By Leo Babauta
As we wrap up the month, let’s review what we’ve learned about changing our healthy eating habits … and talk about where to go from here.
You’ve likely had varying degrees of success with your eating habits â€” some of you have done well by changing a few small habits, one at a time … while others struggled with more difficult eating habits. The lesson here is that small habits are much easier to change than difficult ones, so do one at a time, as easy a change as possible, and succeed. Or if you fail, adjust and try again.
We’ve likely seen that eating habits can be difficult to stick to, and it takes time and patience. But I’ve shown, and have seen others prove, that long-term change is possible if you stick with it.
So you’ve made a couple of changes, perhaps … but you’re still far from where you want to be. What now?
Now, we begin a slow shift to a healthy long-term diet.
How to Shift
If you’ve read any of the materials so far, you know much of my answer to how to shift:
- One small, easy change at a time.
- Adjust as you learn about what works and what doesn’t.
- Make the change enjoyable â€” don’t make it a sacrifice.
- Learn to eat mindfully.
- Be flexible â€” a rigid approach to diet or changing habits doesn’t work.
- Gradually change your normal.
- Set up an environment that helps you make the change â€” do it with others, get rid of junk food around you, choose healthier places to eat out.
Those are the methods I’ve found to work, for me and for many others I’ve coached.
What Changes to Make
OK, you want to continue making small changes, but what do you change? Here are my long-term recommendations, based on lot of research (a good start):
- Start by adding fruits and vegetables to your diet. This is the healthiest change most people can make, and the evidence for the benefits of veggies is huge and incontrovertible. Green veggies are best, but all colors (red, yellow, orange, white, purple) are good.
- Change to healthier proteins. As a vegan, I eat tempeh, tofu, beans, lentils, and seitan. But if you’re not vegan, the evidence I’ve seen are that the best choices are fish, poultry, and modest amounts of red meat. Some will disagree, so don’t take my word for it. But move away from processed red meats (sausages, bacon, deli meat, etc.).
- Change to healthier fats. Again, this is a bit controversial, as some think saturated fats are great. But the evidence is very clear that trans fats (found in lots of processed snacks) are horrible, so cut those out. I would recommend limiting foods heavy in saturated fats, though modest amounts probably won’t kill you if the rest of your diet is good. But there is good evidence that unsaturated fats, such as those from nuts, seeds, avocado, olive and canola oil, fish, and flaxseeds, are healthy for you, and modest amount of evidence that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats is good. Low-fat diets aren’t needed.
- Move from refined to unrefined grains. Switch from white bread to whole wheat or flourless breads and cereals. From flour-based cereals to steel-cut oats. From white rice to brown rice. Or try other grains or grain substitutes like amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, and the like.
- Add beans â€” they’re full of nutrition, low on calories.
- Cook at home more â€” it’s usually healthier than eating out. And avoid the processed prepared foods at home.
- Eat at healthier places â€” ones with less fried and sweet stuff as their staples, and more fresh vegetables as the center of things.
- Snack less, especially if you eat junk for snacks. You don’t really need to snack, but if you do, eat fruits and vegetables and nuts.
- Drink fewer calories. Lattes and frappucinos and sodas and sports drinks and sweet teas and shakes and smoothies aren’t the worst things in the world, but should be treats rather than something you’re doing on a regular basis. Limit alcohol to 1-2 drinks a night if you drink.
The trick is to eat more real, whole foods, cook more, make plants the center of your diet. But don’t demonize any foods â€” you can have anything, as long as the less healthier stuff is in moderation.
Keep in mind that these are just my recommendations, based on my research of the evidence. What I’m recommending won’t work for everyone, so talk to a doctor, do your own research, try foods and see what works for you.