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How to Change Your Eating Habits: 20 Tips to Start

13 min read
a woman is eating salad, smiling, How to Change Your Eating Habits
Sarah Jackson Damuth post Reviewer Sarah Jackson Damuth post Reviewer
MS, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Certified LEAP Therapist

How to change your eating habits with minimum effort? 🍏 Adopt these 20 tips and make small, easy steps to improve your health today 👉

Table of Contents

Eating healthy can be challenging these days. People tend to lead a busy lifestyle, with little or no time to prepare food for themselves. As such, the world has seen a surge in the consumption of fast foods, which are highly processed and loaded with fats and sugars, making them very calorie-dense and nutrient-poor. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), worldwide obesity rates have tripled since 1975. [1] In addition, diabetes rates have reached just under a billion people worldwide, and rates are likely to increase at current trends to 700 million people by the year 2045. Luckily, both diseases are preventable with proper diet and lifestyle habits. [2]

A healthy diet does indeed require some effort. However, changing your eating habits is a good way to take charge of your diet and improve your health in the long run.

Wondering how to change your eating habits? Check out these 20 easy tips that are very doable, effective, and will provide instant benefits for your health.

Changing Eating Habits: Simple Steps to Start With

#1 Change Your Snacks

Snacks can be controversial as there are so many variables that determine whether a snack is healthy or not.

Snacks provide an energy boost between meals, which prevents your blood glucose level from falling below normal and potentially over-eating later in the day. 

Most people snack at least once a day, and those snacks can vary from fruits to highly processed snack foods like chips and cookies, among others.

Snacking itself is not bad, but whether your snacking makes your diet healthier or not depends on what you’re eating and how often you’re doing it. 

Poor snacking, for example, has been linked to unwanted weight gain and subsequent obesity in many research studies. [3] This is because popular snack foods are very calorie-dense, loaded with fats and sugars, and low in fiber and satiating nutrients. 

So, how to improve your nutrition for weight loss? Substitute sugary snacks with these healthy alternatives.

  • mixed nuts, including almonds, pistachios, cashews, and peanuts
  • low-fat cheese stick
  • veggies like celery, bell peppers, and/or carrots with hummus
  • Greek yogurt
  • hard-boiled egg
  • protein shake
  • raw fruits with nut butter

#2 Have A Glass Of Warm Water Before Every Meal

Drinking a glass of warm water before meals dilates the blood vessels in the gut, aiding digestion.

Warm water before a meal also enables the movement of food through the gastrointestinal tract, preventing constipation. [4]

Additionally, water before meals will fill up some portion of the stomach, making you unable to eat as much as you would have liked. This reduces calorie intake and helps you better manage or maintain a healthy weight. 

#3 If You’re Going To Eat Dessert, Have It Right After Your Main Meal

When changing your eating habits, pay extra attention to desserts. The main problem with them is that they aren’t very nutritious. They are usually laden with sugar and fat, which, when consumed in excess, can cause health issues over time.

To minimize health risks, it’s better to follow a few simple rules:

  • avoid eating desserts by themselves, but after a satisfying meal instead,
  • have them sparingly,
  • have them on occasion.

This will help prevent you from eating too much since you will already feel full after eating your main meal. This way, you are still partaking in eating a treat on occasion without feeling deprived but you aren’t overdoing it. 

Having a dessert after a nutritious meal may lead to finding satisfaction after one bite rather than consuming the entire thing due to feeling hungry.

Also, consider more nutritious dessert options like

  • strawberries with dark chocolate,
  • chia seed pudding,
  • yogurt parfait with honey and walnuts,
  • homemade whole-grain pastry with berries

Note that frequent dessert cravings may indicate that your diet is not rich in nutrients enough.

#4 Don’t Drink Coffee On An Empty Stomach

Every time you drink coffee, it triggers the production of stomach acids. [5] So, when consuming coffee on an empty stomach, the secreted stomach acids can erode the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, resulting in ulcers.

Experts suggest drinking coffee in the mid-morning, ideally with breakfast rather than on an empty stomach.

#5 Avoid Low-Fat Foods

Low-fat products may sound healthier than their regular counterparts; however, avoiding low-fat foods is one of the healthiest dietary habits you can adopt.

They typically contain added sugars and several other filler ingredients to make them more palatable since the fat has been removed. Researchers have now demonstrated that the fat source is the most important factor to consider.

