Healthy eating habits. Most of us roll our eyes at the concept, knowing full well how busy life is and how little time we have for things like meals, snacks, and grocery shopping. Most of the time, our sustenance is taken on the go, in the form of fried foods, faux-healthy snacks (sugar-laden granola bar, anyone?), and copious amounts of coffee.
But healthy eating habits actually make a measurable difference in the way we function and respond to the world around us. Developing unhealthy, or harmful, eating habits early in life increases the odds of chronic health conditions and diseases like diabetes, coronary disease, stroke, and elevated blood pressure. The eating habits we develop early on tend to stick with us – unless we make a decision to change them.
When you’re chronically busy, as most of us are, thinking about changing eating habits sounds like a monumental task. It’s not. There are so many easy swaps and changes you can make that will help change your habits over time and leave you stronger, more energetic, and more fit.
Here are 7 healthy eating habits to adopt when you’re chronically busy – or if you’re just sick of eating junk food.
7 Healthy Eating Habits to Adopt When You’re Chronically Busy
Healthy habit 1: Arm yourself with snacks
You wouldn’t go into battle without weapons, and you can’t face hunger without the help of healthy snacks that are within arm’s reach. Arm yourself with snacks that meet the following guidelines to ensure you’ve got something to chew on when hunger strikes. Just having food available can keep you from wandering to the snack machine or stopping by the coffee shop for a double-XL chocolate chip muffin.
Healthy snack guidelines
- Less than 10 grams of sugar
- “Good” fats – polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, Omega 3s
- High fiber – 7 grams or more
- High protein – you need around 50+ grams/daily
- High vitamin and mineral content
Healthy habit 2: Commit to breakfast
You’ve been seeing breakfast on the side for years, sometimes enjoying it, sometimes ignoring it. If you want to be healthier, you have to commit to eating breakfast every morning. In America, we tend to think of breakfast foods as heavy: Fast food biscuit sandwiches, meats with lots of saturated fat, carbohydate-heavy foods, cholesterol-laden eggs, etc.
It’s no wonder many of us don’t feel up to eating such a heavy meal so early in the day. Coupled with time constraints, it’s not unusual to walk out the door to start the day without an ounce of food in our stomachs. Instead of skipping breakfast, make a habit of eating something each morning.
It doesn’t have to be a full breakfast platter (in fact, it shouldn’t be!), but grab a piece of fruit and a hard boiled egg to start your metabolism, boost your morning mood, and give you energy for the day.
Healthy habit 3: Eat when you’re hungry
You don’t have to live your life confined by arbitrary meal times. It’s okay to eat when you’re hungry, even if it’s at (gasp) 2:00pm. Studies have shown that eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day does a better job of controlling hunger.
At the end of the day, those who eat small, frequent meals take in fewer calories and tend to have smaller waistlines. It couldn’t hurt to try, right?
Next time you start feeling hungry in between meal times, reach for one of those handy snacks we talked about (Healthy habit 1). You’ll feel satisfied, improve your mood by boosting your blood sugar, and refrain from eating calorie-dense foods between meals.
Healthy habit 4: No multitasking
Whistle while you work if you want, but don’t eat. You know how the bowl of popcorn seems to disappear so quickly when you’re mindlessly munching while watching a movie? That’s not your imagination.
Distracted eating, or eating while you do anything else – watching TV, looking over expense reports, talking on the phone – is the opposite of a healthy eating habit. You’ll eat almost double the calories in the same amount of time if you multitask while eating compared to eating without multitasking. You’re also more likely to reach for foods that are bad for you out of habit when you’re distracted. So take heed: No more multitasking while you eat!
Healthy habit 5: Make it social
While distracted eating is a harmful eating habit, making meals social is absolutely fine. In fact, it’s a healthy habit to develop. Eating is, inherently, a very social thing. We go out to eat on most first dates. We can’t fathom going to a movie without stopping to have dinner, too. We make meetings take place over lunch. We try new nearby restaurants with our friends. We go out for dinner or lunch to celebrate accomplishments and milestones.
Develop a habit of making eating a social thing and go out for lunch with others when you can. Not only will it help you consume fewer calories (“I always feel like somebody’s watchin’ me”), but it will also give you much needed time with friends or coworkers. That’s a win win!
Healthy habit 6: Grocery shop purposefully
Do not, and I repeat, do NOT, go into a grocery store without a plan. You will buy things you do not need. You will buy things you do not want. You will buy things you want and need but cannot afford. You have to go grocery shopping with a mission to get ingredients you’ll need for meals and healthy snacks. Without this mission etched into your brain, you will fail and end up buying boxes of processed food and frozen dinners.
Grocery shop with purpose by creating a list beforehand and sticking to it. I like to put my list in the order of the aisles of the grocery store, but if you’re not as obsessive-compulsive in this area, an unorganized list is fine. Don’t leave home without it!
Healthy habit 7: Stick to water
Finally, water is the only thing you need to drink. Coffee gives you a boost and tastes great, tea can be calming or give you a little perk, soda is fizzy and delicious, but water is the source of life. Without enough water, you could become dehydrated, which is much more common than you realize. Many of us are in various states of dehydration, and it’s no wonder – we’re told to have at least eight 8 oz. glasses of water daily, and most of us are lucky to consume half that amount.
That’s a simple fix. Grab a double-wall insulated tumbler and lug it around with you all day, every day. Keep it filled with ice water. This will help you drink more water without being tempted to grab other drinks – when you’re hydrated, you won’t crave sweet drinks as much.