Eating Healthy One Step At A Time

I think most people want to eat healthy.

But for many it’s too tough to start (especially eating healthy on a budget).  We get into eating habits, that aren’t great, and its just too much to give them up and change our lifestyles.

So what do we do?  We don’t bother; it’s too hard.

Does this help a person?

Nope.  Does this sound like anything else we don’t take care of because its too hard?  Yup, personal finance!  So what’s the answer to eating healthy?  Just like your personal finances, you can start with baby steps and move from there.  Make small changes to your habits, little by little, and build up over time.

Trying to change all of your habits at once is too hard for most.

Most of us can’t do a 180 degree shift to our lives.  What is possible is to take one small change and implement it into your life and make it a new habit.  Once that habit is a normal routine in your life you can move to another habit.  We can take this concept and apply it to eating healthy.  Find one aspect of your eating and work it into a new habit.  Know that it can take 3-4 weeks before a new habit becomes an everyday routine!

Here are some changes you can make to eat healthy one step at a time:

Change The Fast Food You Eat

Notice I’m not saying cut out fast food completely (that comes later).  That’s too big of a step.  Start off with changing the kinds of fast food you eat.  Instead of getting that big burger try out the grilled chicken sandwich.  Instead of the super-sized fries and soda, get the medium size.  Look for better food options at the fast food joints you frequent.  The key is to start small and build from there.  Over time you may just find you don’t even want fast food!

Change Your Milk

Move to drinking organic milk.  Milk it does the body good, or so the ads say.  But they really should be from the best sources without any additives and from animals that are healthy.  I’m not saying eat everything organic.  That’s too much at once (if you can do it fine).  I pick milk because its a pretty basic staple in our lives and I think it can have a high impact.  Remember when your mom said “you are what you eat?”  So think about milk for a moment – If a cow isn’t eating properly and is full of chemicals and you drink its milk, what are you really drinking?  (That was kind of rhetorical but the answer is you are drinking the junk that’s put into the cow).  So switching to organic milk is a nice step to take.

Organic milk can be expensive.  In fact organic food in general can be more expensive.  This is another great reason to make your changes one step at a time.  We can’t all afford to switch to everything organic, so make the choice to start with milk.  Once that becomes important in your life add other organic foods to your diet.

Eat More Fruits And Vegetables

Apple a day keeps the doctor awayOdds are if you are concerned about changing your eating habits to eat healthier then you aren’t eating enough fruits and vegetables.  According to the American Heart Association, you should have 3-5 servings of vegetables and 4-5 servings of fruits a day.  That’s tough to so for most of us!  Make a conscious effort to eat more fruits and vegetables every day.  If you tend not to eat any then start off eating one.  Find ways to substitute an item in your meal with a fruit or vegetable.  For example, if you go to a restaurant that offers pasta or fries (yea, potatoes are a vegetable but fries aren’t so great for you) as a side, ask if you could substitute it for a side of vegetable.  A local diner we frequent lets me substitute fries with a small serving of broccoli.

Cut Out The Sugars

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Cutting backs sweets when you have a sweet tooth can be extremely difficult.  Sugar can act like a drug in many of us.  Here is where you need to really be conscious of your cravings.  Try to find one particular “bad” food and reduce its intake.  Don’t substitute the food you pick with another “bad” food!

Prepare Your Own Meals

When other people prepare your meals you really don’t know how they are made or where the food comes from (mom’s cooking excluded).

As good as a meal may look at a restaurant you have no idea how its made.  This is where a lot of people get in trouble health-wise.  You think because you eat out at a reputable restaurant that it also healthy.  Hey, it looks like it has the four food groups.

But sometimes food tastes real good for a reason – sugar, fat, and salt!

These three items trigger lizard brain desires deep in our brains and make us love the flavor of the food.  That’s why many establishments use those ingredients – they want us to like their food.  But the cost is it isn’t healthy for us.  That not to say that every time you out out its no good for you.  I’m just saying you can’t say for certain what the ingredients are and how it made.  Food prepared by your own hand, with ingredients picked yourself, will help insure that your meal is healthy.  Find one meal you can make well with healthy ingredients and become the master of it.

