With our definitive nutrition tips and snack suggestions
Changing your eating habits isn’t just a matter of buying better foods. To make the change stick, you also need to adopt a healthy eating mindset – here are 12 tips that will help.
1. Call yourself a fruit lover
As soon as you start calling yourself something you’re more likely to embrace it as your brain starts to see the name as part of your identity. “This provides a sense of motivation and you then seek out behaviour that affirms that identity – like buying and eating more fruit,” says psychologist Amanda Brouwer from Winona State University in the US.
2. Ask yourself, ‘Will I eat vegetables today?’
When we question whether we’re going to carry out a behaviour, we’re actually more likely to make the healthier choice. For best results, Dr Natalie Taylor from Macquarie University says your question needs to include four things: An action, a target, a time and a context. So, say you’ll eat an extra serving of vegetables (action), at dinner (target), four nights this week (time), when I cook my dinner myself (context).
3. Step off the scales
If you think you’re overweight, you’re actually more likely to make unhealthy choices when you eat.” Focusing on weight creates stress and emotions like guilt or shame that can make some of us more likely to seek out high-calorie foods,” says psychologist Vicki Williams from Sydney Behavioural Health. The good news is: If you’ve been eating healthily and avoiding the scales, when you do weigh yourself you’ll probably find you’ve lost weight.
4. Seek out healthy food pics online
There are heaps of images on Pinterest or Instagram but don’t just look at social media – also visualise yourself chopping the foods, smelling that juicy watermelon or tomato, and feeling the juice run down your chin
as you bite in. Also imagine them tasting fantastic. When you focus on the pleasure of eating the food you see you’re more likely to reach for it yourself, says Dr Olivia Petit from Malaysia’s Imagineering Institute.
5. Think about how you’ll feel after eating
If the answer is nourished, energised, satisfied and healthy, tuck in. If the answer is fat, guilty, defeated or bloated, then use these feelings of regret to steer yourself towards a better choice. This is called ‘anticipated regret’ and it works because we don’t like to feel bad. “In fact, people will work much harder to avoid a potential loss, like feeling bad, than we will to achieve a potential gain, like eating well, explains Dr Joshua Newton from Deakin University.
6. Know the C.A.N rules
These are US food psychologist Brian Wansink’s keys to making healthy eating a habit. He says following these rules can increase the amount of healthy choices people make by up to 60 per cent. Here’s what the letters stand for:
• CONVENIENT Have a bowl full of fruit within easy reach, or place vegetables right at the front in your fridge.The easier they are to reach, the more likely you’ll eat them.
• ATTRACTIVE When buying fresh food, buy a good mix of colours. Take time and care presenting your meals and plating them, and you’ll enjoy eating them more.
• NORMAL Crowd out unhealthy foods in your fridge or cupboards with fresh, healthy choices, and you’ll find eating these will start to feel like the normal, natural choice to make in your daily routine.
7. Change one thing at a time
Trying to make too many changes to your habits at once can deplete your willpower. Nutritionist Leanne Cooper suggests trying to change one thing at a time, starting with your biggest challenge to eating well. “You might feel bad when you finish up leftovers or overeat in front of the TV,” she suggests. “Once you’ve identified your biggest hurdle, think of tactics to stop yourself from doing it and focus only on changing that one habit. Once it’s second nature, turn your attention to something else.”
8. Stop labelling foods ‘Good’ or ‘Bad’
It doesn’t work – in fact, people given the message that a food is bad for their health eat more of it! It’s better to think about foods you want to limit as ‘occasional foods’,” says Leanne. “It creates a more balanced idea of eating choices, where occasionally you can have something sweet and enjoy it, rather than feel guilty for eating something ‘bad’.”
9. Give food tasty descriptions
How much better does a fresh crunchy carrot, yummy plump raspberry or a juicy red tomato sound than just a plain carrot, raspberry or tomato? That’s why experts say we’re more likely to reach for healthy goodies if we use indulgent words like crunchy, juicy, tasty, yummy, succulent or fresh to describe them. Get creative with your shopping list.
10. Focus on the short-term benefits of making the change
“People who focus on short-term goals – like more energy or better sleep – are more likely to stick to an exercise regimen than those thinking long term – and it’s likely it works for healthy eating too,” says Dr Newton. Need a few to be getting on with? Starting to eat more fruit and vegetables improves happiness as much as getting a new job. It’s also linked to increased energy and healthier, more radiant skin.
11. Pair things up
So you love cheese, but aren’t so keen on broccoli. Try eating the two together, suggests Leanne. “The more you eat a food, the more it will become a habit and the greater the chance that you’ll grow to like it!” Once the habit is ingrained, decrease the cheese and increase the broccoli.
12. Feed your brain
You might walk into the supermarket primed to shop healthily, yet still come out with a basketful of food that says otherwise. The reason, according to brain behaviour specialist Terri Bowman from Brain Wellness Spa, is that when it’s exposed to all those food choices, the brain can get overexcited. One way to break this connection and rewire a new one is to snack on something healthy while you shop. “Over time, the sudden experience of eating well in this excited state will stop the brain perceiving junk food as more exciting than healthy choices,” she explains. This means you’ll get a buzz from eating healthy foods, too.