In today’s dynamic and fast-paced world, sticking to a healthy diet is sometimes easier said than done. Most of us know the feeling.
For starters, just sifting through the array of healthy diets to figure out which one is best for you can be a challenge.
But even after you’ve picked out a meal plan or eating pattern, maintaining that healthy diet day in and day out has its fair share of difficulties.
The good news is, no matter how tough it might feel some days, sticking to a healthy diet is possible, and it doesn’t even mean that you have to give up your favorite foods.
There are tons of tips and tricks that make eating healthy easier, and most of them are simple and free.
Here are 11 of our favorite ways to stick to a healthy diet.
The word “diet” can mean different things. It can either refer to short-term dietary changes that are usually dedicated to weight loss or another purpose (e.g., following the keto diet), or to a person’s or community’s typical way of eating.
In this article, we’re focusing mostly on the second application of diet — a sustainable eating pattern that reflects habitual food choices.
There are many ways to follow a healthy diet, and no two nutritious diets look exactly the same.
Still, most successful, long-term healthy diets have at least one thing in common: They’re rich in whole foods.
Whole foods are those that have been minimally processed, such as:
- whole grains
- nuts and seeds
- eggs and dairy
- fresh animal proteins
Shakes, supplements, and fad diets might seem useful on the surface, but time and time again, whole-foods diets have been linked to better health outcomes all around the world.
Whole foods are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that support a healthy gut and reduce the risk of chronic diseases like obesity and diabetes (
On the contrary, ultra-processed foods like chips, candy, and sodas are more likely to promote inflammation and encourage chronic diseases (
Healthy diets come in all shapes and sizes, but most of them are centered on nutrient-dense, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, and protein.
One of the most important questions to ask yourself when starting a healthy diet is, “Can I keep this up long term?”
If the answer to that question is no, you could be embarking on a crash diet.
Crash diets usually rely on extreme calorie restriction to obtain fast weight loss results (
But here’s the thing about crash diets — actually, the thing about diets in general, from keto to Atkins and everything in between — the results usually don’t last in the long run. Over time, most people who diet regain the weight they’ve lost (
Interestingly, one diet that has held up to the test of time is the Mediterranean diet — and it’s rich in whole foods (
Thus, when it comes to sticking with a healthy diet, try to resist the urge to focus too much on weight loss.
Oftentimes, the healthy habits you instill by eating a nutritious diet end up being more important in the long run than how much weight you’ve lost in a short period of time.
Crash dieting might help you lose weight quickly, but that’s not always healthy. Plus, there’s no guarantee the results will last.
Simply put, adopting a healthy diet can be intimidating and challenging.
There are so many diets to choose from, you may feel like you don’t even really know where to start. It seems like everyone under the sun has an opinion on what you should and shouldn’t eat.
The good news is you aren’t alone on this journey.
Many trained professionals can help you figure out the best path for you (
A registered dietitian can help you navigate meal plans, food groups, your daily nutrient needs, and safe diets for specific conditions and diseases.
A behavior change specialist, such as a psychologist, can help you break old habits and form new ones.
Working with a trained professional provides a support system to lean on. It likewise ensures you’re getting accurate and up-to-date information about healthy eating, as well as how to best stick with it.
It’s not uncommon to hear about diets described as being the “best” or “healthiest.”
Yet, no one diet works best for everyone.
We each live in a unique set of circumstances influenced by genetics, our health, work schedules, family, cultural traditions, and more.
No single diet can perfectly account or accommodate for so many individual factors.
In the end, the “best” healthy diet for you is the one that makes you feel your best and that you can stick with for the long haul.
Sticking to a healthy diet means finding a way of eating that is not only nutritious but also that you find enjoyable, sustainable, and conducive to your personal circumstances.
In recent years, researchers have found that people around the world are eating more ultra-processed foods than ever before (
Ultra-processed foods are those that have been made by industrial processing. They tend to contain additives like sweeteners, thickeners, stabilizers, and other ingredients that make the foods last longer and taste better (
Some examples of ultra-processed foods include fast food, frozen dinners, and sugar-sweetened juices and sodas.
Not only are ultra-processed foods tempting due to their flavors, but even being in the presence of these types of foods can affect brain chemistry and behavior (
You can help avoid the temptation to eat these foods by keeping them out of your house, limiting your access to them at home (
On the other hand, keeping your fridge and pantry stocked with nutrient-dense, whole foods is a great way to keep your healthy diet in mind and encourage yourself to have those nutritious foods more often.
Surrounding yourself with the foods you want to eat and learn to love, rather than the ones you’re trying to avoid, increases your chance of success.
Often, it’s the moments when we find ourselves feeling extra hungry and tempted with a tasty treat that we forget about the healthy eating plans we had in mind for the day.
