How to Start Eating Healthy Habits

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A dietitian offers advice on how to recover from a blunder. 

A growing pile of crumpled fast-food wrappers reveals a harsh reality midway through cleaning out your car after another on-the-go week: Your efforts to eat healthier have gone astray.

According to registered dietitian Kate Patton, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD, this occurs. What happens next is crucial. Here are some pointers to help you get back on track.

Don’t obsess over your dietary blunder.

You’ve probably heard the expression “don’t cry over spilled milk.” 

Don’t cry either over a weekend binge of deep-fried chicken wings. 

There’s no point in heaping guilt on your plate for last bites.

Poor food days are a part of life, whether they result from time constraints, stress eating during the pandemic, or the irresistible allure of decadent desserts.

Patton recommends an 80-20 rule when it comes to diet: “If you’re eating what you should 80 percent of the time, you’re doing pretty well,” she says. “It’s OK if you have a cheat meal now and then. Just make sure it doesn’t get out of hand.”

Reestablish healthy eating habits as soon as possible. 

Patton recommends pressing the reset button on healthy eating habits as soon as possible after making a mistake to get yourself back on track. Concentrate on preventing a one-day setback from turning into a one-week reverse.

Plan your meals for the week ahead to get back into a routine, and maybe try a new recipe or food item to spice things up. 

Stock your refrigerator with nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables for when you need a midday snack.

Patton advises that you should learn from your eating mishaps as well. 

If your hectic schedule frequently leads to greasy drive-thru dinners, plan alternatives such as nutritious meals packed in a car cooler or pre-made dishes that can be plated as soon as you get home.

Using a food tracking app or journal to understand better your eating habits can help you identify and address persistent roadblocks to your dietary goals. “It’s a fantastic way to understand the ‘why’ behind your behaviors,” Patton says. 

Allow yourself some time to chew.

Slowing down at mealtime is one of the simplest ways to get back on the healthy eating wagon. Overeating is frequently the result of gulping down food. “It takes your stomach 20 minutes to tell your brain that it is full,” Patton says. “Don’t get ahead of yourself.”

Patton suggests putting your fork down between bites to slow the plate-to-mouth food transfer rate. Sips of water also help to slow you down while also filling you up and curbing your appetite.

The strategy is especially effective at parties, where tackling a buffet can quickly lead to mass consumption. “One way to eat healthier is to eat slower,” says Patton. “It’s a good habit to cultivate.” 

Consider healthy eating a long-term commitment.

Building a healthy diet is not something that can be accomplished or undone in a single day. Instead, it is a process that should be measured over months and years. It is more important to develop long-term routines than to focus on a single blunder.

Keep that in mind before you get too worked up about the dent you made in a newly opened bag of potato chips. “As long as you understand the bigger picture, you’ll be fine,” Patton says. “You have to be in it for the long haul.”

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