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How To Develop Healthy Eating Habits

Last updated Feb. 17, 2017

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD MPH

Several habits can lead to weight gain including eating too fast, eating while standing up, eating when you are not hungry, skipping meals, consistently cleaning your plate, and always eating dessert.


Whether you are considering eating healthier or planning to lose weight, altering eating habits is a predominant component to healthy living. Although promoting healthy eating habits seems rather simple, it can be a challenging regimen to maintain. Making abrupt, drastic changes will lead to short-term weight loss, but is not sustainable in the long run. Hence, it is crucial to establish fundamental strategies to encourage healthy eating habits that ensure success.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has detailed several tactics to attempt this process and outlined methods that can facilitate healthy change. This practice demands a thoughtful approach to evaluate your current eating habits, substitutions you will make, and strategies to reinforce new behaviors: 

  • Evaluate current eating habits: Creating an honest list or food diary for a few days will help you uncover your habits, both good and bad. This process might expose a time of day when you recurrently select an unhealthy snack. A food diary can also track emotional feelings such as if you were tired, not hungry, or stressed while eating.
  • Focus on the habits: Glance over your list for habits that may cause you to overeat. Several habits can lead to weight gain including eating too fast, eating while standing up, eating when you are not hungry, skipping meals, consistently cleaning your plate, and always eating dessert.
  • Assess unhealthy habits: Inspect the habits you have emphasized and be sure to identify all triggers that promote these habits. Choose a few that you would like to improve first. You should also recognize your success for completion of healthy habits, as these will help promote you to make more modifications.
  • Prepare a list of cues: Once you have identified your triggers for eating other than for hunger, reflect on whether this habit is prompted by the environment or a specific emotional state. A few common triggers could include:
    • Watching television at home
    • Easy access to your favorite food when you open the cabinet
    • Before or after stressful conditions or meetings at work
    • Coming home after work with no dinner plan
    • Sitting near vending machines
    • Feeling tired or bored and rationalizing that food will help this state
  • Highlight the specific cues that reoccur on a daily or weekly basis and ask questions: Determine if there is anything that can be done to dodge the cue or situation. For inevitable situations, can you do anything differently that would be healthier? Finding ways to circumvent the cue from occurring is the best line of defense for maintaining a healthy diet.
  • Substitute old habits with new ones: If your original habit was that you ate too quickly or too much, you could plan to put down utensils more often and between bites, or minimize distractions, like TV watching, that make you unconscious of how much you are eating.
  • Emphasize new, healthy habits and be patient: It takes time to develop a practice into a habit. If you find yourself slipping into an old habit, stop and evaluate why this occurred and determine changes you need to make. This may happen often at first, but mistakes will not significantly impact your new eating habits, so be patient with yourself.

Planning meals in advance can also help to promote healthy eating. Going to the market with a strict, nutritious list will help you circumvent the unhealthy options. Although this can be a rather long and tedious process, following these steps to encourage healthy eating habits can warrant outstanding benefits for your health and even help you lose weight. Recognizing our triggers and finding ways to avoid them is the best defense against relapse. Over time, new, healthier habits will be made.

References:

Improving Your Eating Habits [Internet]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2011 Sep 13 [cited 2015 Jan 29]. Available from: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/eating_habits.html

Planning Meals [Internet]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2011 Sep 13 [cited 2015 Jan 29]. Available from: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/healthy_eating/meals.html

Eat Healthy [Internet]. Let’s Move [cited 2015 Jan 29]. Available from: http://www.letsmove.gov/eat-healthy

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Willett, W. (2011). Eat, drink, and be healthy: the Harvard Medical School guide to healthy eating. Simon and Schuster.

Videon, T. M., & Manning, C. K. (2003). Influences on adolescent eating patterns: the importance of family meals. Journal of adolescent health, 32(5), 365-373.

Conner, M., Norman, P., & Bell, R. (2002). The theory of planned behavior and healthy eating. Health psychology, 21(2), 194.

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Feb. 17, 2017
Last updated: Feb. 17, 2017