Are you looking at the month ahead and dreading that find-your-way-back-into-skinny-pants diet? Or perhaps you’ve resolved to eat a bit better this year, but you’re not sure where to start?
Weight loss and eating right is not something many of us look toward with enthusiasm. After the hard work of restricting what we eat and giving up foods we love, those lost extra pounds seem to slowly find their way back as soon as we resume our normal eating habits.
So, how do you find your way out of your own cycle of poor eating and dieting?
However, since you may find your “feel great” place in ordering a plate full of fries, it may take some hacks to make healthy eating easier and more fun.
1. Plan, plan, plan.
If a grumbling stomach has you standing in a long line for a grilled cheese sandwich, you know the value of planning your meals. It may seem like a tedious task, but one look at your Facebook feed and you’ll find that people take pride in their meal prep.
Planning meals—and indulgences—helps in many ways. First, it reduces the number of decisions you need to make when you’re hungry, says Groat. Choosing what to eat when you’re hungry can lead to poor choices. (Looking at you, grilled cheese sammies.)
“When you plan ahead, you have healthy foods ready, and you don't need to resort to eating whatever is available, or be tempted to purchase unhealthy foods,” says Groat. “It is just as important to plan indulgences so that you eat exactly what you want and don't bother with things you don't really care for.”
And when you do eat that treat, it reduces guilt since you've been planning room for cravings, she says.
2. Have a few go-to recipes.
Most of us don’t have time most week days to cook those fun, creative recipes found on Pinterest. But once you find a healthy meal that works, stick with it.
“Research shows that repetition helps with weight loss as it reduces the number of decisions you need to make,” says Groat.
She recommends quick meals that are easy to make and delicious, such as roasted chicken, steamed veggies with a dash of balsamic vinegar, and roasted sweet potatoes.
If food boredom is your healthy eating Achilles’ heel, then embracing variety may work better for you.
3. Embrace leftovers.
Making more for later, like a lunch or quick dinner, is a hack that smart eaters know well. It saves time—and your taste buds—from having to eat a “lunch-sicle” from the frozen foods aisle. A homemade frozen meal tastes much better.
“Soups or stews are easy to freeze in individual portions for later,” says Groat. “Meats and vegetables are also nice to double. For instance, roast two chickens instead of one, and use the leftovers for taco bowls.”
4. Keep your snacks interesting.
Research shows that eating a variety of healthy snacks may help with weight loss.
Why? Because sometimes eating the same old thing is filling an emotional need that has nothing to do with hunger. Focusing on snacking on a variety of foods during the day curbs that unconscious drive to eat your feelings.
5. Focus on fancy fruits and veggies.
Filling up on fruits and veggies is the key to healthy eating, with five to nine servings a day as the goal.
“There’s no eating plan that is right for everybody, but the one thing that is consistent is we should all eat more produce,” says Groat.
But continuously counting on apples, carrots and broccoli can be a bore. Groat recommends experimenting with fancy and unusual varieties to make prioritizing produce more interesting and fun.
Grab yourself some Muscat grapes and sea beans next time you’re at the store and experiment away. Or challenge yourself to find and try things like miracle fruit, midyim, dragon fruit or tamarillo.
6. Downsize your plate.
Obviously, selecting a smaller dish is easy portion control since you’re more likely to load up when using a larger one. Using a small plate helps you eat less, plus creates a stopping point, says Groat.
And before going back for seconds, first stop and ask yourself if you’re still hungry.
7. Give in to the sparkling water fad.
Here’s one fad that it’s OK to follow. The colorful cans of sparkling water are everywhere these days—so much so that news stories have deemed people who obsess over the most ubiquitous brand a cult. But it’s more likely that sparkling water devotees know that these bubbles are a fun alternative to high-calories beverages.
No, you don’t need to pledge allegiance to LaCroix. It’s more about making water—whether it is sparkly or still—your drink of choice, says Groat.
And it’s always fine to save yourself a trip to the store and just drink tap water with your meal instead.
8. Don’t let your coworkers sabotage your success.
We all have those colleagues who like to leave sweets in the break room. Resisting the siren call of the office cupcakes in the kitchen and eating carrots instead is not easy.
You may have to physically avoid the area or distract yourself with a cup of coffee or tea, says Groat.
But this isn’t about denying yourself a treat. It’s about finding joy in your food and treating yourself on your own terms. Occasional indulgences can be helpful when you make healthy eating a lifestyle choice. So resist the stale box of picked-over cupcakes and go for a tasty treat at a beloved neighborhood bakery later.
Waiting to indulge in exactly what you want can prevent binging on other unhealthy choices. And postponing can help you be more mindful about what will really satisfy your craving, says Groat.
“Ask yourself if the office treat is something you would actually purchase and enjoy,” says Groat. “If the answer is no, move on.”