26 Healthy Eating Habits to Help You Look and Feel Amazing

Adopting Healthy Eating HabitsYou’ll probably agree with me when I say:

Adopting healthy eating habits is WAY easier said than done.

…Or is it? 

Turns out when you put the right measures in place, it doesn’t have to be that difficult after all.

I’ve spent many years tinkering with my diet and helping others do the same, and in that time I’ve assembled some key nutritional guidelines and habits. As well as improving my health, body composition and performance, they’ve also slashed the time and effort I spend worrying about food, which is always a good thing right?

With a little tweaking, I’m sure they can work for you too. So today I’m going to reveal those exact guidelines and show you how to apply them to your own diet – for a healthier, happier future.

But before we go any further…

Download your free Plant Based Diet Plan: Kickstart your healthy eating habits with three days of delicious, nutritious, easy to prepare, plant based meals. Get Your Free Download Here.

Chapter Index

Warning: this is a big old post at nearly 10 000 words long. So I’ve been a good pal and split it up into easy digest chapters that you can work your way through.

26 Healthy Eating Habits

(To Help You Look and Feel Amazing)



1. Live longer (and leaner) with the ‘80% full’ rule

Effectiveness: 4/5                                                                                                                                                                 Difficulty to implement: 3/5

Not to be confused with Pareto’s famous 80-20 principle, the ‘80% full rule’ simply means eating until you’re around 80% full. 

For you gym goers, it’s a bit like leaving a few reps in the tank when you’re lifting heavy stuff, as opposed to going to failure (and finishing your workout in a puddle of your own sweat and tears).

The theory goes something like this:

Your brain typically lags behind the gut a little, so usually when you get to the point where you feel full, you’ve already over-eaten. So stopping short by around 20% leaves you about right.

It does require a bit of mindfulness and self-control, particularly if you’re someone who grew up trying to eat as much as possible (like me) – but it is an achievable feat.

But why bother?

In Blue Zones, the longevity book I’ve mentioned a bazillion times here on Health Room, this is one of the key characteristics researchers picked up in the Japanese Okinawan population.

They call it:

Hara Hachi Bu.

Essentially, it means eating until satisfied – as opposed to when you feel physically full.

The big benefits?

Just take a look at the data below:

Healthy Eating Habits Okinawa Longevity

Aside from keeping you lean and helping to cultivate more mindful eating habits (which we’ll talk more about later), longevity experts believe that Hara Hachi Bu is one of the reasons why there are so many centenarians in Okinawa.

Plus, it might explain why the country as a whole boasts some of the highest life expectancy rates (and lowest heart disease rates) on the planet…


The Main Takeaway 1:

Most of us could do a little better by eating ever so slightly less than we’d like.

The only caveat with the ‘80% full’ rule?

If you’re looking to gain weight or build lean muscle mass and you’re struggling to do so, eating less might not get you closer to your goal.

But where weight loss and longevity is concerned – it’s a no brainer.



2. Incinerate inflammation with intermittent fasting

Effectiveness: 4/5                                                                                                                                                                 Difficulty to implement: 3/5

Shock horror:

Turns out breakfast might not be the most important meal of the day…

If you’re not familiar with intermittent fasting (or IF for short if you’re a cool kid) it essentially involves shortening the time window in which you eat your meals for the day.

It’s grown considerably in popularity over the past few years, and for good reasons:

There’s decent research showing that fasting can help to reduce inflammation, improve insulin sensitivity, bring down body fat, and lead to a whole host of other benefits – all without making any changes to the actual amount of food you’re consuming.

How long should I fast for, I hear you say?

Well, it depends…

The timings for fasts can vary considerably depending on your goals and preferences, with some going for a daily 20 hour fast and 4 hour eating window.

Others eat normally on 6 days a week, then fast for a whole day.

I’ve played around on and off with IF over the past few years, and here’s what I’ve found works best for me:

I typically go for a timeframe more akin to the Lean Gains protocol, which includes a 16 hour fast, and 8 hour feed.

Intermittent Fasting Healthy Eating

So as you can see from the diagram above, if my last meal was at 8pm, I typically don’t have breakfast until around midday the next day – maybe an hour or so earlier/later depending on my schedule.

Essentially it means that I have my breakfast around lunch time, lunch late in the afternoon, and dinner late in the evening.

Then once every few weeks or so I’ll throw in a longer fast of around 20 hours, just to mix things up a little.

Physical benefits aside, one of the most profound differences I’ve noticed from IF is the enhanced clarity and productivity I get in the mornings.

Maybe it’s because I don’t have that distraction of food prep, or perhaps the act of fasting sparks some sort of neurological change – I just find it much easier to get good work done when I’m unfed, and I know others have noticed the same thing.


The Main Takeaway 2:

I would never claim that intermittent fasting is for everyone.

Some people who have very low body fat levels, are suffering from adrenal fatigue, or have a history of eating disorders might not fare too well, for example. And fasting definitely comes further down the list of priorities than eating a wide range of nutrient dense, whole foods.

But if you’re already eating healthily, have a good relationship with food, and looking to get leaner, improve productivity, and possibly even live longer – it might be worth playing around with.

To get started, I highly recommend checking out the Precision Nutrition Guide to Intermittent Fasting.



3. Don’t go crazy with the protein

Effectiveness: 3/5                                                                                                                                                                 Difficulty to implement: 2/5

It’s official:

The fitness and nutrition world has gone protein mad.

Never before has one simple macronutrient received such a religious following.

Aside from the typical powders and shakes, it’s gone so far that you can now find products like high protein beers and high protein water.

Yep, that’s right – high protein water.

Mental.

Protein meme

But here’s the thing:

Whilst protein is important for growth and repair, it’s not the be all and end all of nutrition.

And here’s why…

Depending on what studies you read, there’s evidence out there to suggest that your body can only absorb around 30g of the good stuff in a single sitting.

The theory is that the rest is then turned into glucagon, which in turn spikes blood sugar levels, leading to fat storage and reduced insulin sensitivity.

The counter argument, described well by Mark at Mark’s Daily Apple, is that the amount of protein you absorb can vary depending on your age, activity levels and stress.

But then excess protein consumption may place unnecessary strain on the kidneys and liver, although it could be argued (as done pretty well by Dr. Chris Kresser) that this is only seen in already unhealthy populations.

