Healthy Eating is About Changing Behavior

There are so many diets out there.  Paleo, Atkins, The Zone Diet, Eating for your blood type, etc.  Each author will make a sound argument for the benefits of their approach, while critics will continue to point out their shortcomings.  Now I’m not here to decipher or breakdown the pros and cons of each.  Most plans are effective in helping the dieter to create a negative energy balance.  In other words, consuming less calories than they burn, resulting in weight loss.  But there is not a “one sized fits all” approach when it comes to nutrition.  Many factors like genetics, environment, food allergies, and daily energy demands will influence how an individual responds to dietary intake.  A weekend warrior training for a triathlon will usually have a higher need for carbohydrates, while an office worker who hasn’t been physically active for five years may require lower amounts of carbohydrates and a higher intake of proteins and healthy fats.  But regardless of individual differences and nutritional needs the biggest challenge most people face is consistency.  And the journey towards ideal health and body weight ultimately comes down to behavior change.  Let’s face it…change is hard!  Especially when it comes to nutrition!  People overestimate how difficult it is and underestimate how long it will take.  Numerous studies show that people are typically most successful when they limit their change to one behavior at a time before introducing a new one. But introduce even two new behaviors at once, and the failure rate is nearly 100%.  With that being said, outlined below are several nutritional habits everyone can benefit from.  Assess which habits you need to work on implementing most, pick one and put all of your focus and effort into it for the next 3-4 weeks.  Once it becomes second nature, then you are ready to introduce the next one.  Remember to be patient!  The goal is permanent change…one step at a time.

Slow Down! Many of us eat way too fast.  It takes about 20 minutes for our sensation of fullness to kick in.  The pathway from our stomach, to our brain, and back is long.  If you eat too quickly, you are more likely to overeat by the time your brain can communicate it’s time to stop.  The long term goal should be taking 15-20 minutes to consume each meal.  I know this may be too ambitious for a lot of us and that’s okay!  Just by slowing down by 1-2 minutes can make a big difference.  From there you can work towards the 15-20 minute goal.

Stop Eating at 80% Fullness: Rather than eating to the point of fullness, focus on eating until you are no longer hungry.  In conjunction with slowing down, this again will allow plenty of time for your brain to communicate that it’s time to end the meal.  Many benefits come of this, including better overall appetite cues, improved digestion, and increased performance with your workouts as well.

Eat every 2-4 hours: When you go prolonged periods without any food, your body goes into conservation mode simply because it doesn’t know when the next meal is coming.  As a result, the body holds onto any excess fat storage which a lot of people would prefer do without.  By eating smaller and more frequent meals this will keep your metabolism running at higher levels throughout the day and is more likely to let go of the extra stores.   

Eat Fruits and/or Vegetables with Each Meal: There is a good reason why mothers harp on their children to eat their fruits and veggies!  Nutrient dense and low in calories, fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals, and actually help buffer the body’s acidic response to protein and grains.  One medium sized fruit, ½ cup of raw chopped fruit or vegetables, and 1 cup of raw, leafy vegetables each equal one serving.  Aim for 1-2 servings per meal.

Eat “Quality” Carbohydrates: Cut back on the processed, sugary carbs like juice, white flour, muffins, etc and focus your efforts on eating more whole food and fiber rich carbs.  This includes a mix of vegetables, beans, legumes, whole grain breads and pastas, quinoa, long grain rice, etc.  Typically, vegetables, beans, legumes, and most fruit can be consumed often and at any time of the day.  For breads, pasta, and rice, ideally these should be consumed after workouts or physical activity, especially if fat loss is a goalPrimarily this is because the body has its highest tolerance of carbohydrates post-workout than any other time. This will help refuel the body without any carbohydrate “spill over” into fat storage.    

Include Protein Dense Foods & Health Fats:  Up to1 serving (20-30g) for women and 2 servings for men (40-60 g) should be included with each meal.  A portion size of protein is visually about the size of the palm of your hand.  Protein dense foods include lean meats such as ground beef, chicken, turkey, bison.  Other great protein sources include salmon, tuna, eggs, cottage cheese, tofu, beans, etc.  Also, a mixture of fats should also be part of a balanced diet.  Vitamins A, D, E, and K, are critical to optimal human function, and can only be absorbed by the body with adequate fat in our diet.  Eating a variety of meats, cheeses, nuts, olive oil, and a fish oil supplement are all great ways to getting our daily dose of fat.

Don’t forget to exercise!  Of course this goes without saying!  Strive for 5 hours of physical activity every week for optimal health and to aid in weight loss.  Remember to include a combination of cardiovascular and strength training.  Now get out, get active and work on eating healthier…one habit at a time!

For more individual recommendations, healthy recipes, and all other additional information etc, please refer to the list of resources provided below.


Berardi, J, Andrews R. The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition. Second Edition Pn Inc. 2012

Additional Resources: