Webster defines a habit as something that a person does often in a regular and repeated way or an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary. Within this definition is the concept of a habit not requiring thought and of it happening naturally.
As a dietitian, I am in the business of turning healthful eating into a routine; of helping people develop a nearly involuntary habit of good eating that becomes a natural part of their lives. How do we begin to develop the habit of healthy eating? Start with these simple steps…
Be in the know.
The first step in becoming a healthful eater is to know what you are eating in the first place. Get into the habit of reading food labels and using rating programs like Guiding Stars, which allows you to compare foods and make sure you are choosing the ones that fit for your dietary goals. Make turning a box to read the facts or using the Guiding Stars Food Finder or Shopper App your regular routine so that you develop a habit of knowing what you are eating. Once you know what you’re working with you can move onto step two.
Screen out your “every day” versus your “sometimes” foods.
So now that you are in the habit of investigating what you are eating, make identifying those foods that should be regulars in your cart your next natural step. In doing so, you will develop the habit of saving those foods that should be only consumed sometimes for just that. Since you have already taken the time to choose your healthful foods this task should be easy. You will find that not only will you save money because you aren’t frequently buying unneeded extras, you will also shop faster.
Break the habit of “association shopping.”
Maybe it’s the box of mini muffins you pick up because they are on the way to the deli. Or possibly it is the “yogurt covered” raisins you get because they are in the same aisle as the nuts. Whatever your “add on” is…stop adding it on. If you break the habit of associating the good thing you are doing with the not good thing, you will find that you save yourself the calories and spend less too. While it may take a few times to consciously pass on the fresh baked muffins, you will quickly see that it soon becomes noteworthy the few times that you do pick them up.
Watch for “add ons” at the table.
Now that you have tackled the tough task of getting the most healthful foods into your home, your next step is to modify the way you eat them. For example, get into the habit of tasting food before you assume that it needs salt or extra butter. Consider breaking apart traditionally paired foods such as cheese and crackers if you only need the protein or will be getting carbohydrate through another part of your meal or snack.
Do a daily check-in.
On a busy day it can be tough to keep track of your eating…let alone that of the rest of your family. However, this last and final step is very important for developing the habit of healthful, balanced eating. Prior to boiling ravioli, make sure that it wasn’t pasta day at school. Or before offering dessert, double check that a treat wasn’t already enjoyed earlier in the day. The same goes for ensuring that you and others consume enough fruits and vegetables every day. The bottom line is that pausing for these simple considerations will ensure that you and your family are consuming the foods your body needs.