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats coming from olive oil, avocado, seeds, and nuts, among other plant sources, have actually been shown to decrease the risk of certain diseases. [6]

#6 Eat Fruits, Don’t Drink Them

Fruits are rich in dietary fiber, so eating foods whole will enable you to consume more dietary fiber than if you were to drink fruit juice, for example. Also, drinking fruit juice will cause more rapid spikes in blood glucose levels since the juice is absorbed more rapidly. [7]

Besides, the mastication process involved in chewing fruits stimulates the release of satiety hormones that will cause you to eat less, acting as a food consumption regulator. [8]

If you do eat fruit whole, be sure to leave the peel on since it contains the majority of the fiber. [9] In fact, up to 31% of the fiber in fruit is in the peel or skin, along with up to 300 times more antioxidants than in the pulp or flesh of the fruit.

However, due to a high fiber content combined with lots of water, juices, e.g., apple juice, can relieve constipation in some cases.

Healthier Choices For Every Meal

#7 Add Greens To Every Meal

Greens are very rich in vitamin C and other compounds that have great antioxidant and anti-inflammatory functions in our bodies.

Antioxidants work as scavengers in the body that detect and neutralize the free radicals that could harm our cells. They work to combat oxidative stress by removing free radical intermediates. [10] Oxidative stress damages cells and is responsible for the onset of many diseases, including cancer.

To support your body with the tools it needs to combat free radicals, be sure to add greens like swiss chard, dandelion, collard greens, spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and lettuce to every savory meal. 

#8 Have Protein, Whole Grains, And Fiber With Every Meal

This approach to building your diet is called the Healthy Eating Plate. [11]

healthy eating plate model, harvard plate, How to Change Your Eating Habits

The approach states that half of your plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables, a quarter with proteins like meat, fish, or beans, and the other quarter should contain whole grains such as quinoa, sweet potato, or brown rice.

This model also recommends incorporating plant-based fats in moderation and staying hydrated and physically active. 

The main message of the Healthy Eating Plate is to focus on diet quality, especially concerning carbohydrates. Make half your grains whole grains as they contain fiber, which helps reduce blood cholesterol levels, prevent constipation, and enhance the growth of healthy bacteria in the large intestine. 

#9 Add Some Healthy Fats

Fats are usually referred to as the bad guys that you should exclude from a healthy diet. However, this is a misconception as every healthy diet plan needs some healthy dietary fat.

The body needs fat for the absorption of some vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K), for energy, to protect the body’s organs, and for warmth.

Replace unhealthy saturated and trans fats, typically found in animal sources, deep-fried foods, and ready-made meals, with healthy fat sources like avocados, nuts, seeds, grapeseed oil, and olive oil.

#10 Prioritize Whole Foods

If we were asked how to change your eating habits with only one piece of advice, we’d choose this one: prioritize whole food over processed most of the time!

Whole foods are more rich in fiber, minerals, and vitamins than their refined counterparts. They also contain other chemical compounds like phytochemicals that protect the body from various diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Phytonutrients have also been found to contribute to healthy aging, reduce the risk of oxidative damage, and positively affect the immune system. [12]

So, why prioritize whole foods instead of refined ones?

During the refining process, grains are milled, which removes the germ and bran, both of which are highly nutritious. Some refined grains, including white flour, white rice, and white bread, have little to no fiber, which is crucial for maintaining proper blood sugar levels, cholesterol, and digestive health. [13]

Whole grain flour, 1 cupWhite flour, 1 cup
Protein16 g13 g
Fiber15 g3 g
Magnesium166 mg27 mg
Zinc4.6 mg0.9 mg

Eating whole plant-based foods has been linked to lower risks of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. [14]

Consider following dietary lifestyles that prioritize whole foods like Mediterranean or vegetarian rather than restrictive diets.

You may also like: Dash Diet Versus Mediterranean Diet

#11 Limit Ultra-Processed Foods

This tip is a logical extension of the previous one. So, to make healthier food choices and opt for whole foods more often, you need to know what processed and ultra-processed foods are. 

Ultra-processed foods are greatly altered and loaded with fats, added sugars, salts, additives, and other ingredients that enhance taste and storage duration. 

Imagine an apple. It’s an example of natural, unprocessed food with all its nutrients and vitamins remaining intact. If you freeze an apple or dry or roast it, it falls into the minimally processed foods category but still keeps most of its nutritional value.

However, if you add lots of sugar and artificial preservatives to make apple sauce or jam, for example, your ‘ultra healthy’ apple becomes a processed product.

processed food example_apple_how to change your eating habits

Ultra-processed foods contribute to weight gain and obesity in many people. [15] High salt intake from such foods can also lead to hypertension, a risk factor for heart disease. 