Eat Foods With Less Ingredients

Ever pick up a box of some food and see an ingredient list as long as the box?  Sure you have.  It’s like being back in high school staring at a chemistry test.  And how many of those items do you recognize?  Odds are many of those items are sugar substitutes or preservatives.

Do you really think that can be good for you?

Aim for foods that have less ingredients that you understand.  One of our favorite natural peanut butters has a total of two ingredients: peanuts and salt.  That’s not too bad.  Go ahead and check out some peanut butters the next time you’re at the grocery.

Eat Whole Grain Bread

Whole grains have been shown to reduce heart disease, regulate blood glucose, reduce the risks of some cancers, and more!  Eating bread with whole grains is a great way to integrate whole grains into your diet.  Be careful that the grains are actually “whole” and are not refined or enriched.  Also be on the lookout for sugars lurking in the ingredient list.  For an extra bonus you could even look for sprouted breads.

Cut Out The Kids Cereals

Most popular kid cereals are loaded with sugar.  I used to love kid cereals as a kid.  I remember being so disappointed that Alpha-Bits cereal didn’t contain only marshmallows!  You know how I used to pick cereal?  I picked whichever one had the best prize (and I’d have to grab the box when we got home to get to the prize before my sister).  My love of kid cereals lasted to adulthood as well.  A meal would be a nice big bowl of cereal.  After a while I noticed something – I would get real tired and crash after a big bowl of cereal.  See, my body was crashing after the huge sugar rush I’d get from the cereal.  Rather than provide nutrients, I was getting an overload of sugar.  Do yourself, and your kids, a favor and look for whole grain cereals with less sugar.

Drink More Water

Make a conscious effort to drink more water.  Keep a bottle full of water handy for when you are thirsty.  Water is healthy for you and MUCH better than soda or some other kind of drink.  Many times when you think you are hungry you really are just thirsty.  Its also has zero calories and generally helps you function better.  The body needs water.

I’m No Health Saint

I have my sweet tooth, let me tell you!

If I ever meet Ben & Jerry I’m gonna run up and give them a big hug!  But over the years I’ve changed the way I eat that is way different than my old eating habits.  I lived by fast food and sugar.  But I realize now that trying to eat healthy has benefits that far outweigh the taste of a quick sugar, fat, or salt (most of the time).  Fast food is done for me for the most part.  Kid’s cereals are out too.  Honestly, we don’t eat out too often.  It’s OK to indulge every now and then within reason, so long as it’s not your norm.

It’s more expensive, price-wise, to eat healthier but that’s OK for us. There’s a hidden cost in those cheaper foods – Bad Health!  The way I look at it, eating better now is like pre-paying health insurance.  The more we watch what we eat now, the more we help to prevent health problems later on.  Obesity and diabetes are rapidly growing problems in our country.  We need to be the ones responsible for our health and what we put into our bodies.  When you buy healthier foods you are putting your money where your mouth is and major corporations take notice.  When people move to better foods, more companies enter the healthy food arena making the production of good foods less expensive.

No, its not easy to change your entire diet overnight. But you can take steps to move in the right direction to eat healthier.  Just like it takes time to get your personal finances in order so it takes time to change your diet.  But it can be done and I truly believe your life will be enriched by following a better diet!

Change your eating habits. Take one aspect to change and make it a habit.  Then move on to something else to change.  Soon enough you will look back without regret and see how much your diet has changed and how much better you feel!

Wanna know a secret? Once you’ve been eating better for a little while you start to realize the different tastes and textures of food.  You understand that a lot of food tasted good in the past because it had lots of sugar.  Guess what?  You actually ENJOY food more when you are eating healthy.  Go figure!

The tips above are just that – tips.  Find a way to be conscious of your eating and make it healthier for you.