There’s also the whole China Study view showing that high intakes of animal protein in particular are linked with a whole host of different chronic diseases (including certain forms of cancer), but that’s a rabbit hole that I don’t really want to go down today…

It’s a controversial one to say the least.

Nevertheless, you probably don’t need to be downing three protein shakes a day and a bucket load of meat that you bought in bulk online (or going crazy with the plant based sources below for that matter).

Plant based protein sources

Data sourced from cronometer.com

Let’s take a look at my typical intake as a little case study:

As you might know, I eat a plant based diet and I’m fairly active.

Tracking my calories over the last week, I was getting around 110-135g of protein a day – so around 1.4-1.6 g per kg of bodyweight.

That’s all whole foods, except for around a third of a scoop of Sun Warrior Protein in the morning (predominately because it tastes so damn good)…

Being as the RDA is around 0.8g per kg (or up to 1.5-1.6g per kg for really active people), it’s pretty safe to say that I’m in range. In fact, I’m right at the high-end of the spectrum.

Some (particularly in the bodybuilding community) will advocate more than 2g per kg of bodyweight (which funnily enough, is nigh on impossible to do without supplements).

And whilst this high intake might help you build more muscle (although the evidence is sparse), it’s around these levels that we’re more likely to see some of the detrimental effects listed above.

Sal from MindPump (one of my favourite health and fitness podcasts) put out a refreshing post on this very topic on his Instagram page a while back:

At some point in American diet culture protein became a "magic" macronutrient. According to common diet beliefs you literally can't eat too much protein and adding protein to anything automatically makes it healthy. 😂😂 I see candy bars and fruit flavored drinks that say "high protein" on them and they are placed in the "health food" section of your local grocery store. This is literally ASININE. This stupid belief basis likely came from the body building world. Protein is what the body uses to build muscle so bodybuilders (who are usually no smarter than a bag of rocks) did what they always do…they over do it. "If something does anything for muscle gains then a shit ton is a great idea!!!" WRONG!! First off adding protein to a candy bar or a highly processed protein bar or drink does not make it healthy. In fact protein bars and powders are usually the most processed and artificial products you can buy. Eating too much protein can not only be stored as body fat but very high protein intakes (like the ridiculous amounts bodybuilders and supplement companies recommend) WILL stress the kidneys, increase chance of inflammation, can cause insulin resistance and new science is showing that it may even increase CANCER RISK. Protein is essential and a high protein diet will benefit your performance and muscle gains…but you can over do it. The overwhelming scientific consensus demonstrates that the UPPER LIMIT of benefit from protein is at about 0.6-0.7 grams per pound of bodyweight in relatively lean people. So if you are a 200lbs male then 130 grams is the upper limit for benefit. Most of you meatheads probably eat more than that and, as a result, you miss out on the other two macros fats and carbohydrates. The vast majority of you fitness fanatics and gym rats are wasting your money on protein powders at best and may in fact be harming your health and preventing your full capacity for gains at worst. Go ahead and eat a relatively high protein diet with whole natural foods but don't be mistaken…protein is NOT a magical macro. #protein #mindpump #ripped #fitness #bodybuilding #naturalbodybuilding #gains

A post shared by Sal Di Stefano (@mindpumpsal) on


The Main Takeaway 3:

YES:

Protein consumption is important.

BUT:

Like many things in life, it’s possible to overdo it.

But even if over consuming protein doesn’t negatively impact your health, your wallet will likely be much lighter than you’d like it to be…



4. Protect your heart with proper food combining

Effectiveness: 3/5                                                                                                                                                                 Difficulty to implement: 5/5

Food combining is something that was brought to my attention when I first decided to delve into nutrition back in my teens. Again, it was those thrifty guys at Precision Nutrition that turned me onto it.

Essentially, it’s the idea that certain food groups are better received by the body in certain combinations and at certain times of the day.

The most important thing to remember is this:

Combining high amounts of fat with high quantities of carbohydrates in the same sitting is probably not the best idea.

Particularly really concentrated sugars and fats like oil and sugar, or peanut butter and jam. But even combining fat sources and starchy carbs like potatoes might not be ideal.

Here’s why:

Not only can it result in the formation of small particles of LDL cholesterol that are more likely to attach to cell walls and form plaque inside arteries, over the long-term it may also lead to insulin resistance and diabetes.

So does that mean no more baked sweet potato fries or avocado on bread? Because if it does, I’m not sure if I want to do this nutrition anymore…

Thankfully, there’s an exception to the rule:

For 2 hours post heavy lifting/high intensity training, the body has increased GLUT4 transporter activity – a protein that as you might have guessed, transports glucose around the body.

As noted by fellow fitness geek Ben Greenfield in episode 352 of his awesome podcast:

[Elevated GLUT4 transporter activity] keeps the pancreas from having to release as much insulin to shove glucose into muscle tissue or liver tissue. And you’re also up-regulating your body’s ability to take sugar out of the bloodstream very quickly, and get it into muscles (so that it’s not hanging around the bloodstream).

In simple terms, it means your carb-fat combination isn’t gonna do nearly as much damage as it might, had you not hit the weights hard or done those hill sprints.

I may be mistaken, but I believe that’s partly why the guys at Precision Nutrition typically prescribe meals that are higher in fat and protein as ‘anytime meals’, but protein and carb meals typically post workout.

Healthy-Eating Habits Food Combining

So what does that look like on a plant based diet?

I’m skipping a head a little with the whole plant based thing, but we’ll get into it in a bit more detail soon…

Following the food combining rules, you’d maybe go for a high fat-protein breakfast (like my HERO smoothie bowl), and then perhaps some tempeh with nuts, avocado and a big salad as a standard meal.

Post workout you might refuel with kidney beans, quinoa, sweet potatoes and leafy greens. And because of increased GLUT4 activity, you could also add a fat source without doing much damage.


The Main Takeaway 4:

I get it:

Food combining can seem like a bit of a headache.

Just keep in mind that this tip is more of the nitty-gritty of nutrition, and you definitely don’t have to focus on your food combinations in that much detail to be successful (as you’ll see in the chapters to come).

If you were to take anything away from this section though it would be to avoid combining highly concentrated fats with highly concentrated sugars whenever possible (but don’t be too worried if you’ve exercised 2 hours prior).



