Trying to eat healthier? Make lifestyle changes, and have a weekly cheat day

By Leo Babauta

It can be a difficult thing to change our diets. I’m not a big fan of being on a “diet” in the first place, one that restricts you to bland food and makes you feel like you’re suffering. These diets are doomed to failure, as they might work in the short term but we will always, always fall off them. Trust me, I’ve tried and fallen off many: Atkins, South Beach, the Abs Diet, Slim Fast, Weight Watchers, and some you probably haven’t heard of.

As others have said before me, don’t go on a diet — go for a healthy lifestyle change instead. That means to make changes that you can sustain for the rest of your life.

Here are some simple lifestyle changes you can make and keep in your diet:

  1. Substitute whole grains for refined carbs. Ditch white bread and eat whole grain bread (note that wheat bread and whole grain bread are different – the first uses enriched wheat flour, which is refined, and the second uses whole grain flour, which isn’t). Eat whole grain pasta instead of regular pasta. Eat brown rice instead of white. Whole grain bagels instead of regular. You get the idea. Whole grains are much healthier — more nutrients, slower to digest, more fiber. Refined carbs offer nearly no nutrition in exchange for lots of calories. And after a little while, you won’t want to go back — whole grains taste better and are more satisfying.
  2. Eat more fruits and veggies. Yes, everyone will tell you this. But it’s an easy change to make — just stock up on them every week when you go shopping, and snack on them throughout the day. Have berries for breakfast. Snack on fruits at your desk in the office. Eat raw or steamed veggies with lunch and dinner. Fruits are a great after dinner snack. Fruits and veggies not only provide nutrients and fiber, but they fill you up without giving you too much calories and fat.
  3. Eat leaner meats (or better yet, other forms of protein!). Switching beef for lean chicken or turkey is an easy switch to make. You might love red meat, but it’s killing you. There are very tasty dishes you can make using lean meat. And even better is soy protein, or nuts and whole grains, beans and other such forms of protein. All the nutrients with none of the saturated fat! If this is difficult for you, try doing it one day a week to start with.
  4. Cut back on sweets. This is my most difficult challenge. I have not been completely successful on this, and this will be the topic of a future post, but I have made progress by cutting back on the pastries and candies and other sweet desserts — I usually just have a little now, and find healthier treats to enjoy instead.

Implement these changes one at a time, slowly and over a long period of time. Don’t start tomorrow by saying you’re going to drastically change your entire diet. You will have a difficult time, and suffer, and fail within a few weeks. When the change is very drastic and restrictive, it is too hard for most of us, and it’s just a matter of time before we fail.

A final tip: if you decide to cut back on sweets, or something similar, give yourself one cheat day a week. This will make it easier on you, and give you something to look forward to. It will also increase the likelihood of your success. Give yourself a break sometimes!