What’s your advice to eat healthier?  Leave your tips in the comments!

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Published or updated April 6, 2013.

Comments

  1. I am a vegetarian, take out meat from your diet and it is loads and loads cheaper to eat vegetarian.

    One tip that could be added to the milk trick is mixing… If you drink full fat then buy a full and half fat, mix the two maybe starting with only a little half fat milk in your mix and gradually increasing until you are used to drinking just the half fat.

    Also some of your portions of veg and fruit per day can be taken in juice…. An extra glass of 100% juice per day is easy to add to anyone’s day.

    • Nice tips! My wife and I are vegetarian too and we’re so happy we don’t have to worry about the price of meat.

      • Even if not vege, just cutting out meat twice a week would make huge cost benefits…. homemade pizza, pasta, curry are great easy starts for a vege meal.

        I love being vegetarian, so much better in so many ways…. Although I occassionally miss chicken!

  2. I really enjoyed this post. As a matter of fact, you stopped me from getting up and eating a couple of Twizzlers that are located about 5 feet away.

    For me, I am so much better off if the garbage is just not in the house. The only thing that is bad for me that I dislike is crackers (Cheez Its, goldfish, etc). Anything with chocolate or sugar, I adore!

    One thing that is hard for me is I do exactly what you advise against and make a million changes at once, which makes me one crabby mama. This week my focus is fruits and veggies. I already mostly cook at home, but we are on the road a lot, and sometimes eating out is our only option.

    The two easiest things for our family is to drink more water (even the kids are doing this) and to have healthy options readily available. For instance, I try to always have cutup veggies in the fridge. I know my son will never, ever peel a carrot, so I have it all prepared ahead of time.

    Great post!

    • Yeah, sometimes I can’t say no to a food. It calls me from the closet! I think you hit on a big factor – knowing your weaknesses and working with them. If you can’t resist a food then don’t have it nearby. If you know the kids won’t peel veggies then prepare it before-hand so they eat it.

      Thanks!

  3. Miranda says:

    I love food, especially dairy, bread and chocolate! But I’ve been working on adjusting my diet, slowly switching out things, and reducing my servings of some foods in a day, replacing with fruits and vegetables. It’s not easy, but moving slow seems to help.

  4. Why not get rid of milk altogether? It’s not a health food and there are much healthier alternatives for calcium. I’m amazed how many people don’t even consider it optional in their diet when most of the world is lactose intolerant and many cultures don’t use dairy at all in their traditional cuisine.

    • You’re absolutely right Meg. I’ve tried to but I’m not ready to make that change yet. Good point though!

      I think many people would have a hard time giving milk up altogether so I think switching to organic is a good alternative if milk is important to your diet.

      Perhaps that will be a step we take down the road?

  5. I’ll admit it, I never went food shopping till last year. I lived at home during college, law school and moved right in with the fiance who took care of everything. So when I went for the first time I was SHOCKED how much junk food crap cost compared to fruit.

    The Wife and I have been trying to eat healthier and to be honest it is not more expensive for us, because we offset the costs of organic with just dropping the horrible crap which actually costs a ton.

    • Good point! When you cut out all of the junk food you have more room in the budget for the better stuff.

  6. Aaron @ Clarifinancial says:

    I have been working to reduce carbohydrates and increase fruits and vegetables in my diet, with the goal of reducing energy spikes (and crashes) and increasing nutrition. This has been so much easier by preparing almost all our meals at home, and not drinking calories.

    My wife made up a month’s worth of menus and shopping lists by the week. We repeat it each month and make adjustments as we see fit. Planning meals means less temptation for unhealthy fixes and less time at the grocery store. We are healthier and we save money and time by being prepared in advance.

    • Menu planning is huge in both eating healthy and in saving money. My wife is great at planning out what she would like to make and then use that to make a shopping list.

    • it’s pretty much impossible to eat healthy in this country without planning ahead!

