I love a cheeseburger as much as a the next girl, but, in order to stay fit, I’m constantly reminding myself to keep my calories in check. It seems like a simple thing, but we all know it’s easier said than done. This year I really cracked down on my diet, though, and I’ve developed a few habits that made healthy eating feel like second nature. Hopefully these help you too!
1) Have a plan
Having a meal plan can determine whether your week of eating ends up being one you’re proud of or one you regret. Meal planning doesn’t mean you have to dedicate six hours of your Sunday to pre-making and packing food for the week. Sure, that would be great, but who really has time for that? (Hint: Not me.)
I’ve found a few things that really help my meal planning:
- Make a Menu: Plan out your meals for the week and write them down. For me, writing down my weekly menu tends to bring out more well-rounded meals with a wider variety of ingredients and more veggies. Writing my menu down also helps set the expectation of a week of healthy meals for me and my family.
- One Big Weekly Grocery Trip: After I plan my weekly menu, it’s easy to go to the buy everything I need for the entire week. Buying all my groceries at once also holds me accountable for actually making the healthy meals I planned.
- Find a Routine: It may sound boring, but I eat the same thing for breakfast, lunch, snacks Monday through Friday. The trick is to find healthy options you genuinely enjoy and don’t get sick of. Once you do that, you can eat those options throughout the week and know exactly what kind of nutrition you’re putting into your body.
- Plan Ahead of Life’s Curveballs: We all have days when we get home late or something comes up that makes cooking sound unappealing. Have a backup plan for days like these! A zero-prep-required frozen family meal works great — like this Kahiki Chicken Fried Rice (a favorite at my house). Ideal? Not at all, but it’s likely still a healthier option than the fast food you’d be picking up instead. Again, these are for the curveball days and not to be used on a weekly basis.
2) Count your calories
Counting your calories is one of the easiest ways the know when you’re eating too much — or at least too much of what you shouldn’t be eating. Feel free to break out your calculator, but my favorite was of tracking my intake is using a mobile app. There are several great calorie tracking apps out there, so try a few and see which one suits you best! My favorite is the MyFitnessPal app.
The app makes it extremely easy to keep track of calories, carbs, fat, protein, and more. You can search for foods (from the grocery store or a restaurant) manually or you can use a barcode feature to scan them in. If you’ve prepped a meal with multiple ingredients, you can save those into a single meal to make future tracking easier.
The app factors in your goals and daily exercise to help you figure out how many calories you should be eating. Even if you’ve eaten the right amount of calories, the app can also tell you if those calories are made up of too much or too little carbs, fat, etc.
Another bonus of the app is that you can add “friends” from your contacts and have a community of people to help hold you accountable!
3) Rid your diet of high calorie drinks
It was earlier this year (when I started counting calories) that I realized how many of my calories were from drinks — coffee, juice, wine, you name it. The biggest culprit was coffee because my usual day included two big cups, each with about 3 tablespoons of a creamer at 25 calories per tablespoon. That’s 150+ calories per day! I decided to cut my drinking calories and made it a goal to enjoy black coffee by 2018. It took about six months but I’ve finally done it!
First I switched from flavored creamer to plain creamer, which in itself cut my daily calories in half. Then every couple months I took away a tablespoon of cream until eventually it was black. The slow transition helped me to actually ENJOY black coffee! And I cut out 150+ of my daily calories in the meantime. (Tip: Flavored coffee helps & is still zero calories!)
Maybe coffee cream isn’t a problem for you? Maybe it’s soda? Maybe it’s energy drinks? Whatever it is, you can try the same approach — either by watering down your drink of choice or slowly reducing how much of it you drink and replacing it with a lower calorie option. The goal is to feel genuinely satisfied with the change. Otherwise you’ll never stick to the habit.
4) Remove temptation
If I cave to temptation at the grocery store then all hope for a healthy week is completely lost. For example, if a box of Cheezit’s is in my house then I legitimately have zero self-control. No joke, I’ve had Justin lock those delicious, cheesy crackers in a cabinet just so I couldn’t get to them.
Luckily, I know this about myself and can usually do a decent job of controlling my purchases in the store. Of all these habits, I really think this one makes the biggest difference. Without the removal of temptation, I’d never have a daily diet that didn’t leave me feeling guilty at the end of the day!
And yes, I bought all my favorite junk foods to take this photo, which gives you a great idea of exactly how healthy my week is going to be!
5) Enjoy an occasional indulgence
These habits are meant to be just that — habits. But it’s impossible to stick to healthy habits if you never give yourself a break. I’ve found that I’m mostly likely to maintain a healthy lifestyle when I give myself an occasional indulgence. I do this in two ways:
- Daily Luxury: I pick ONE small thing to really savor every day. For me, it’s piece of Dove Milk Chocolate in the evening. I’ve found that the key to allowing myself a Daily Luxury is that I have to have a plan for what it will be. Without a plan, it could be a surprise breakfast donut at work, but then Justin brings home a cookie from the office, but then I get a sweets craving before bed . . . and before you know it my Daily Luxury has turned into a bad day of eating.
- Cheat Day: Oh how I look forward to Fridays. Every other day of the week I am totally on top of my diet, but Fridays are a free for all. If I’m being honest, Saturday dinners can sometimes be a bit rough too. But that’s OKAY. Without giving myself the chance to truly indulge, I would never, ever maintain the healthy lifestyle I have now. And I know that because that’s what I’ve tried to do time and time again and I’ve always failed. Again, PLAN your Cheat Day in advance. If you decide as you go then a Cheat Day will turn into several Cheat Days.
Giving yourself these indulgences may not seem like a way to cut calories, but (in my opinion), this fifth habit is critical to maintaining the first four. Ultimately, giving yourself the occasional break will take you from being on a diet to genuinely changing your lifestyle to something that feels completely manageable.
Note: While I consider myself to be a healthy person, I am not a health expert. These are simply habits that I have picked up over time and have found to be helpful in my personal health journey. Please consult a medical professional before making drastic changes to your diet.