5. Spare your stress levels by skipping the calorie count

Effectiveness: 3/5                                                                                                                                                                 Difficulty to implement: 1/5

I might get some flack for this one, but hear me out…

It’s true:

Calorie counting can without doubt be a useful tool for some people at certain times.

  • I use it occasionally to gain a better understanding of the food I’m putting into my body.
  • I’ll also advise some nutrition clients to do it in order to help them see clearly how much food they’re actually consuming, compared to what they think they are.
  • It can also be handy if you’re a competitive athlete or bodybuilding who has to be meticulous about everything that could impact your performance.

But for the average Joe, I feel like long-term calorie counting isn’t necessary. In fact, it can sometimes lead to more harm than good.

Here’s why:

First up is something I’ve seen time and time again in people around me and in the nutrition industry – the strong correlation between calorie counting and eating disorders.

Now I know that this isn’t the case for everyone, but some people are wired up in a certain way that tracking calories and macros can turn obsessive – pretty dang quickly.

I know more than a handful of people who’ve said that they felt trapped by calorie counting, and that it led to an eating disorder in some shape or form.

And aside from this potential risk of heading into a downward spiral and an unhealthy relationship with food, the other issue I have with calorie counting is that we’ve kinda oversimplified things.

For starters:

The calorie content of a food is calculated using a bomb calorimeter, where food is incinerated and the resulting energy given off is recorded.

But the body is much more complicated than a simple incinerator…

Because of the thermic effect, different foods require differing amounts of energy to break down and assimilate, based on fibre and protein content, and potentially numerous other hidden factors.

Again, the guys Precision Nutrition showed that a sandwich based on whole foods took on average 46.8% more energy to digest than one made up of more processed foods.

Precisio

Precision Nutrition: Changes in BMR over time in processed foods (open triangles) vs. whole foods (white squares)

So even if you’re eating what’s labelled to be 600 kcal worth of food, the amount you actually take on board can vary significantly depending on the quality (not to mention your own digestive health, which we’ll talk more about later).


The Main Takeaway 5:

In a nutshell:

Calories in and calories out isn’t the be all end-all of nutrition.

Sure, if you’re looking to live healthier and maybe lose a little weight, it’s important not to overeat. But the quality of your food weighs in just as heavily (if not more so) than the quantity.

If it gives you peace of mind or helps you get accustomed to meal sizes, by all means track your calories for a little while, but always remember to take it with a pinch of salt.

You’ll form a much healthier relationship with your food (and probably see better results) if you focus more on the quality rather than exact amounts.

Which brings me to my next point…



6. Keep the body in balance with 80-90% whole foods

Effectiveness: 5/5                                                                                                                                                                 Difficulty to implement: 2/5

As I’ve mentioned many times here on the blog, I aim to base my diet predominantly around whole foods.

So what I mean by that is things like leafy greens, sweet potatoes, legumes, whole/pseudo grains, nuts and seeds.

These are foods that undergo minimal processing, and contain a wide range of important micronutrients, as well as balanced amounts of fibre, protein, fats, and carbohydrates.

Hero Healthy Eating Plate

Notice that in the diagram I mentioned 80% whole foods, not 100%…

You could argue that a diet closer to 100% whole foods is healthier for you, but for the majority of people I don’t think it’s realistic, especially if they’re only just starting to make the transition towards healthy eating.

Because here’s the deal:

What you gain in that extra 20% of nutrition may well be offset by the increased stress levels from trying to always be perfect.

At least, that’s been the case from my experience.

We’ll talk more about that later…


The Main Takeaway 6:

A good goal for most people is to shoot for is a diet based upon 80% (maybe 90% if you’re up for it) wholefoods.

Just remember that perfection is an illusion, and it’s what you do most of the time that matters most, not what you do all the time.



7. If you eat animals, go for quality over quantity

Effectiveness: 4/5                                                                                                                                                                 Difficulty to implement: 3/5

OK, I know what you’re thinking:

I’m supposed to be the plant based nutrition guy, so what am I doing talking about eating animal products?

But the truth is this:

Even though I currenlty eat a plant based diet, I don’t think you have to go all the way to still be healthy.

Now let me explain…

Whilst eating animal products isn’t something I necessarily promote, and in this day and age I think you can gain the majority of the benefits of eating them through plants alone, there’s definitely a continuum (from a health perspective at least).

At the one end: we might have antibiotic ridden, hormone pumped, factory farmed, grain fed cows that have been turned into overly processed burgers.

They’ve been raised in gnarly, stressful conditions and fed a diet that’s completely unnatural for them. The result is a food that’s pretty poor in nutrition.

At the other end: we might have a wild caught deer that was living peacefully in its natural environment, eating its natural diet until the time of death.

The nutritional content of something like this will usually be superior to conventionally farmed meat, with higher concentrations of omega three fatty acids, and lower amounts of saturated fats. The environmental footprint is also more favourable.

And we can see a similar situation with dairy products.

Interestingly, many people who are deemed lactose intolerant when raised on conventional dairy products don’t suffer the same symptoms when they switch to goats milk or raw cows milk.


The Main Takeaway 7:

Fear not:

I’m not writing this in the hope that you’ll throw down your beans, sling your rifle on your back and go hunt yourself some game (although if that works for you, go for it).

I’m just offering an alternative view, which is:

If you do choose to include animal products in your diet, you’d almost definitely be better off occasionaly consuming wild products than you would be eating conventional, factory-farmed animal products every meal of the day.



8. If you can’t pronounce the ingredients, it’s probably not good for you

Effectiveness: 5/5                                                                                                                                                                 Difficulty to implement: 2/5

With the exception of quinoa that is…

quinoa meme

As a general rule of thumb:

The more processed a food is, the more we human beings have tampered with it, and the less we know about how it’s going to affect our long-term health.

I’ve used that sentence before here on the blog, and couldn’t remember where I’d heard it first – just remembered it was from the ancestral health dude Arthur Haines.

Anyways, back to business…

Unless you’re fully raw and out foraging all day, almost all foods you consume will have some degree of processing applied to them.

But again – there’s a continuum.

At one end we have refrigeration, cooking, soaking and fermenting – all forms of processing that are arguably beneficial.

