Getting started with healthy eating can be all kinds of things: exciting, fun, and also overwhelming or discouraging at times. Here’s a list of 10 beginner guidelines to healthy eating if you’re just starting out!
Over the years I’ve been commonly asked what the best way to get started with healthy eating is. I remember the early days of my very own healthy eating journey, and I too had tons. of. questions.
Is there a certain book I should read? Should I cut out certain foods? Should I go vegan? Should I start with a “detox”? What are the best foods for me to eat? How do I know if this is good or bad for me? I also strongly believed that I literally could not cook or learn how to make food taste good (which was a lie, we can all learn). I definitely have made some interesting concoctions over the years… but trust me, you get better!
Beginning a healthy journey involves a lot of excitement, but also a lot of overwhelm at times. It’s easy to have this desire to overhaul our entire diet and life or find ourselves eating well for a few days before completely losing motivation. My hope is that these tips will give you a boost of inspiration and encouragement to make healthy choices sustainable and for the long-term.
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1. Start Simple
The best thing you can do is to focus on adding more whole foods and vegetables to your plate. This could be a side salad with dinner, steamed veggies, or adding spinach to your spaghetti sauce. A good visual is half your plate should be veggies.
Of course there’s the world of superfoods and fancy powders and getting lost in the aisles of supplements at health food stores—and I encourage you to have fun learning about them—but if you’re new to just simply eating more vegetables regularly, then just focus on that in the beginning to help you develop new healthy eating habits.
2. Memorize Recipes
Cooking homemade meals is a key point on this list to getting started with healthy eating, but it can feel really overwhelming when we don’t know what to make.
My advice: start experimenting with just 2 or 3 new recipes, and learn them really well so that they become “staple” recipes for you. These are recipes that you’ve memorized and know how to whip up really easily.
3. Get Inspiration
When it comes to finding new recipes in the first place, get inspiration from healthy recipe blogs and books. I have a ton of recipes here on my blog, but some of my favourite bloggers are Against All Grain, Downshiftology, PaleOMG, Joyous Health and Ambitious Kitchen. And the book that really catapulted me forward at the beginning of my health journey? Mariel Hemingway’s Healthy Living from the Inside Out.
Once you start learning new recipes you can start building on them and before you know, in time you’ll have all kinds of meals memorized (or you’ll know how to make similar meals without following a recipe!) You’ll also memorize staple foods to be stocked up on.
4. Stock Up
In order for us to make all the healthy meals we want to make, we need to have healthy food in our fridge, freezer and cupboards to begin with. Being stocked up regularly also helps making healthy choices much easier.
Focus on filling up your grocery cart with more whole foods and less processed, packaged, convenience foods. The more you experiment with healthy recipes like we talked about, the more you’ll know which foods are staples for you to always be stocked up on! For example, you may notice that you go through a lot of kale, pumpkin seeds or sweet potatoes.
For a full list of healthy kitchen staples (so you know what to always have on hand by default + how to use them easily), a healthy food swap chart and a mini guide to package labels, sign up for my newsletter to receive my Healthy Eating Quickstart Guide. You can sign up here.
5. Ditch the Diet Mentality
Transitioning to eating healthier is not about a short term fad diet or strict calorie counting, but a long-term lifestyle focused on nourishing and supporting the health of your body. I talked about this in my video on Intuitive Eating and I highly recommend you watch it!
Here’s the thing: an avocado and 3 oreo cookes both have about 150 calories. Does that mean they’re both the same, or even similar? Not at all! Similar calorie contents of different foods do not make them equal foods.
A cookie has what we call empty calories, meaning it contains energy from sugar and carbs, but no nutritional value like vitamins, minerals, protein, or fibre.. What matters most is what foods are made of and what they do inside of your body.
I’m not saying you can’t enjoy a cookie—just know that because a food is merely low or high in calories doesn’t determine if it’s healthy or unhealthy.
6. Familiarize Yourself with Package Labels
When it comes to food labels, it’s not about just looking at the calories or Nutrition Facts Table, but the actual list of ingredients!
Sometimes the front of packaging is misleading with wording such as whole grains, half the fat, low in cholesterol, or low salt. Forget about those sneaky terms and look at the ingredients. Things like high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, modified milk ingredients, and artificial colours or flavours are all things to look out for. These are not healthy for you even if a package says whole grains!
Remember to keep it simple and focus on whole food—buying food in packages is totally fine, just make sure the ingredients are real food ingredients. 🙂
7. Make Healthy Swaps
Tossing out the unhealthy stuff from our cupboards doesn’t mean you can’t still have similar, delicious foods. It’s all about learning what healthier alternatives are out there such as coconut oil or butter instead of margarine, maple syrup instead of refined white sugar, or things like almond milk instead of cow’s milk.
Finding healthy versions of some of your favourite types of meals by doing a quick google search is another great way to still eat many of the things you love.
Making healthy swaps takes time–and that’s okay! The more you cook and familiarize yourself with healthy foods, the more you’ll know what swaps to make.
8. Make Time
Making new recipes, experimenting with new ingredients and learning what you like means carving out time to do it. If it helps, set aside some time blocks in your schedule. This might be 30 extra minutes before you’d usually make dinner, or an hour on a Sunday.
Making homemade meals does take more time, that’s just the lay of the land (although it doesn’t always have to!) But have fun, get your partner or kids involved, turn on some music and enjoy it. The more you do it, the more it’ll become part of your lifestyle.
9. Listen to Your Body
I’m a firm believer in the importance of listening to our bodies. What this means is that we notice how our body is feeling, such as how your digestion responds after a certain food or meal, how your skin is reacting, or how any symptoms you may have are acting with certain foods (or changes in stress levels)
Remember that when it comes to healthy eating, it’s not about diet labels. What may work for someone else may not work well for you. Focus on what makes you feel your best and if you need extra help, work with a Naturopath or Certified Nutritionist.
10. Drop the Expectations
Things like treating yourself or eating out are okay! Nobody is perfect, myself included, and you’re doing yourself a favour by allowing this to be part of your life. We’re much more likely to feel discouraged or frustrated when we aren’t living up to our expectations every minute of every day. So drop the expectations, do your best, and remember that it’s a process. You can’t change your whole life overnight–although we sometimes want to–but remember that changes to our lifestyle or eating habits takes time, patience, and practice… but definitely not perfection.
What’s one of your best healthy eating tips? Share below!