line: Having realistic expectations increases your chances of maintaining healthy lifestyle behaviors.
2. Think About What Really Motivates You
Remembering why you’re making healthy choices can help you stay on course.
It can be helpful to make a list of the specific reasons why you want to get healthier.
Keep this list handy, and refer to it when you feel you need a reminder.
Bottom Line: When you’re tempted to indulge in unhealthy behaviors, remembering what motivates you can help you stay on track.
3. Keep Unhealthy Foods out of the House
It’s really tough to eat healthy if you’re always surrounded by junk foods.
If other family members want to keep these foods around, at least keep them hidden, rather than on counter tops.
The saying “out of sight, out of mind” definitely applies here.
Having food on display in various areas of the house has been linked to obesity and an increased consumption of unhealthy foods (2, 3).
Bottom Line: Keeping unhealthy foods out of the house, or at least out of sight, can increase your chances of staying on track.
4. Don’t Have an “All or Nothing” Approach
A major roadblock to achieving a healthy diet and lifestyle is “black and white” thinking.
One common scenario is that you have a few unhealthy appetizers at a party and decide that your diet is ruined for the day, and proceed to overindulge in unhealthy foods.
Instead of considering the day “ruined,” try putting the past behind you and choosing healthy, unprocessed foods that contain protein for the remainder of the party.
This will help you feel full and satisfied, rather than stuffed and frustrated.
A few off-plan choices make very little difference in the long run, as long as you balance them with healthy foods.
Bottom Line: Rejecting the urge to judge your day as “good” or “bad” can prevent you from overeating and making poor choices.
5. Carry Healthy Snacks
Sticking to a healthy diet can be tough when you’re away from home for extended periods of time.
Unfortunately, when you get too hungry, you may end up grabbing whatever is available.
This is is often processed food, which doesn’t really satisfy hunger and isn’t good for you in the long run.
Having healthy high-protein snacks on hand can help keep your appetite in check until you’re able to have a full meal (4).
Some examples of good, portable snacks are almonds, peanuts and jerky. Also consider filling a small cooler with hard-boiled eggs, cheese or Greek yogurt.
Bottom Line: Take healthy high-protein snacks when you’re on the road or travelling in case you’re unable to eat a meal for several hours.
6. Change Diet and Exercise at the Same Time
You may have heard you shouldn’t change too many things at once when trying to improve your health. In general, this is good advice.
However, research has shown that when you make both dietary and physical activity changes at the same time, the results tend to reinforce each other.
In a study of 200 people, the group that began eating a healthy diet and exercising at the same time found it easier to maintain these behaviors than those who started with either diet or exercise
alone and then added the other later (5).
Bottom Line: Simultaneously changing the way you eat and exercise increases your chances of healthy lifestyle success.
7. Have a Game Plan Before Eating Out
Trying to maintain a healthy diet while eating out can be very challenging.
Fortunately, there are ways to make it easier.
It’s best to have a strategy in place before you get to the restaurant, rather than being overwhelmed once you get there.
Here are 20 clever tips to eat healthy when eating out.
Bottom Line: Having a plan before eating out can help you make healthier food choices.
8. Don’t Let Traveling Derail You
Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, being outside of familiar territory can make it difficult to stick to a healthy lifestyle. Here are a few tips:
- Research the restaurants and supermarkets ahead of time.
- Pack some healthy foods that don’t spoil easily.
- Challenge yourself to stay on track for most of the trip.
Bottom Line: You can stick to a healthy eating plan while traveling. All it takes is a bit of research, planning and commitment.
9. Practice Mindful Eating
Eating mindfully can help you maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Take time to enjoy your food, and appreciate its ability to nourish you. This increases your chances of making successful, lasting behavioral changes.
In one study, overweight and obese women who practiced mindful eating had significant improvements in their relationship with food over a 4-month period (6).
Another study on binge eating women found that binge episodes decreased from 4 to 1.5 per week, and the severity of each binge also decreased. This happened in only 6 weeks (7).
Bottom Line: Adopting a mindful eating approach can help you achieve a better relationship with food, and may also reduce binge eating.
10. Track and Monitor Your Progress
Logging the foods you eat into a diary, online food tracker or app can help you stick to a healthy diet and lose weight (8, 9, 10).
Measuring your exercise progress is also beneficial, and provides you with motivation that can help you keep going.
Researchers reported that overweight women who were given pedometers walked farther and lost 6 times more weight than women who didn’t use them over the course of 3 months (11).
Bottom Line: Tracking your food intake and exercise can provide motivation and accountability. Studies show that it helps you stick to a healthy diet and leads to greater weight loss.
11. Get a Partner to Join You
Sticking with a healthy eating and exercise plan can be tough to do on your own.
Having a diet or exercise buddy may be helpful, especially if that person is your partner or spouse (12, 13).
When researchers looked at data from over 3,000 couples, they found that when one person made a positive lifestyle change, such as increasing physical activity, the other was more likely to follow their lead (13).
Bottom Line: Having a partner join you in making healthy lifestyle changes can increase your chances of success.
12. Start the Day with a High-Protein Breakfast
If your first meal is well balanced and contains adequate protein, you’re more likely to maintain stable blood sugar levels and not overeat for the rest of the day (14, 15).
In one study, overweight women who consumed at least 30 grams of protein at breakfast felt more satisfied and ate fewer calories at lunch than women who ate a lower-protein breakfast (15).
More details here: How Protein at Breakfast Can Help You Lose Weight
Bottom Line: Eating a high-protein breakfast helps you stay full and can prevent overeating later in the day.
13. Realize It Takes Time to Change Your Habits
Don’t be discouraged if it takes longer than you expect to adapt to your new healthy way of living.
Researchers have found that it takes about 66 days, on average, to make a new behavior a habit (16).
Eventually, eating healthfully and exercising regularly will become automatic.
Bottom Line: Do your best to stay motivated and focused while you adapt to a healthy lifestyle. It takes 66 days to make a new habit, on average.
14. Figure Out What Works Best for You
There is no perfect way of eating that works for everyone.
It’s important that you find a way of eating and exercising that you enjoy, find sustainable and can stick to for the rest of your life.
The best diet for YOU is the one you can stick to in the long run.