But then at the other end of the scale there are food products that have been constructed in a lab with a mish-mash of synthetic, refined ingredients that have had all their healthy micronutrients and fibre stripped away.

The result is a mutant food with fifty million different ingredients that you can’t pronounce. Food that has been shown time and time again to be one of the main causes of obesity and chronic disease.


The Main Takeaway 8:

The over consumption of highly processed foods is one of the root causes of the current health and obesity epidemic.

If it comes in bright packaging, has a really long shelf life, and has more than a few ingredients that you can’t pronounce – it’s probably not great for you.



9. Save money by home cooking

Effectiveness: 5/5                                                                                                                                                                 Difficulty to implement: 2/5

You’re dead right – going out for a meal is awesome.

Especially with the growing awareness of healthy eating, and the increasing number of health conscious restaurants popping up.

The only problem?

It can be pretty dang costly if you do it often…

If you and your partner or buddies head out once a week, that’s gonna add on at least £80 to your monthly food bill – more if you’re heading to somewhere fancier than a burrito bar, and if you have kids.

Now I’m not saying that you should never go out to eat, but if you’re looking to save some dollar, home cooking is the way to go.

Whilst it may seem like a laborious affair, the burrito that might cost £10 at a restaurant would probably cost you a couple of pounds to make at home.

A quick look at chart below from Samantha Sharf’s “no restaurant” diet experiment shows how much you could potentially save:

samantha sharf diet experiment

Eating at home more also means you have total control over what you’re putting into your body, and it gives you a chance to develop your cooking skills.

And if you have kids, getting them involved is a great way to help build healthier relationships with food.

Plus it keeps them busy, and saves you the hassle of chopping the veggies…


The Main Takeaway 9:

By all means indulge now and again by eating out (I highly recommend using the Happy Cow app to find plant friendly restaurants nearby).

But if you’re looking to eat healthily without breaking the bank, make a habit of home cooking. And if you have kids, you can always rope them into doing the hard labour…



10. Save even more money by stocking up on staples

Effectiveness: 5/5                                                                                                                                                                 Difficulty to implement: 1/5

Nope, I don’t mean the kind of staples that hold paper together…

I mean the foods that form the basis of your diet. Stocking up on them can save you a shed load of time and money if you do it right.

Bulk buying healthy food choices

Here’s how we roll:

Every so often we place an online order (or take a trip to Wholefoods) to bulk buy pulses (kidney beans, lentils etc), oats, nuts, chia seeds and grains.

These foods form a big portion of the calories in our diet, and they’re easy to store over long time periods.

Although you might have to fork out a larger amount initially to buy them, you save loads compared to getting them in smaller tins and packets more frequently (and you’re doing your bit for the environment).


The Main Takeaway 10:

Pro tip: stocking up on bulk batches of dry ingredients that you use often (legumes, nuts, seeds etc.) is a great way to save money and reduce waste.



11. Save precious time by planning ahead

Effectiveness: 5/5                                                                                                                                                                 Difficulty to implement: 1/5

Here’s the scenario:

You finally get home from a tough day in the office. You take a quick peak in the fridge and decide right away that there’s nothing there worth cooking. No sir-ee.

So you reach for the takeaway menu instead.

Stuffed crust cheesy madness ensues…

Sound familiar?

Don’t worry friend, it happens to the best of us, and it probably always will in some shape or form.

But by setting up a basic meal plan and putting routines in place ahead of time, you can significantly reduce your chances of making a bad decision.

All it takes is a few hours on the weekend to batch cook a couple of healthy one pot dishes and a big salad bowl. Siphon them out into meal sized potions, store them in the fridge and freezer, and you’re all set for lunch and dinner for most of the week.

Here’s one of our old go-to lunch meals:

Matt Frazier over at No Meat Athlete has a ton of great tips on planning ahead that you should check out too.

A few big benefits to being proactive with your meal prep:

Firstly, it’s easier to make the decision to reach for the healthy, delicious, pre-prepared meal from your freezer on a Wednesday night after a long day, as opposed to preparing it when you get in from work. This is especially true if you have a family to feed…

Secondly, you save money – which is always a good thing right?

As mentioned above you’ll spend less on eating takeout or at restaurants. It’s surprising how quickly it can add up if you’re doing it once, twice, three times a week.

And when you have a rough idea what meals you’ll be eating over the next few days, you can buy the ingredients you’ll need, and nothing more.

That means less wasted food, and less wasted money.


The Main Takeaway 11:

If time is a big barrier between you and adopting healthy eating habits during the week, whip up a few one pot recipes on the weekend and store them in the fridge/freezer.

As well as increasing your chances of adherence, you’ll save a bit of money too. Win win.



12. Go simple by day, gourmet by night

Effectiveness: 3/5                                                                                                                                                                 Difficulty to implement: 1/5

Call me boring, but breakfast and lunch are pretty much the same deal for me everyday.

I know Ben Greenfield does a similar thing too, and he’s a cool guy. So get off my back dammit!

So what do I eat, I hear you ask?

It usually goes something like this:

Healthy-Eating-Habits-Sample-Meal-

I break my morning fast with a big messy smoothie bowl of chia seeds, flax, nuts, almond milk and coconut yoghurt. A green smoothie used to be my go to, but I’m experimenting with the higher fat approach for breakfast at the moment.

Lunch is either leftovers from the night before, or a big ass salad with sourdough, avocado and maybe some beans.

Snacks are invariably berries, nuts, dark chocolate, or all three.

Why do I keep things pretty much the same each day?

It comes down to creating patterns.

If you can create a pattern or routine, less mental energy is required, and it’s easier to stick to that behaviour as you rack the reps up over time.

If I had to sum it up, this is essentially the main focus of my online course, Healthy Habits 101.

A similar ideology can be applied to exercise (e.g greasing the groove by doing a pull-up every time you walk through a doorway). It becomes a habit, and over time those automated reps add up to make a big difference.

The only issue with routines is that they can become a little tedious. So in the evening and on weekends I switch things up a little.

If time is tight, I’ll have something pre-prepared, or I’ll whip up a Stir Fry or quick Mexican Bowl. If I have more time on my hands, I’ll try something from our growing collection of cookbooks.


The Main Takeaway 12:

Having the same meals for breakfast and lunch isn’t a bad thing (as long as they’re healthy). Simplicity can save a load of time and mental energy.

Mixing things up in the evening or on the weekends ensures you don’t get bored with the same old routine, and you’re getting a bit more nutritional variety.



13. Preserve your willpower with a healthy eating environment

Effectiveness: 5/5                                                                                                                                                                 Difficulty to implement: 4/5

Creating a healthy environment for change is one of the key principles I mention in my 50 Golden Rules for Forming Healthy Habits.

In fact, if I had to whittle those rules down to single digits, it would probably be in the top 5.

healthy eating environmentBecause the truth is this:

Even if you want nothing more than to form healthy eating habits – it’s something you obsess over and think about from the minute you wake to the minute you drop off to sleep – you’re not going to get very far if you’re surrounded by the same temptations and triggers.

This is particularly true during that fragile early phase of forming a new habit.

If all you’ve ever loved eating is pizza and chocolate, there’s nothing worse than being surrounded by pizza and chocolate.

So how do you create an environment that promotes healthy eating habits?

Aside from clearing out the pantry and replacing unhealthy foods with healthier alternatives, here’s a few things to think about:

  • Limiting yourself to certain aisles of the supermarket – avoiding the junk food and snack areas and sticking to the fresh produce and whole foods sections.
  • Altering your route to work slightly so you avoid the usual temptation of heading through the drive-thru for some fast food.
  • Chatting to loved ones and colleagues about why you’re looking to eat healthier, and even limiting contact with those that aren’t really conducive to healthy changes (at least in the early phase whilst you establish the new habits).

The Main Takeaway 13:

Building a healthy environment around you is crucial if you’re serious about developing lasting healthy eating habits.

By removing unhealthy triggers, you’re much less likely to fall back into unhealthy patterns.

Midway drinks break….

Time to take a breather.

Whilst you’re at it, get your 3 days worth of:

Delicious, nutritious, easy to prepare, plant based meals.

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Hero Plant Based Diet Plan Book Cover


14. Go fer-mental with fermented foods for a healthy gut

Effectiveness: 5/5                                                                                                                                                                 Difficulty to implement: 2/5

I’ll admit, I did chuckle a little to myself when I wrote that subheading.

Fer-mental – get it!?

Tough crowd…

Anyways, you’ve likely heard about some of the potential benefits of consuming more fermented foods.

The basic premise is that the lacto-fermentation process results in the growth of ‘friendly’ strains of bacteria. When we then consume fermented foods, these bacteria set up camp in the belly, favourably impacting the balance of gut flora.

Why is this important?

Through a wicked combo of stressful jobs, antibiotic use and poor nutrition, most of us have a gut biome that’s all out of whack. Too many bad boys, and not enough of good soldiers.

This can lead to issues with nutrient adsorption, IBS and even mental health problems like anxiety and depression – there’s an intricate link between the gut and the brain that we’re only just uncovering.

The guys at PaleoHacks have some pretty good info all about that.

So how do fermented foods change things?

It seems that by improving the balance in gut bacteria, many of the above issues are remedied.

You get better adsorption of nutrients, reduced symptoms of IBS, and even improved mental health.

What foods are classed as fermented?

There’s a boat load, but some of my favourites include:

  • Sourdough bread
  • Miso paste
  • Kombucha
  • Sauerkraut
  • Dark chocolate

You can also opt for a pro-biotic supplement, but not all are created equally (as noted well by the guys at Reviews.com).

If you don’t want to fork out the money to get a good quality supplement, whole fermented foods are often a cheaper and more potent source of good bacteria anyways.


The Main Takeaway 14:

Fermented foods are an awesome source of friendly gut bacteria, important for maintaining a healthy belly and healthy brain.

Aim to get at least a couple of servings a day.  


15. Don’t forget to soak your nuts

Effectiveness: 3/5                                                                                                                                                                 Difficulty to implement: 4/5

Nope, this isn’t a lesson in person hygiene…

Rather, it’s some pretty sound advice on what you should do with your cashews and Brazils before consumption. And most of your beans, lentils and grains too for that matter.

Before we add them into a whole load of different healthy recipes, I tend to put those bulk bought products that I mentioned above through a preparation process, mainly consisting of soaking and rinsing. You could even take it a step further and sprout your foods for maximum health geek points, but that’s something I’ve yet to experiment with fully.

So, after soaking my nuts for around 24 hours and changing the water a few times, I’ll then rinse them fully, dry them off, and store them in the freezer. Ouch.

I do the same process with my legumes, but I cook them before freezing.

Why bother, you might ask?

Aside from making them taste nicer, the process can also improve the digestibility of the foods. Soaking and rinsing helps remove phytic acid, which can block the adsorption of other vitamins and minerals.

Pro tip:

I’ll also add in some apple cider vinegar and a kelp tablet to my beans as they soak, as I heard on the grapevine that it can enhance their digestibility even further.


The Main Takeaway 15:

Soak your nuts, legumes and grains for 12-24 hours prior to cooking, changing the water a few times, and then store them in the freezer.

As well as improving the digestibility of the foods, you always have them on hand to add to any recipes that require them.


16. Go low FODMAP to beat the bloat

Effectiveness: 4/5                                                                                                                                                                 Difficulty to implement: 5/5

If you’ve done any reading into IBS and ways to reduce symptoms of bloating or other forms of belly distress, you might have stumbled upon the term FODMAP.

Firstly, what the heck does FODMAP mean?

It’s an acronym for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols.

In human language, they’re a group of short chain carbohydrates that aren’t easily absorbed in the digestive tract. Instead, they ferment in the gut and can cause some of the digestive issues I mentioned above.

Fermentation you say? Isn’t that a good thing?

Outside the gut, yep.

Inside – not so much…

So what foods are actually classed as being high FODMAP?

The sad news is that there’s a boat load.

You can find a pretty extensive list of foods here.

Below are some of the most common you might stumble upon on a plant based diet:

high FODMAP foods, healthy eating habits and tips

If you’re suffering from IBS or any form of gut distress (and serious medical conditions have been out ruled) the idea is that you follow a low FODMAP diet for a few months until your symptoms settle.

Then you would gradually re-introduce some of the higher FODMAP foods, keeping a close eye on how your digestive system reacts.

In my case, I found that some foods like cashew nuts and certain forms of wheat are fine, but I have to be careful not to overdo it with peppers, onions and certain legumes and grains.

I know it may seem like an arduous process, but it’s been reported that 75% of people following the protocol receive significant relief from IBS symptoms, and I’ve definitely noticed a big difference.

A side note:

You’ll notice that legumes, nuts and grains are classed as high FODMAP.

From my experience, taking care to soak and rinse these foods like I mentioned earlier significantly improves their digestibility. When I put a little time in to prep them properly, I don’t get the same issues.


The Main Takeaway 16:

If you’re someone who suffers with IBS, I highly recommend that you give the FODMAP regime a try.

Eliminate high FODMAP foods for a few months and then gradually re-introduce them, keeping an eye on how your body reacts.


17. Eat smart around exercise

Effectiveness: 3/5                                                                                                                                                                 Difficulty to implement: 1/5

An article on healthy eating habits wouldn’t be complete without touching on workout nutrition.

So that’s what I’ll do.

Whole books have been written on the topic and we could go all day with this one, but I’ll try to keep it short and sweet.

For my pre, peri (during training) and post workout nutrition, once again I’m in agreement with fellow fitness enthusiast Ben Greenfield:

Digestibility is key.

I don’t want a load of food fermenting and sloshing around when I’m looking to hit a deadlift PB or getting my ass kicked on the BJJ mat. It’s humiliating enough as it is, without any accompanying gastrointestinal distress…

So the FODMAPs we mentioned above are a no go. I’m also not a fan of taking on board anything with a ton of fibre, anything with fifty billion ingredients in, or anything packed full of caffeine.

The former: again because of the potential for digestive issues.

The latter: because of the stress on the adrenals.

The fifty billion ingredients: because it’s probably really processed and not that great for you long-term.

So what do I usually go for/recommend?

Pre workout: If I’m not feeling satiated enough from my lunch/breakfast (which will typically be at least an hour before my workout), I’ll go for something light, like a small smoothie or a baked sweet potato.

During workout: Any sessions less than 60-90 minutes (which is most of them), I’ll typically just sip on water (or BCAA’s if I’m fasted). Anything longer, I’ll sometimes dilute one part red grape juice with 3 parts water and sip on that. If I’m out for a really long session like a hike or long bike ride, I’ll take some sweet potatoes, maybe with some dark chocolate and soaked nuts.

Post workout: I know they talk about the magic half hour window in which you should take in protein and carbs after training, but I’ll usually give my body at least an hour post workout to recover and down-regulate before I eat anything heavy. Sometimes I’ll sip on fruit juice or BCAA’s in between then if it’s been a particularly taxing session.


The Main Takeaway 17:

Before, during and after your workout, keep things simple.

Avoid anything that’s overly processed, packed full of sugar or caffiene, or likely to ferment in the gut.


18. Don’t waste your money on 50 billion different supplements

Effectiveness: 3/5                                                                                                                                                                 Difficulty to implement: 1/5

News flash:

You don’t need a refrigerator full of expensive pills and potions to maintain a healthy diet.

You’ve gotta hand it to the supplement industry:

They’ve done an impressive job of creating problems that only their products can solve, and we’ve bought into it like suckers.

I know I did for a while (and I still get pulled in from time to time). At one point I was throwing back all the protein powders and multivitamins I could get my hands on. All I got in return was a leaky gut and lighter wallet…

The truth is, you can get near enough everything you need to meet your nutrition requirements if you eat a variety of whole foods. Nature is great like that.

That being said…

There are a handful of supplements that might be worth considering.

Better You Vitamin B12 Supplement Health RoomIf you’re fully plant based, vitamin B12 is probably one you should be taking.

Other than that, some people can benefit from a vitamin D supplement, particularly people living outside the tropics.

The only other that I take regularly is a DHA/EPA supplement to keep my long chain omega 3 levels topped up.

They would be the main three that I would go for as a base. Other things like K2, creatine and a protein powder might be beneficial for some, but I would always prioritize healthy whole foods.

Unless you have some sort of medical condition that prevents you from absorbing or utilising certain dietary compounds, or you’re into biohacking – pretty much everything else is touch and go.


The Main Takeaway 18:

There’s a time and a place for certain supplements. The main 3 that I take regularly are vitamin B-12, vitamin D, and an algal based EPA/DHA.

Protein powders, creatine, and certain vitamin/mineral complexes can be beneficial for some people, but aren’t necessary for everyone.  


19. Stay hydrated

Effectiveness: 4/5                                                                                                                                                                 Difficulty to implement: 1/5

It’s pretty simple advice:

If you’re an average male, you should be taking on board at least 2.5 litres of water a day. For females, that figure is closer to 2 litres.

Bu how many of us actually hit the recommended amount?

Up to a third apparently, depending on what survey you read.

And keep in mind this is the bare minimum we should be shooting for.

It doesn’t account for exercise, body type, air temperature and humidity.

RDA for water consumption healthy eating habits

I get it:

Life is busy, and often times it’s the end of the day before you realise that you haven’t taken on board nearly enough water for the day.

Wanna hear my super secret tip for making sure you hit the RDA?

It’s called the elastic band trick.

It basically involves getting a decent sized BPA free water bottle, attaching a load of elastic bands to the bottom of the bottle, and sliding one up to the top when you’ve finished an entire drink.

My bottle holds 600ml, and I want to hit around 3 litres a day. So I have 5 bands around it. Whenever I finish a bottle, I slide a band to the top, and hey presto!

Give yourself a brownie point if you hit your daily target.

Add another if your bands are Health Room colour scheme approved.


The Main Takeaway 19:

As well as consuming plenty of water rich, nutrient dense plant foods, ensure you’re taking on board enough liquids, in the form of fresh water and/or herbal teas.

Use the elastic band trick to guarantee success and to look like a cool kid at the same time. Double win.


20. Become a swift navigator at restaurants

Effectiveness: 3/5                                                                                                                                                                 Difficulty to implement: 3/5

The general consensus is this:

If you want to eat healthily whilst out and about, you’re in for a tough time.

But it doesn’t have to be that way – not in this day and age.

Sure, there are plenty of fast food joints and some chain restaurants that are a no go (although some are making progress).

At the other end of the spectrum, there have never been so many plant based and generally health conscious restaurants available today. And with apps like Happy Cow, finding them has never been easier.