The general rule of thumb is the less processing involved in food production, the better. A whole apple is always better than apple juice, even freshly-squeezed, yet apple juice is better than, say, an apple pie. 

Strategies For Implementing Dietary Changes

#12 Plan Your Meals

When you properly plan your meals, you will also eat properly, and you’ll likely cut down on frequent snacking, which accounts for a lot of calorie intake. 

Carry some healthy snack options with you wherever you go. Also, bring your own lunch to work to help you cut down on fast food eating during break time, sparing you all the extra calories that come with it. 

#13 Cook More Often

To improve your diet and make it significantly healthier, cook most of your meals yourself.

Foods served at restaurants always tend to have larger servings and are loaded with fats and salt.

Thus, you end up eating more calories from restaurants and gaining more weight than when cooking for yourself. 

Cooking for yourself lets you control the ingredients and the servings you consume, helping you cut down on excess calories. 

#14 Track Your Meals

Tracking your meals or food journaling will give you an overview of what you eat and how many calories you consume. What is even more important is to track your meals to see the nutrient profile of your current diet. After a week of tracking, you’ll clearly see what micronutrients you lack in your diet and what are excessive.

Focus on the Healthy Eating Plate mentioned above to see if your diet is balanced. However, consult with your healthcare provider or dietitian if you have health conditions like diabetes, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, or other conditions requiring a specific diet.

#15 Eat Vegetarian One Day Per Week

The vegetarian diet is rich in plant-based protein, vegetables, and heart-healthy fats. It is associated with a lower risk of many diseases such as obesity, cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes in numerous research studies. 

Try going vegetarian at least once a week to give your body a break from unhealthy fats and calories.

#16 Practice Mindful Eating

Mindful eating encompasses the art of being present during a meal or snack.

Eating mindfully incorporates the individual’s sensual awareness of the food experience and has little to do with focusing on calories, carbohydrates, fats, or proteins. 

It is recommended to remove distractions to be fully present with the food in front of you and identify whether your desire for food is due to physical hunger.

Although mindful eating is not intended as a weight-loss method, those who practice this method of eating tend to eat fewer calories overall and may lose weight as a result. A review of 24 studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that attentive or mindful eating helped people eat less during meals. [17]

Additional Tips For Improving Your Dietary Habits

#17 Avoid Changing Your Diet Significantly In One Day

Introduce changes to your diet slowly and gradually. That way ,you can progressively adapt to your newly created routine. Drastic changes are usually very stressful, overwhelming, difficult to sustain, and often lead to breaking a healthy diet. 

Take baby steps and make sustainable changes over time to minimize getting too discouraged when you cannot maintain any drastic changes. 

#18 Eat Slowly, Chew Thoroughly

When you chew thoroughly, the food is broken down in your mouth manually into tiny pieces, increasing the surface area for enzymes to act on and easing digestion when the food gets to the stomach. 

Also, chewing slowly allows enough time for hormones to signal the brain to stop eating, which will help you feel satiety faster and reduce calorie intake.

#19 Bake Or Roast Instead Of Grilling Or Frying

Baking foods is healthier than grilling or frying because baking does not require the use of oil for the food to get cooked. Consequently, the fat content and calorie density of baked foods tend to be lower than that of grilled or fried foods. 

It may not seem significant in regard to one meal but makes a difference in the long run.

#20 Leave At Least A 3-Hour Gap Between Meals

Experts recommend leaving a gap of three to five hours between meals. 

The human digestive system takes between three to four hours to digest food completely. So, providing this gap enables the stomach to be cleared out and ready again to receive more food. 

Exceeding this time frame may cause acidity in your stomach, which could erode its lining and cause gastric ulcers. 

Another consideration when spacing meals out 3-5 hours apart is allowing the Migrating Motor Complex (MMC) to complete all its phases to sweep out food debris and bacteria. Meals interrupt this system, so spacing meals out is crucial for allowing this complex to function properly. 

Wrapping Up

So, you are wondering, ‘How to change my eating habits’? 

Though changing eating habits can be challenging in today’s world, it is indeed achievable. Put at least half of these tips into practice and you’ll notice how your digestion and overall well-being improve. You may also notice some weight loss.

Opt for whole foods and cook for yourself as often as possible. Cut back on highly processed foods and sugary snacks. Take baby steps and gradually create a sustainable diet that will greatly impact your health in the long run. 

Disclaimer This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

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