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6 Steps to Changing Bad Eating Habits

How to overcome unhealthy habits that are keeping you from losing weight and getting fit.

Most of us are creatures of habit. We buy the same foods from the same grocery store, prepare the same recipes over and over, and live within our own familiar routines. But if you’re serious about eating healthier and losing weight, you need to shake it up, change those bad eating habits, and start thinking differently about your diet and lifestyle.

Here are 6 steps to help you get rid of your old, unhealthy habits and create healthier ones:

1. Take Baby Steps

Making small changes in your diet and lifestyle can improve your health as well as trim your waistline. Some suggestions from the experts:

  • Start each day with a nutritious breakfast.
  • Get 8 hours of sleep each night, as fatigue can lead to overeating.
  • Eat your meals seated at a table, without distractions.
  • Eat more meals with your partner or family.
  • Teach yourself to eat when you’re really hungry and stop when you’re comfortably full.
  • Reduce your portion sizes by 20%, or give up second helpings.
  • Try lower-fat dairy products.
  • Make sandwiches with whole-grain bread and spread them with mustard instead of mayo.
  • Switch to cafe au lait, using strong coffee and hot skim milk instead of cream.
  • Eat a nutritious meal or snack every few hours.
  • Use nonstick pans and cooking spray instead of oil to reduce the fat in recipes.
  • Try different cooking methods, such as grilling, roasting, baking, or poaching.
  • Drink more water and fewer sugary drinks.
  • Eat smaller portions of calorie-dense foods (like casseroles and pizza) and larger portions of water-rich foods (like broth-based soups, salads, and veggies).
  • Flavor your foods with herbs, vinegars, mustards, or lemon instead of fatty sauces.
  • Limit alcohol to 1-2 drinks per day.

2. Become More Mindful

One of the first steps toward conquering bad eating habits is paying more attention to what you’re eating and drinking. “Read food labels, become familiar with lists of ingredients, and start to take notice of everything you put into your mouth,” says says Keri Gans, MS, RD, American Dietetic Association spokesperson and a nutritionist in private practice in New York. Once you become more aware of what you’re eating, you’ll start to realize how you need to improve your diet. Some people benefit by keeping food diaries.

3. Make a Plan: Be Specific

How are you going to start eating more fruit, having breakfast every day, or getting to the gym more often? Spell out your options. For example: Plan to take a piece of fruit to work every day for snacks, stock up on cereal and fruit for quick breakfasts, and go to the gym on the way to work three times a week. “To say ‘I am going to work out more,’ won’t help you,” says Gans. “What will help is thinking about when and how you can fit it into your lifestyle.”

4. Tackle a New Mini-Goal Each Week

These mini-steps will eventually add up to major change. For example, if your goal is to eat more vegetables, tell yourself you’ll try one new veggie each week until you find some you really enjoy. Or look for easy ways to add one more serving of vegetables to your diet each week until you reach your goal. Try topping your lunch sandwich with slices of cucumbers; adding shredded carrots to the muffins you have for breakfast; or topping your dinnertime pizza with sun-dried tomatoes and mushrooms.

5. Be Realistic

 Don’t expect too much from yourself too soon. It takes about a month for any new action to become habit. Slow and steady wins the race — along with a dose of vigilance.

6. Practice Stress Management

“Focus on dealing with stress through exercise, relaxation, meditation, or whatever works for you, so you don’t fall back into those bad habits during periods of stress or use food to help you cope with the situation,” advises John Foreyt, PhD, director of the Baylor College of Medicine Behavioral Medicine Research Center.