How to eat better without going on a fad diet


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A smart friend of mine keeps falling for gimmicky fad diets. A while back, he told me he couldn’t eat beans. When I asked why, he said, “Cause I heard there’s lectins in beans.”

“OK, what’s the bad part about that?” I asked, genuinely curious.

“I don’t know,” he replied, “but there was a whole book about it, so now I can’t eat beans.”

More recently, he decided to go on a food cleanse, which has been super popular the past few years. Never mind that your body naturally detoxes and most of those approaches are based on pseudo-science. Here’s the bottom line. If a diet has a funky name, encourages strange portioning, or tells you to eat extra bacon, it’s probably wrong.

Instead of adhering to the latest “healthy eating” fad, here are 10 healthy eating practices that are simple to follow and easy to work into your daily routine.

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1. Create convenience foods

Chop up your veggies and portion them in to-go containers so they’re ready to grab the next morning. Prepping the night before is especially good if you aren’t a morning person and want to get a couple extra minutes of sleep.

You may have heard that it’s better to chop up food right before you eat it so it’s fresher and has more nutrients. This is true, but not-quite-as-fresh veggies are still better than no veggies at all. It may not be the most perfect of all perfect practices, but creating convenience foods is time-effective and health-forward.

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2. Plan your meals in advance

If you and your family enjoy Taco Tuesday every week, knowing that allows you to plan accordingly. Not only can you health-up your tacos by adding lettuce and sautéed veggies, you can also plan to eat salmon every Wednesday. By removing the choice and planning ahead, it keeps you from making bad decisions and can help with your shopping and food prep.

Everything doesn’t have to be homemade from scratch, either — try supplementing pre-made foods with healthier ingredients. For instance, pre-made quinoa, chopped veggies, or even leafy greens are super healthy add-ins to canned soups.

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3. Look at menus before you go

Ordering in social settings can be uncomfortable. You see everybody else ordering some big greasy menu item, so your impulse is to order something similar, even though it’s not what you want for your body. It’s too bad that guilt and shame can follow us to social situations—increasing the likelihood of an impulsive decision that isn’t aligned with our health plans.

Combat the impulse by looking at online menus before you go to a restaurant. That way, you know exactly what you want and can make a point to order first so others’ orders don’t tempt you.

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4. Bring the healthy dish to the potluck

There’s always plenty to eat at a get-together, but most spreads could use a couple more healthy options. You can decide to be the person who brings a healthy dish—even if you’re the only one who eats it.

For those moments when bringing a healthy dish simply isn’t an option, choose to eat something healthy ahead of time. That way, you’re not starving when you get to the event, you can better limit your food and portion choices, and you can enjoy yourself, grazing lightly on the unhealthy stuff.

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5. Take advantage of mindful & mindless eating

If someone gives you a Hershey’s Kiss, what do you do? Most likely, you take it, quickly unwrap it, pop it in your mouth, swallow it, and then find yourself wanting another one.

Food is many things. It’s social, sensual, and attached to a variety of experiences. We use all our senses to enjoy food—smell, taste, touch, sight, and even sound. But nobody wants to mindlessly eat the foods they enjoy. We want to experience them with every sense.

Naturally, we all still want to graze from time to time, too. That’s where chopping veggies ahead of time comes in handy. Now, you always have a convenient, but healthy, mindless option to munch on.

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6. If you like it, eat it slowly. If you don’t, eat it quickly

Some people eat the thing they like the least on their dinner plate first—and really quickly—and then they slow down to enjoy the rest of their meal. This is a great trick to get your healthy eating in without having to entirely cut out the foods you like.

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7. Spice up your life

Spices have high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory components. It’s like adding a little antioxidant, anticancer punch to your meals. There’s almost no downside. Plus, they make food less boring.

Experimenting with spices can be an unexpected, fun component of your new healthy eating goals. Hit the markets for interesting dried and fresh spices, and put them on everything.

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8. Add vegetables to anything, even prepackaged food

Try sneaking some black beans into your brownies—you won’t even notice they’re there. It’s an easy thing that’s a nice compromise between homemade and pre-made. Plus, little touches like this make it a whole lot easier to check off those weekly food boxes and get your required amount of fruits and vegetables.

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9. Cooking or topping veggies is fine!

If you need to put toppings on your vegetables or quinoa to make it palatable, go for it. Eventually, you’ll probably find that your taste buds will change and you won’t need them anymore.

This goes for microwaving, too. You may have read that it’s not great to microwave vegetables, but again, microwaved vegetables are better than no vegetables. A little Parmesan cheese on your broccoli is better than no broccoli at all.

After a few weeks of this, you’ll likely notice yourself dialing down these toppings anyway. Plus, when you’re eating more fresh foods, you’ll become much more sensitive to the salt and artificial flavors in prepackaged foods and crave them less.

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10. Portion food in advance

Make a conscious decision to eat and enjoy something. If you’re going to eat a piece of cake, eat it—and don’t hide in the bathroom in shame while you do. Instead, portion the cake out, look at it, and say, “Yes, this is a portion that I’m comfortable with.” Then, enjoy the hell out of it.

If you follow these ten healthy eating practices and make them a part of your everyday habits, you won’t need a fad diet or complicated rules to keep you aligned with your goals.

This article was adapted from Dr. Jaime Hope’s book, Habit That! and was syndicated by Dr. Hope is a dual board-certified physician in one of the busiest emergency departments in the country. Her book helps show others how to create better habits and make healthy living fun, practical, and accessible.

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