But what about the middle of the spectrum?

What about the gap between the super health conscious, and the super fast?

Whilst your average restaurants and chains might not have a ton of healthy options on the menu, more and more of them are offering at least one or two, or can adapt existing options to suit your needs.

And even if it seems all hope is lost – you’re going somewhere that’s notoriously unhealthy, but it’s a family gathering that you can’t miss, you can still get by.

All it takes is a quiet word with the waiter/waitress/chef beforehand, explaining your preferences in a polite, unassuming manner. Nine times out of ten they’ll be able to accommodate you. Most places will have a stock of rice, beans and veggies – sorted.

And if they can’t?

Let’s face it – it’s not the end of the world…

Mark it down as a learning experience, and eat one of those healthily meals you previously prepped and stored in the freezer when you get home.


The Main Takeaway 20:

Get to know safe havens in your surrounding area for healthy food – burrito bars and vegetarian restaurants are usually a good shout.

If you’re going somewhere that might not have a healthy option, don’t be afraid to ring beforehand or have a quick word with the staff to see if a simple meal of rice, beans and veggies can be prepared.


21. Remember: how you eat is just as important as what you eat

Effectiveness: 5/5                                                                                                                                                                 Difficulty to implement: 3/5

I’ve talked about mindful eating quite a few times in the past. That’s because it’s something that I noticed made a big difference in my life. So yep, I’m gonna harp on about it again today…

We live in a world where convenience is king. We want our food on the go, and we want it now.

The result?

We scoff down meals without paying the slightest bit of attention to what we’re doing. A sandwich on the train or a pizza in front of the TV. Rarely does it touch the sides. That was me for the biggest part of my life – mindless eating.

So what does mindful eating entail?

Put simply, it means slowing down. It means chewing your food thoroughly, pausing in between mouthfuls, and savouring the myriad of tastes and textures.

Darya at Summer Tomato has a load more useful tips.

Aside from being a more enjoyable experience, eating more mindfully and slowly makes it easier for your body to digest and assimilate the food you’re consuming. You’re also less likely to overeat, as your body gets the chance to recognise when it’s actually full.

Neat huh?

And this may be bull, but I’ve also noticed that helps you get a little more in tune with what your body really wants/needs.

It kinda makes sense – If you’re focussing on every mouthful, you’re much more aware of what food you’re actually eating, and whether that food is aligned with the goals or the standards you’ve set yourself.

One caveat:

As you’re probably well aware, it’s never easy to undo lifelong habits. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably eaten the same way for 3 times a day since you first started on solid meals, wolfing it down like your life depends on it.

So like any other seemingly insurmountable change, my advice is to start small, and build gradually.

Even if it’s just one meal a week, on the weekend. Prepare a nice dinner that you can work your way through at a slow and steady pace – either alone or with loved ones.

The more you practice, the more it becomes a habit, and the more that mindful state can start to trickle down into other areas of your life.


The Main Takeaway 21:

How you eat is just as important as what you eat. Set time aside for at least one meal a week to slow down and eat mindfully.

You’ll benefit by enjoying your food more, being less prone to overeating, and having tip-top digestive capabilities.


22. Go local or home-grown when possible

Effectiveness: 2/5                                                                                                                                                                 Difficulty to implement: 5/5

We like to talk about the negative impact of traditional animal agriculture on the environment. It’s almost become the in thing to do.

But traditional crop farming practices also do their fair share of damage.

food milesWhilst you might think you’re doing good by swapping your beef for your bananas, when you account for the massive air miles and the poor farmer who’s getting completely ripped off somewhere in Ecuador, you could argue that it’s really just the lesser of two evils…

So if the global impact of your dietary choices is a big priority, when you can, head to local farmers markets to source your produce. And not only are you cutting down the air miles on your food, you’re also helping the local community to thrive.

You might even find it’s more cost-effective than going to the supermarket (although this isn’t always the case).

If you want to be a level 2 eco-warrior, you’re gonna have to grow your own food (or head out to do some foraging).

But be warned – it’s not always an easy task…

My parents rent an allotment that’s around 300 square metres or so (costs them pennies a year – it’s a bargain), and I’ve seen the hard work that goes into maintaining it. I think they’re actually going to pack it in soon and maybe grow a few things in troughs out the back garden instead.

The point is, to reap big rewards, it takes some effort.

But even starting with a small salad patch and a little herb garden can bring benefits. It’s even better if you have kids and you want to help them form that healthy relationship with food that we mentioned earlier.

It get’s them involved in the process, from seeds to plate.


The Main Takeaway 22:

By shopping locally, you’re cutting the air miles off your food and you get to support local businesses. Win win.

There are also a whole host of benefits to growing your own produce – even if it is just a few herbs and salad plants.

As with anything, start small and build gradually.


23. Cant access organic? Don’t panic!

Effectiveness: 3/5                                                                                                                                                                 Difficulty to implement: 2/5

Organic food is another one of those topics in nutrition that attracts polar opposite opinions.

On the one hand, there’s evidence that pesticide use can lead to a number of unwanted side effects, like neurological disorders, and even increasing your risk of certain cancers.

On the other hand, others claim we’re over reacting, and also that the difference in nutrition quality of organic vs non-organic food is negligible.

I’m not quite sure where I stand to be honest, although I tend towards the former…

Anywho, if you do have a little disposable income and you are concerned about consuming pesticides and other strange chemicals, there are certain foods that are more prone to contamination that others:

Organic foods healthy eating habits

The “Dirty Dozen” tend to be water rich foods that have thin skins, whereas the “Clean Fifteen” are a bit tougher and less likely to soak up chemicals.

So if you are going to buy organic food, it’s the ones on the left of the diagram that you should probably be after.

Again, the local farmers market is usually a good shout, as many of them are actually organic but don’t want to fork out the fee to gain the classification – so the produce tends to be a little cheaper.


The Main Takeaway 23:

As a good friend once said to me:

Don’t let what you can’t do, stop you from doing what you can.

If you can access organic food, that’s great, go for it. If it’s not available to you, you might want to be mindful about over-consuming the dirty dozen. But don’t panic.


24. Don’t get hung up on your macros

Effectiveness: 3/5                                                                                                                                                                 Difficulty to implement: 2/5

I know I touched on macronutrients earlier on in the article when I mentioned nutrient timing and food combining.

