Temptations are everywhere, life is busy, and a plate of pasta or slice of cake is often the only form of comfort we can find–it’s no surprise that most of us are still trying to break up with junk food (for good).
Only a few years ago, I was living off a highly processed diet. I was struggling in every sense and always burning the candle at both ends. But some eye-opening moments forced me to seriously reconsider my lifestyle. Over the years, I have been making small changes that have all added up to a healthier, happier me. By no means am I perfect—nobody is. But I’ve sure come a long way and I’m so excited to share with you what I’ve learned.
Here are the top 10 eating healthy challenges that affect us, all along with tips and motivation on how to overcome them.
1. I don’t have time.
It seems like time is the biggest problem for us all, whether it has to do with accomplishing everything at work or cooking healthy meals. But a nutritious diet should not be another stressor in your very busy life; it should help you relieve stress. Try setting aside one hour on your weekends to do a little bit of prep, whether it’s cooking a whole meal to keep for leftovers or chopping veggies and prepping a grain like quinoa. You can also pre-package smoothie ingredients into individual bags (all you have to do in the morning is throw them in a blender and add a liquid of choice).
Likewise, try cooking a batch of soup ahead of time and freeze in single-serve containers to heat up throughout the week. Not a fan of meal prep or leftovers? Try sheet pan dinners or pressure cooker meals, which won’t require as much time: throw in ingredients, set a timer, and let it cook. You can also take shortcuts like pre-chopped frozen produce or frozen garlic, ginger, or herbs to make meals more flavorful (without the prep work).
2. I don’t have enough money.
If you’re under the impression that healthy eating means more expensive foods, you’re not doing it right. First of all, cooking instead of eating out can save you a lot of money. Period. When it comes to grocery shopping on a budget, the only products you need to make nutritious meals are pretty affordable. Think: whole foods from the earth like produce, grains, nuts, and seeds. The more “fancy” health products like bottled sauces, pre-made meals, and snacks can definitely get pricier, but you don’t need those products to eat healthy. Save money by buying grains or dried beans in bulk, purchase in-season produce, and opt for cheaper sources of protein like chickpeas, lentils, and dried quinoa.
3. I don’t have the motivation for an overhaul.
If a diet makeover feels overwhelming, that’s because it is. Breaking or forming new habits with drastic changes is not sustainable or realistic. Instead, take baby steps to help you ease into a healthier diet by focusing on adding more nutrients into the diet you already have.
We all have personal reasons for wanting to live a healthier life. If you didn’t, you probably wouldn’t be reading this! It goes much deeper than “I want to feel healthier” or “I want to have more energy.” What does healthy mean to you? Why do you want to have more energy? Focus on the why and let this drive you.
Another scientifically proven way to stay motivated? Visualize the outcome. What will it look like if you achieve your health goals? What will it look like if you don’t achieve them? It can also be motivating to make your health commitment public. Announce it to your friends, family, or even on social media. Surround yourself with people who have similar goals and help each other stay accountable. The key to succeeding long-term is to set small, achievable short-term goals instead of extravagant goals that will leave you feeling overwhelmed and hopeless.
4. It feels hard to be healthy and maintain a social life. (Most social gatherings involve eating out or drinking and I don’t want to be a dud.)
While this isn’t as much of a problem since that stay-at-home order hit, it’s still a big factor preventing many of us from a healthy lifestyle. Most social gatherings revolve around food and alcohol, whether it’s weekend brunch with the girls or happy hour with coworkers. When you’re dedicated to filling up on leafy greens and whole grains, the temptation of bottomless mimosas or discounted mozzarella sticks (god bless happy hour) might make you feel like you have to choose between having a social life and eating healthy. If you do feel like you have to choose, choose social life. Every time. Spending time with people you love is nourishment too.
But the truth is that a social life and healthy diet can exist in harmony. Scope out the menu beforehand, know how many drinks you are OK with, and order a side salad or roasted Brussels sprouts to munch on along with those mozzarella sticks. When you feel like going all-in on the pizza and wings or chips and queso? Enjoy every bite (you deserve it!), and order a side salad, veggies on the pizza, or a side of guacamole to also get in some nutrients that will make your body feel good. The goal with health, nutrition, and happy hour is always balance.
5. I really love food.
This is both awesome and perfectly normal. You should love food! Food is fuel and you need it to live and thrive. So why do we feel like it’s a bad thing to love food? Well, the diet industry has made us feel that in order to live a healthy life, we can’t enjoy food and we need to diet and deprive ourselves. I’m here to tell you: This is false.
Instead of focusing on the foods you shouldn’t have, focus on incorporating whole and healthy foods you do love. Eat intuitively. For me, this means lots of sweet potato, nut butters, banana, and avocado toast. These things make me feel full, energized, and fulfill my deep love for food! Don’t deprive yourself. Balance your indulgences along with a healthy lifestyle.
6. I can’t resist unhealthy snacks when they’re in front of me.
We’ve all experienced the struggle with the breadbasket on the table or the box of donuts at the office. You have the best of intentions to eat healthy, but then it’s your coworker’s birthday, and next thing you know, you’re three slices of cake deep, and it’s not even halfway through the workday (trust me, I’ve been there).
First thing’s first: indulging is never a bad thing. Enjoying foods (guilt-free!) whenever you want them will prevent binges and overeating later on. However, you shouldn’t eat until you’re sick or feel out of control.
Avoid getting over-hungry. Once you get over-hungry, your willpower is shot and it’s game over. Ensure you always have a few high fiber, high protein snacks on hand (like almonds or trail mix) to keep you feeling full and satisfied. Then you’ll be much less likely to reach for that second slice of cake.
Stay hydrated. Drinking lots of water is the key to keeping hunger in check.
Last but not least, stay calm. Stress often triggers mindless eating. When you start to feel stressed, get up and go for a walk around the block instead of eating. Changing your environment is great for getting those visions of cake out of your head!
7. I’m always on-the-go.
Never have time to eat? The fix: plan ahead. Smoothies and snacks like hard-boiled eggs, nuts, or even hummus and veggies are easy to pack up and take with you wherever you go. But just an FYI, mealtimes should be sacred; breakfast, lunch, and dinner serve as a reminder that we need to slow down and stay present. Not having time to eat is a sign you need to make time, rather than skip meals or grab something less nutritious out of convenience. If planning ahead isn’t your strong suit, stop by a nearby grocery store for healthy snacks, or opt for an egg wrap instead of a blueberry muffin if you’re eating out. No matter what works for you, remember that the body needs nourishment to keep up with your busy lifestyle, and nothing is more worthy of your time and energy than your health.
8. I work long hours and am too exhausted to cook a healthy meal (or even think about working out).
Alright. Let’s sit down and have a little heart-to-heart here. If you want to live a long and happy life, you need to make eating well and moving your body a priority. Sacrificing health for the sake of your job is short sighted and self-destructive. You are not doing yourself any favors. If you feel stuck in a vicious cycle of being over-tired, unproductive, and unhappy, it’s time to make some changes. What is one small thing you can change right now to break the cycle? Perhaps you can shut down one hour earlier each day in order to get to a fitness class. Or maybe you can subscribe to a grocery delivery service so you have fresh ingredients at home waiting for you after a long day. Bottom line: Make yourself a priority.
9. I want to start being “healthy” but I don’t know where to begin.
As much as you want to have the perfect diet right off the bat, it just doesn’t work that way. Eating habits are a deeply personal thing, and they take time to change. Start small. Focus on incorporating real food. If you are used to eating a cookie in the afternoon, swap it out for a banana with almond butter. If you drink two diet sodas every day, swap one out for a bottle of water. Being healthy is a marathon, not a sprint. As you continue to make small changes day-by-day, they will add up to big changes over time. I promise.
10. I’m addicted to sugar and wine.
Whether it’s a sugary afternoon treat or an evening extra-large glass (or two) of wine, we all have our hard-to-kick vices, even when we know the negative effects they have on our mood, energy, sleep, and weight. We often indulge in sugar and wine for pleasure and escape. But here’s the thing: There are many things that can help you achieve the same result. Try detoxing from your day with an activity, not food. A phone call with a girlfriend, a power nap, or switching off your phone and playing with your pet are all activities that will help you de-stress. Yes, we’re all going to need the post-work wine or celebration cookie at some point, but if you find yourself turning to them more often than not, it’s time to assess what may be fueling this need.
Also, pay attention to when these addictions tend to take hold. For me, it was usually at 2 p.m. in the afternoon or right after dinner. Once I realized my triggers, I started developing strategies like scheduling my meetings or appointments in the afternoon to keep myself occupied or moving my morning workout to the evening to break the cycle.
What obstacles have you faced while trying to live a healthier life? Any tips on how to overcome them? Share with us in the comments below!