For a long time, I viewed “healthy living” as unapproachable and intimidating, mostly because I felt so unbelievably far from achieving it. Up until a few months ago, I ate too much salt, went to bed super late, watched way too much TV, drank a lot of wine, and ordered McDonald’s chicken nuggets more times than I’d like to admit. Before I discovered attainable health swaps for my life, I felt like a bit of a failure in the wellness department.
This year, I’ve put more focus on the small day-to-day choices that I make instead of becoming consumed and overwhelmed with drastic, unsustainable changes that derail me from even trying in the first place. For me, making healthy swaps for things I was already doing and eating was a great, welcoming approach for living my best life, and now, I swear by it. These eight healthier choices helped me transform the way I look at healthy living and have fueled my fire to keep this lifestyle going:
1. Matcha instead of coffee
Don’t get me wrong—I love my coffee and still drink it occasionally. But instead of viewing espresso as a vital necessity to life, I view it as more of a treat instead of a three-cups-a-day routine. After years of drinking almost a pot of coffee a day, I realized that it didn’t even keep me awake anymore, and I felt close to ill when I’d skip a cup. This is when I knew I needed a change. Now, I drink a teaspoon of matcha with vanilla oat milk almost every day, and I’m hooked. Not only does it give me a little bit of a caffeine buzz, but it’s also packed with antioxidants and other nutrients that actually make me feel good about drinking it.
2. Reading before bed instead of scrolling on my phone
Before the last month, falling into a bottomless, deep, dark hole on TikTok or Instagram before bed was one of my most fatal flaws, and unfortunately, my most closely practiced ritual. While I didn’t completely give up scrolling through my phone, I do opt to read before bed instead of being sucked into the blue light blob. I find that reading three pages helps me wind down more quickly than I would spending an hour (or more) on TikTok and allows me to sleep at a more reasonable hour.
3. Banza noodles instead of traditional pasta
This is one of the easiest swaps I’ve incorporated into my meal prepping routine. If you aren’t already on the chickpea noodle train, this is your sign to hop aboard. I’ve been a pasta junkie my entire life (perks of growing up with an Italian grandmother), and while I never felt guilty for consuming it in mass amounts, I found that chickpea noodles (low carb, gluten-free, and high in protein) are just as good and so worth the healthy substitute. If I’m going to be eating pasta anyway, I might as well swap it with something that tastes just as great and is a bit healthier, right?
4. Eating in instead of eating out
OK, I’ll admit this is probably one of the more difficult “easy swaps” on this list. But I can finally say, now that I’m on the other side, it’s so much easier than I thought it would be. For years, I relied heavily on eating out and ordering on DoorDash, which typically left me feeling bloated, guilty, and—quite frankly—broke.
Two things that really helped me gain control over eating out were 1) finding a grocery schedule that worked for me and 2) recreating the meals I was craving in my own kitchen. That included mastering my favorite vodka pasta recipe, figuring out how to make my own Chick-fil-A sauce, and recreating my go-to Sweetgreen salad. From there, I realized that I can in fact cook, and beyond that, I could take the liberty of making healthier versions of some of my favorite meals to eat out. While I still do dine out, I now do it a lot less frequently, which has given me back some financial freedom, helps me make healthier choices at home, and allows me to cherish the times I eat out a bit more.
5. Walks instead of binge-watching TV after dinner
For a while, I was gridlocked into the routine of plopping down on the couch after cooking, eating, and cleaning up the disaster in my kitchen. Enter four-hour-long Netflix binge-watching sessions with intermittent naps that messed with my sleep schedule and took precedence over any night routine that would set me up for success the next day.
Now, instead of giving in to the food coma, I engage in a light walk after dinner, which helps me beat the post-meal slump and allows me get some steps in toward the end of the day. Whether I walk and catch up with a friend or enjoy the solitude of a favorite-playlist-filled sunset walk, my post-dinner stroll has become one of my favorite self-care acts of the day.
6. Dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate
All of my life, I looked at dark chocolate with disdain because of its bitterness—I didn’t quite get the hype. But now that I’m older, wiser, and more aware of dark chocolate’s health benefits (antioxidant-packed, flavanol-filled, and more heart-healthy than milk chocolate), I gave it another go, hoping my taste buds had changed. To my surprise, I loved it. Now, I opt for dark over milk chocolate whenever I have the chance, and like my matcha vs. coffee switch, it’s an easy swap that makes me feel a lot better.
7. A flexible activity schedule instead of a rigid workout schedule
Before, I’d try to hop back on the workout train—lifting five days a week, sustaining injuries, losing motivation quickly—only to fall right back off of the boat. While I kept up with this yo-yo workout situation for quite some time, it’s not until this year that I finally took a step back to reevaluate my relationship with physical activity.
I still lift weights here and there, but if I’m not able to go to the gym four to five days a week like I used to strive for, I don’t beat myself up over it. The reality is this: Life is busy. We get tired, we don’t have time, or we can’t coordinate our strict hair-washing schedule with a day of dripping sweat at the squat rack. And that’s OK. My new fitness goals focus on moving in any capacity, and I’ve found that taking a more flexible approach has made me more motivated and excited to get moving. Whether it’s a walk in the park, a yoga class, a HIIT session at the gym, or a 10-minute affair with my weighted hula hoop, I’ve found that listening to my body and keeping activity simple and fun has been a game-changer in keeping my activity levels more consistent.
8. Hydrating before reaching for caffeine
The number of times in my lifetime that I’ve chugged two cups of coffee before even thinking about water is an absolute tragedy. This year, I’ve really prioritized hydrating, especially in the morning after a night of sleeping and hours of not taking sips of water. Starting my day off hydrated AF helps set the tone for the day and sets me up for success before reaching for my morning caffeine choice.
On the days where I focus on my water intake, I find that I have more energy to power through the mid-afternoon slump, have more stamina during my workouts, and am less prone to suffer from that late-afternoon headache and/or annoying right eye twitching. It’s not groundbreaking but, now that I’ve finally hopped on board, I totally get the hype.