Have you ever known someone who seems to be effortlessly healthy? They always get their vegetables in, they don’t get tripped up by sweets, and their idea of fun always includes physical activity. How is it that for them, a healthy lifestyle just seems to come more naturally?
What I’ve learned as a dietitian over the past 4 years, is that people who seem to be naturally healthy have a few basic habits they practice. Yes they have healthy daily habits – eating breakfast, getting enough sleep, preparing their own meals – but the habits I’m referring to are the impetus behind those daily habits; they’re the underlying habits that give rise to those healthy daily habits we observe.
And here’s the best part: these habits are ones that you can start adopting at any time. With these simple actions to take and questions to ask yourself, you’ll be one of those effortlessly healthy people in no time!
1| They keep their food simple
Let’s be clear here, simple doesn’t mean boring or tasteless. Simple means that basic ingredients are used, preparation is kept to a minimum, and nutritional content is valued over all else. Snacks consist of fruits, vegetables, or nuts (maybe cheese if you’re feeling fancy), and meals are vegetable-based with some starch and protein thrown in. Spices and fresh herbs are used in abundance, and packaged foods are kept to a minimum.
The healthiest people I know follow these guidelines most days; they may occasionally throw in some exotic-sounding ingredient like chia seeds or spirulina, but most of the time they focus on whole foods that can be found at any grocery store.
One of my favorite easy meals is broccoli and chickpeas sautéed in garlic and oil and topped with parmesan. If I’m feeling extra hungry I’ll throw in some pasta, and I always make sure the broccoli is the main component of the meal. It’s simple, quick, and tasty, but do you know how many people have turned their noses up at it after asking me for easy, healthy meal ideas? All of them – well except for one of my good friends, but she was following an elimination diet at the time.
It seems that most people think eating healthy has to be complicated. They see “healthy” recipes online with ingredient lists a mile long. They hear health gurus extoling the virtues of all the latest superfoods. It’s understandable why they would think a meal with boring old broccoli and chickpeas couldn’t possibly be the healthiest option out there, but the truth is, a healthy diet doesn’t require complicated recipes and exotic foods.
2| They choose healthfulness over taste
Ok, so you know how before I said simple foods don’t have to be boring or tasteless? Well sometimes they just are – raw carrots come to mind. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat them! Most people have this idea in their head that everything they eat has to be the most delicious and satisfying experience ever. They live their life trying to satisfy their various cravings, basing all their food decisions solely on taste.
While this is a perfectly fine way to live, it isn’t completely in line with following a healthy diet. Sometimes (most of the time?) the best food option is the healthiest one, regardless of taste.
Now I know that can sound a little depressing, but the good news is over time you’ll start to actually like these healthy options. It may be because your tastes have changed, or because you like how you feel when you eat them. Either way your body will be getting the nourishment it needs.
3| They experiment with food
There’s no hating on tofu or vegetables with this crowd! People who follow a healthy lifestyle are pretty open-minded when it comes to food. They’ll try foods they’ve never had before and experiment with different preparation methods until they find one that works. They rarely get stuck in a food rut because they’re always on the lookout for new ideas.
Letting go of food rules is a big help when it comes to this particular habit. Think you can only have eggs or cereal for breakfast – what about a breakfast salad? Think meat should be the centerpiece of the meal – what if it was just an accompaniment? Break free from your normal food routines and try a food or spice you’ve never had before. Pair two foods that shouldn’t go together and see what you can come up with. Have some fun with your food!
4| They think long-term
Have you ever noticed that the healthiest people you know don’t get caught up in fad diets or quick fixes? That’s because they know these are temporary in nature, and what they’re looking for are permanent lifestyle changes.
Focusing on long-term outcomes is the key factor in achieving lifestyle change. Improved quality of life, preventing chronic diseases, being able to take care of yourself into old age – these are all long-term goals that can keep us making healthy choices day after day. Start by asking yourself, what do I want my life to look like in 10, 20, or 30 years? What choices could I make today that would help me get there?
Your actions today may not provide you with immediate results, but later on you’ll be thankful that you took them.