Though craving foods from time to time is completely normal, researchers have found that in moments of extreme hunger, our cravings tend to get even stronger (
Keeping nutritious and filling snacks on hand is a great way to keep cravings at bay until your next full meal.
Snacks that are high in protein and fiber can help keep you feeling full (
Some examples are:
- fresh fruits and veggies
- hard-boiled eggs
- mixed nuts and nut butters
- hummus or roasted chickpeas
- whole grain crackers
Staying prepared by keeping nutritious and filling snacks on hand reduces the chance of straying from your healthy diet when hunger strikes.
Have you ever felt like there’s one food you just can’t live without? Fortunately, you don’t have to!
Depriving yourself of the foods you love and crave can actually end up backfiring.
In the short term, it tends to make your cravings for those foods even stronger, especially for people who are more susceptible to food cravings in general (
Some research has even found that feeling satisfied rather than deprived while dieting is linked to a higher rate of weight loss (
Rather than completely giving up the less nutritious foods that you love, try having them only occasionally while practicing portion control.
It’s true that with moderation and portion control, there is room for all foods in a healthy diet — even those that might seem like they couldn’t have a place.
A common barrier people encounter while working toward improving their diets is falling into an all-or-nothing mindset.
An all-or-nothing thought might sound something like this: “Well, I’ve already ruined my diet for the day by having that piece of cake at the office party earlier, so I might as well forget my plans to cook at home tonight and grab takeout instead.”
These types of thoughts usually look at situations in black and white, or as “good” and “bad.”
Instead, try to look at each individual food choice you make during a day as its own. One less-than-ideal choice doesn’t have to snowball into a full day’s worth of similar choices.
In fact, having high self-esteem and confidence in your ability to make healthy choices tends to be associated with better health outcomes, so don’t let one small stumble bring you down (
Instead of letting all-or-nothing thoughts convince you that anything less than perfection is a failure, view each new choice you make about your diet as a clean new slate.
For many people, potlucks, happy hour, and dining out are something to look forward to. But for someone struggling to stick to a new or healthy diet, they can feel like another hurdle to overcome.
Restaurant meals tend to be higher in calories, sodium, sugar, fat, and ultra-processed foods than meals cooked at home, and they often come in large serving sizes (
Plus, in social settings, our own food choices are heavily influenced by the choices of the people around us (
Simply put, it’s easy to overdo it when eating out, and maintaining a healthy diet while eating out can be very challenging.
Still, there are ways to make it easier. Having a strategy in mind before you get to a restaurant or gathering can go a long way toward easing your mind and helping you feel prepared to navigate eating out.
Here are a few of our favorite tips for eating out:
- Research the menu before you go.
- Eat a piece of fruit ahead of time.
- Stay hydrated during the meal.
- Order your meal first.
- Take your time and savor your meal.
Planning ahead for eating out is a great way to ease any stress or uncertainty you might feel about how you’ll stick to your healthy diet at a restaurant or event.
Self-monitoring is an easy and effective way to keep track of your progress on your own (
It can be as simple as keeping a journal of the foods you eat each day or as detailed as using a smartphone or web-based app that tracks the details of your daily calorie intake, weight, activity levels, and more.
When self-monitoring your progress, remember that weight loss and gain are not the only ways to measure how far you’ve come. In some cases, they might not be the best way to measure progress either.
People choose to follow healthy diets for all types of different reasons. For example, you might choose to focus on how your dietary changes have affected your physical or mental health, rather than how much weight you’ve lost.
Some other questions to ask yourself to help measure whether your healthier diet is working are:
- Am I full and satisfied?
- Do I enjoy what I eat?
- Could I keep eating this way forever?
- How many healthy choices did I make today?
- How confident do I feel about my diet?
- Have I noticed any changes to my physical health?
- Have I noticed any changes to my mental health?
Measure your progress to assess whether your efforts are having their intended consequences. But tracking doesn’t have to mean logging every calorie in an app! Checking in with your body can be enough to help you stick to a nutritious diet.
Sticking to a healthier diet is a marathon, not a sprint.
Learning the best diet for yourself takes trial and error, and some days will be easier than others, so try not to feel discouraged if it takes longer than you’d like for your new habits to set in.
As long as you set realistic expectations for yourself, remain committed, and continue to reevaluate your progress, your diet is likely to keep moving in a positive direction.
Forming new habits of any type takes time, and healthy diets are no different. When you’re feeling frustrated, try practicing self-kindness and refocusing on your long-term goals.
Breaking old habits and forming new ones is not an easy process, especially when it comes to foods you’ve been eating for your whole life.
Our diets are complex systems influenced by biological, cognitive, and social influences, just to name a few (
Therefore, a variety of tools may be needed to navigate those factors and stick to a healthy diet long term.
Just one thing
Try this today: Have you ever felt like most healthy diets recommend eating foods that just aren’t for you? If so, you might be interested in learning more about how healthy eating includes cultural foods, too.