We know that eating healthily is associated with living longer and healthier lives. However, adopting and maintaining a healthy diet is often easier said than done.
Have you ever tried to eat healthier, only to return to your normal way of eating after a short while? If so, you have probably experienced how difficult it can be to make a sustainable change in your eating habits.
Even when we understand the concept of healthy eating, it can be challenging to change our habits and even more difficult to maintain those changes in the long run.
Like a sailor navigating towards a destination, we often face powerful forces that pull us in opposite directions, frequently forcing us to return to our starting point.
If you are trying to improve your eating habits, this article presents six pillars that can help you stay on course and reach your goal:
- Prioritize Food Quality Over Quantity
- Embrace Variety in Your Eating Routine
- Discover the Joy in Your Meals
- Be Mindful of Your Sense of Satiety
- Balance Your Eating Habits and Social Life
- Create a Weekly Meal Plan and Use It as Your Eating Compass
1. Prioritize Food Quality Over Quantity
In the quest for a healthier lifestyle, many people often start by limiting the amount or type of food they consume. However, this restrictive approach can make the journey towards healthy eating short-lived and unenjoyable.
A more effective and sustainable strategy is to shift the focus from quantity to quality. By choosing to consume more high-quality foods and reducing the intake of lower-quality ones, you can create a balanced eating routine that supports long-term health and well-being.
- High-quality foods include unrefined, minimally processed foods such as vegetables and fruits, whole grains, healthy fats and healthy sources of protein.
- Lower-quality foods include highly processed snack foods, sugar-sweetened beverages, refined (white) grains, refined sugar, fried foods, foods high in saturated and trans fats, and high-glycemic foods such as potatoes. 
Interestingly, even if your ultimate goal is weight loss, focusing on food quality is very important. Numerous studies suggest that a diet rich in high-quality foods can aid in weight loss over time, while a diet high in lower-quality foods can contribute to weight gain.  
2. Embrace Variety in Your Eating Routine
Contrary to popular belief, healthy eating is not about depriving yourself of certain foods. Instead, it’s about broadening the range and variety of foods you consume.
Incorporating a diverse selection of high-quality foods into your diet is essential for optimal health. By constantly varying your food choices, you can ensure that your body receives all the necessary nutrients it needs to function at its best.
For instance, when it comes to whole grains, don’t just stick to one type. Explore the world of wheat, spelt, various types of rice, oats, rye, barley, quinoa, amaranth, millet, buckwheat, kamut, and more. This principle applies to other food groups as well. Be adventurous, do some research, and introduce new healthy foods into your meal plan.
Don’t forget to mix up the “format” of the foods you eat. Using whole grains as an example, you can enjoy them in the form of bread, pasta, flakes, or even as whole intact cereal grains, which is one of the most nutritious ways to consume them.
Experimenting with different cooking methods is also crucial. For example, alternating between raw and cooked vegetables can help you maximize their nutritional benefits. While raw vegetables often retain more nutrients, cooking them can make them easier to eat in larger quantities, like the difference between raw and cooked broccoli. Explore various cooking techniques such as pan cooking, baking, air frying, boiling, grilling, microwave cooking, pressure cooking, and steaming.
Lastly, consider varying the distribution of your meals throughout the week. For example, if you typically eat fish three times a week, try not to consume it on three consecutive days. While it’s not a problem if this happens occasionally, striving for variety in your meal schedule is always a smart approach.
3. Discover the Joy in Your Healthy Meals
Healthy eating should be a delightful experience, not a chore. If it doesn’t bring you joy, it’s unlikely to be sustainable in the long run.
The key is learning to relish the taste of high-quality, nutritious foods more than their unhealthy counterparts.
The good news is that the sense of taste is primarily a subjective experience. Therefore, your sense of taste can change. And with all things that change, it can be trained to enjoy new foods.
Our sense of taste is largely subjective and can be trained to appreciate new flavors. Most of our food preferences are shaped by what we’ve been accustomed to eating, often influenced by our family’s dietary habits. 
However, just as you’ve learned to enjoy certain foods, you can also train your palate to appreciate those you currently find less appealing. Our taste buds are surprisingly adaptable. Think back to a time when you tried something new and didn’t like it at first, only to find it enjoyable later on. Perhaps it was the bitter taste of beer, or coffee without sugar. Chances are, you can think of at least one such example.
All it takes is a bit of open-mindedness and a willingness to try one new healthy food at a time. You’ll likely discover a plethora of nutritious foods that delight your palate. As you gradually introduce these new foods into your eating routine, you’ll train your taste buds to enjoy them, reducing the urge to revert to less healthy options. This virtuous cycle will support and enhance your healthy eating journey in the long run.
4. Be Mindful of Your Sense of Satiety
We’ve all experienced overeating at some point, be it during holidays, parties, or simply seeking comfort from food. It’s a common occurrence.
Recall a time when you ate too much, perhaps the most recent instance. Were you aware that you were overeating? Chances are, you knew but continued eating anyway. You don’t need to count calories or weigh your food to recognize overeating. Most of the time, we’re aware of it, yet our bodies still crave more, making it difficult to stop.
While this is a complex issue, there are a few strategies to help you manage your sense of satiety more effectively.
First, keep in mind that it takes about 20 minutes for the satiety signal to travel from your stomach to your brain . This means that it takes at least 20 minutes for you to feel full and satisfied when eating a meal. Eating too quickly can lead to overeating, as you don’t give your body enough time to register fullness. Slowing down not only allows you to savor your food but also provides the necessary time for your body to feel satiated.
Additionally, it’s crucial to stay focused and present while eating. Practicing mindful eating and concentrating solely on your meal enhances your appreciation of the food and its flavors. Avoid eating while standing, in the car, reading, or mindlessly consuming digital content on a screen. If your body is present but your mind is elsewhere, you’re less likely to enjoy your meal and may need to eat more to feel satisfied.
5. Balance Your Eating Habits and Social Life
As social beings, we often share meals with others, making eating a social experience. It’s essential to adopt healthy eating habits that don’t isolate you from social interactions. This mainly involves incorporating flexibility into your eating schedule.
When invited to dinner, attending a party, or facing limited access to healthy food options, don’t stress. Instead, choose the best options available from the menu or buffet. If there are no healthy alternatives, occasionally indulging in a less nutritious meal is acceptable.
In fact, if your regular eating routine is healthy, an occasional deviation may become a memorable experience.
If such instances are infrequent, there’s no cause for concern. However, if your social life frequently leads to unhealthy eating, consider reflecting on potential changes to minimize these occurrences. Maintaining healthy relationships also means avoiding situations that negatively impact your well-being.
6. Create a Weekly Meal Plan and Use It as Your Eating Compass
Embracing healthy eating habits doesn’t mean restricting yourself to a rigid diet or forcing yourself to eat foods you dislike. Instead, it’s about creating a vision of your ideal eating habits and using it as a guide whenever needed.
Healthy eating is a journey, not a destination. Even with a clear vision, external forces may attempt to steer you off course. To navigate this journey and stay on track, you need a compass.
A weekly meal plan serves as an excellent compass. I prefer to call it a compass rather than a plan because it’s not meant to be followed strictly. Instead, it’s a helpful tool designed to point you in the right direction when needed.
Create your eating compass now: