As a person whose job (and passion) it is to help others eat healthier, I’m routinely reminded of all the stuff that makes healthy eating hard. And I feel you – $5 margarita happy hours, donut day in the office, and cohabiting with kale haters doesn’t help the fruits and veggies fly effortlessly into your mouth. Neither does your jam-packed schedule, your dessert Pinterest addiction, or your lack of love for batch cooking.
But all that’s not to say that you’re destined for a life where your struggle to eat healthfully will always be REAL. There might actually be things that you’re doing to make this whole eating clean thing way harder than it needs to be! If any of these eight bad habits ring true to you, ditch them stat and watch more plants practically soar onto your plate.
1. Thinking it has to be an all-the-time thing
Believe me when I say that our bodies are wired to be able to handle a little crap: some sad-day soft serve, a ballgame hot dog, girls’ night pizza and wine. Please stop sweating it. Your body certainly isn’t! Truth be told, it’s our MOST-of-the-time that matters most. Even further, the stress, anxiety, and guilt that goes into trying to make eating healthy a 100%-of-the-time experience for yourself is actually way worse for you that a handful of french fries or a cute little macaron. So as long as your most-of-the-time food consumption is healthy stuff, worrying about the infrequent this or that is only making healthy eating much harder for yourself than it needs to be.
2. Not utilizing frozen and canned plants
The produce aisle is a beautiful place; full of vibrant leaves, citrus, and roots. Buying fresh plants and bringing them home to your fridge can make you feel like you’re totally on the right healthy eating track. Until dinnertime comes and you don’t feel like whipping up a meatless meatloaf from scratch. Frozen and canned (BPA-free cans, please) plants are the ultimate pinch hitter; when you have bags of frozen broccoli, edamame, peas, and even kale in your freezer, plus cans of lentils, black beans, and chickpeas in your pantry, putting together healthy work-week meals is actually quick and easy (even though I’m sure that’s what the 12-ingredient meatless meatloaf recipe brags about too). But seriously, defrost some frozen veggies, cook some quinoa, add a sauce and some rinsed, canned chickpeas and boom! Dinner. Or bake a sweet potato, defrost some frozen veggies, sprinkle in some black beans plus a slice of avocado and boom! Another dinner. How about cooking some brown rice pasta, opening a can of tomato sauce, mixing in lentils and kale and pouring that over pasta? Dinner. I don’t have to tell you that frozen fruits are your key to excellent daily smoothies (another healthy eating shortcut), but I am telling you that not keeping your home stocked with frozen vegetables and some canned beans is making work-week dinners unnecessarily more complicated and challenging than they need to be.
3. Going about life empty-handed and empty-stomached
If you’re just showing up at bridal showers, your office, or dinner dates all willy nilly, you’re making healthy eating exponentially harder on yourself than it has to be. C’mon, you know that the chances of healthy finger food at that bridal shower are slim, the likelihood of no pastries in the office is nilch, and the idea that every restaurant you dine at has healthy choices is madness! But it’s totally possible, and quite easy, to eat healthfully at life events like these if you just give yourself a few minutes to prepare. I call it “not going about life empty-handed or empty-stomached” because I’ve found that carrying around “just-in-case snacks” for emergencies and always bringing one to two healthy dishes to events are game changers. Just one simple salad type o’ thing plus one healthy dessert (I always opt for black bean brownies) are all you need to bring to a gathering to ensure that you won’t be spending the afternoon eating donuts or pigs in a blanket (Do people still serve those?). And just a quick scan of a menu before you arrive at a restaurant can help you determine if asking to change the spot is a smart move or eating a large pre-dinner snack is the way to go.
4. Worrying about being high maintenance or weird
Pardon the tough love for a hot sec, but: if you’re stressing over what other people think about your healthy diet, or you’re letting their remarks, eye rolls, or intentionally loud sighs affect how you order at a restaurant, you’re making healthy eating practically hell for yourself – and you gotta give it up immediately. (Give up your concern over other peoples’ opinions, I mean – not your healthy choices.) I’m not saying that the eye-rolling, remark-making folks aren’t in the wrong for making you feel bad about your healthy choices – they absolutely are – but they’re probably absolutely envious of your impressive, unwavering dedication to your health that they hardcore struggle to have. It’s challenging enough to eat healthfully on a day to day basis, but letting others’ opinions bring you down too makes being healthy TOO hard… and too upsetting. So try to just let it go and be proud of yourself for the admirable way you treat your body.
5. Not making extra when you make something.
You know how it’s efficient to kill two birds with one stone? (Metaphorically, of course.) Well, then just think about the efficiency of getting four meals with one stove! If you’ve gone through the impressive effort of carving out time, gathering healthy ingredients, and following a recipe to assemble and then cook, then why not make your healthy eating a thousand times easier by making a few days’ worth of healthy lunches too? DOUBLE THAT RECIPE! Triple that quinoa you’re cooking, quadruple that pesto you’re making, hell – quintuple those snack balls so you have those suckers for weeks! If you’re not permanently in the mindset of asking, “How can I make today’s food also be future food?” then by golly, you’re making your healthy eating future so much harder than it needs to be!
6. Forgetting that food makes you feel stuff
Without question, the hardest thing about healthy eating is actually wanting to eat the healthy stuff instead of the non-healthy stuff. (Seriously – nobody’s ever NOT eaten healthfully due to a lack of healthy recipes.) Well, I have a trick for wanting to eat healthy stuff when unhealthy stuff seems easier or more fun: it’s to remind yourself that food makes you feel stuff. Yes, FOOD MAKES YOU FEEL STUFF. Food makes you feel bloated, fit, sluggish, energized, full, or irritable. There is unequivocally a direct correlation between how you feel and how you eat. So, in moments when “cacio e pepe” is about to roll off your tongue and into the server’s ears, pause and ask yourself “Will eating that make me feel how I want to feel?” Really, will eating that cheesy, creamy pasta make you feel how you want to feel? If you want to feel energized and vibrant, most likely your answer will be no. And that, my friend, can be the easiest way to eat healthfully.
7. Not outsourcing some of your effort
While it might seem like a perfect fairytale to imagine serenely making your own blue algae almond milk on your marble countertop in your perfectly lit kitchen, most likely your reality is closer to bolting into your messy kitchen, pushing crumbs and dirty dishes aside to try to wrangle enough ingredients and space to make avocado toast – with an underripe avocado. And that’s okay! Healthy eating is supposed to fit into your current life, not require you to start a new life (or redo your kitchen counters). So to fit healthy eating into your current life, don’t have any shame using some of the support systems that keep popping up all over the place for us. Between delivery services (for meals, snacks, smoothies, and groceries), more affordable equipment (spiralizers, small high speed blenders, and mini food processors), and pre-prepared items (zucchini noodles, frozen smoothie packs, and cauliflower pizza crusts), there is no longer a need to be your own one-healthy-person show. If you’re not relying on one type of handy equipment or service, you’re definitely making healthy eating harder than it needs to be.
8. Letting all the hype psych you out!
Practically every day, a new ingredient, superfood, or diet becomes THE healthy way to eat. One day it’s whole grain, the next day it’s gluten free. One week it’s vegan, the next month it’s paleo. They tell us to eat local, eat organic, eat upside down! The contradicting information is enough to make us run head first into a bowl of nachos (with a side shot of spirulina?). Letting all the hype psych you out definitely makes healthy eating way harder than it needs to be. But here’s the solution: just eat more plants. Really, just make “healthy eating” mean “eating as many plants as possible each week, day, meal, snack.” That’s it! Nobody disagrees about the importance of eating more fruits and vegetables – every single dietary theory is very on board with the whole plants thing. So just simplify your life! Take the complexity, marketing, and conflicting chaos out of it by redefining “eating healthy” to mean “eating more plants.” THAT’S how you make healthy eating way easier than it is right now.
If you want some specific in-your-kitchen strategies to easily eat more plants, check out my free Eat More Plants Email Course that’ll teach you seven completely doable tricks to get more plants into your bod.
How do you incorporate more plants into your diet? Share in the comments!
This article was originally published on June 17, 2017.