But I just want to reiterate the fact that the quality of your food is much more important than the exact breakdown of carbs to fats to protein you’re taking in.

A number of studies highlighted by Dr.Greger at NutritionFacts point towards the same idea – it’s the source of carbs, fats and protein that matters most, not the ratios of each.

We’re all different, and life would be boring if we weren’t.

Some people respond well to high fat ketogenic diet. Others do better on a high carb, 80-10-10 style regime. Some of us fall somewhere in the middle.

Your best bet:

Try a mini diet experiment, keeping track of how you feel and watching how your blood metrics change over time (get 15% off testing here for US customers, and here for those of you in the UK)


The Main Takeaway 23:

The overarching theme of good nutrition seems to be to keep that big picture in mind.

Yes, your body might respond a little better to a higher fat or higher carb approach.

But if you’re looking to reach your potential, the quality of your food should probably come first. Get that right, and by all means have a play around with different macronutrient breakdowns.


25. If it’s too much hassle, consider outsourcing

Effectiveness: 4/5                                                                                                                                                                 Difficulty to implement: 2/5

All of this talk of meal prep and planning ahead might seem like a headache for some of you. You might have tried it before, and it just wasn’t your thing.

You have a business to run, family to look after, and 5 minutes of leisure time would be nice too…

So what are your options?

Veestro Healthy Meal DeliveryOne is to opt for a healthy meal delivery service.

I’m partnered with a great company called Veestro, and they deliver freshly prepared plant based meals right to your doorstep.

No fussing around in the kitchen or figuring out what ingredients you need to buy.

You can get their Starter Pack (12 meals and a juice) for $99 here.

But what if figuring out how to put the ideas we’ve mentioned in this article is more the issue for you?

Hero Online Nutrition CoachingIf that’s the case, you can always enlist a professional to help you transition through the process.

Funnily enough, I’ve been a qualified nutritionist for three years, and a big focus of mine has been habit-forming…

But seriously, if you’re after a few tips or a fully fledged diet plan, I’d love to help out.

You can hire me for online coaching here.


The Main Takeaway 25:

Busy and overwhelmed?

That doesn’t mean healthy eating habits are out of the question. Whether you utilise a a meal delivery service or work with a qualified nutritionist, there are plenty of options to outsource your nutrition for an extra helping hand.


26. Don’t forget to indulge now and again

Effectiveness: 3/5                                                                                                                                                                 Difficulty to implement: 2/5

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again:

Perfection is an illusion.

There’s no such thing as a perfect diet, and if you ever meet someone who claims that there is, you should run the other way – fast.

I’ve been through many different phases on my own diet journey. I remember at one point I was playing around with the high carb, 80-10-10 style diet that I mentioned above. Didn’t turn out too well.

I was obsessing over keeping my fat consumption low, staying away from anything that had a hint of oil in it.

The result?

My health and performance was worse than before.

Maybe I did it all wrong, and wasn’t eating enough calories. But do you wanna know what I really think it was?

Even if that way of eating was supposedly healthier than what I was doing before,  I was doing more harm than good by stressing over being perfect. 

These days I’m much more relaxed about what I eat. Sure, I follow a plant based diet, so that means no animal products for the foreseeable future.

But I’m partial to a Linda McCartney burger now and again. And I actually feel better including oils in my diet.

Want to know the best part?

Research suggests that including a little bit of junk food into your diet now and again may help to build tolerance to these foods so they don’t have as much of a negative effect if you’re forced to eat them another time.

Think of it as a kind of junk food vaccination…

Then there’s also the mental health aspect:

Whether we like it or not, food plays much more of a role in our lives than simply providing us with fuel. We also eat for pleasure and as a social connector.

Sometimes indulging a little can help you relax. I’d go as far as saying it’s a key part of living a healthy lifestyle.

It acts as a reminder that life isn’t half as serious as we make it out to be.


The Main Takeaway 26:

Remember, it’s what you do 80-90% of the time that counts. You’ll probably be doing more harm than good by stressing over being perfect than you will indulging from time to time.

As a wise disney princess once said:

Let it go


Now it’s your turn…

That just about wraps this monster of an article up for now (I’ll update it periodically).

As I’ve talked about many times here on the blog, reading a post or watching a video is all well and good, but it’s actually applying the ideas that counts.

So what I want you to do now is this:

Pick ONE of the healthy eating habits from the above list, and let me know in the comments below how and why you’re going to start applying it to your own life.

Also, if there’s something that you think should be on the list that isn’t, let me know and I’ll consider it for the next update.

And last but not least:

If you found this article useful, or you know someone who might, take two seconds to give it a share on Facebook or Twitter using the buttons to your left.

It really means a lot to me and helps Health Room grow!

(And don’t forget your free sample diet plan below)

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6 Responses to “26 Healthy Eating Habits to Help You Look and Feel Amazing

  • Chuck Bluestein
    6 months ago

    You have a lot of good information. According to the guy who created the paleo diet, salt is not included in it at all. According to Michael Greger M.D. salt kills over 1,000 Americans per day. According to WebMD it is healthier to smoke than to consume salt. If humans or animals do not consume salt, they never get high blood pressure.

    See hubpages.com/health/How-to-Live-30-Years-Longer

  • This is a really worth-reading article! Even though it took me some time to get through it all, I believe that now I am more aware of the existing ways in which I can improve my eating habits. I am not one of those persons who says “easier said than done”, so I will make sure to follow at least ten of your guidelines. Thank you for sharing!

    • Thanks Ethel, much appreciated! It is a hefty one haha, but that’s a great attitude to have 🙂 I’d even go as far as saying that starting with just one or two habits would be the best thing to do, and gradually work your way through the others, finding what works for you!

  • There is a plethora of information in this article. some of it was obvious and some was not. But I would highly recommend the read to anyone. Thank you for all the information you packed into this one. I will be using at least some of your guidelines for sure. After a long time away from healthy eating I am starting to push my way back into it. Again thank you sir for the time that you put into this one I am very much appreciative.

    • Thanks Jeremy, I’m glad it was of some use to you! I’m aware that these long-form posts can sometimes be a little overwhelming with the amount of info in them, so remember to start small and build gradually 🙂

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