  7. Oh, the irony…I started reading this while I was finishing the leftovers I brought from home for lunch…2 small slices of Dominos ham and bell pepper pizza…

    My husband and I were eating out all the time last year and now I bring my lunch and we eat out 2 times or less in a week (like Friday’s Dominos). That was a HUGE step.

    We are also trying to break away from continual dinners of a main protein and two carbs as sides (potatoes and corn are just too yummy). We’ve successfully added salads and green beans to the mix so far.

    Now I’m working on substituting my snacks of Twizzlers, Skittles, and Oreos with fruit. I haven’t gorged on Oreos or Skittles for more than 5 months (I’ve had a few every other week or so, but I haven’t polished off bags of them by myself), but Twizzlers are my downfall.

    Small steps…that reminds me that I still need to find a non-flaky walking partner…

    • Skittles are a big temptations for me. When the vending machine at work had them it was hard to resist. One thing I noticed though, is that the crash was harder than the energy burst and just wasn’t worth it.

  8. I love this post! Eating healthy most likely will correspond to being financially healthy as well!

    My first advice: DON’T EAT OUT! Trust me, you don’t want to know the kinds of things that they put into your system.

    DRINK 6-8 cups of water a day! EVEN if you drink juice, soda, coffee (which you should cut out!) you need the clean water. America is underhydrated!

    LASTLY: 50% of what you eat have to be green vegetables and fresh fruit.

  9. Girl you can’t marry Ben and Jerry because I will be walking down the aisle first…….LOVE that Triple Caramel Fudge!!!!!

    I started to eat healthier in steps as well and now I find that when I eat some of the junk food that I used to eat it I feel sick. I buy pecans and fruits every weekend and parcel them out into smaller containers for the day. Every day when I pack my lunch I grab a small plastic container of nuts and one of fruit or a banana..and have two healthy snacks for the day.

    • Umm, I think I’d only be able to marry them in a few states anyway…

      Using small containers is a great idea. Even when I’m snacking at home I find if I pour out a serving size of something I eat less (as opposed to eating an entire bag of chips at once!).

  10. Meal planning has been the biggest help to us saving money on our groceries each week. I know there are a few staples my husband likes: chips, salsa, cookies, and then I basically plan out meals for lunch and dinner. For dinner I usually try to make extras, that way we always have something to snack on.

  11. My hubby and I are currently on a juicing 15 day program. We are on day six. He has lost 10 pounds, I have lost 7. The first 5 days, we ate nothing but vegetables and fruits. I am by no means a vegetarian, but doing this for 5 days really opened our eyes to eating more vegetables. We realized how little we were eating even though we thought we were doing pretty good. Now we have begun 5 days of just juicing, so we shall see how this works out! I believe that beyond all the health benefits of this 15 days, we will definitely be changing the way that we eat. We will look to buy more fresh, and to only eat meat and non-refined carbs a few times a week.
    Here’s to a healthier you!
    Bernice

    • Glen Craig says:

      What’s amazing is once you start eating healthier, when you eat crappy food you really feel it and you realize what it does to your body.

      Best of luck with your juicing program.

  12. Great topic. I started my change 2 1/2 years ago when I tipped the scales at 235 (I’m right at 5′ 11″). I would eat fast food for lunch, drink tons of soda, and generally not eat healthy. I find now when I try that big burger at Whatataburger (a Texas chain) or a pan pizza from Pizza Hut, I pay for it almost immediately feeling lousy. If I slip for a few days, I gain weight, get crabby and it effects running. All the advice is spot on, you’ll do it in increments, just like I did with exercising (start walking, build up to slow running, got up to running a 1/2 marathon). I weigh between 175-185 mostly now, have tons more energy and much better moods. Plus, I like the way I look in clothes now.

    • Isn’t it amazing how your energy levels change based on what you eat? When you start eating healthy and then go back to junk you feel it right away. It certainly makes you think about what you did in the past to your body, doesn’t it?

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