Have you ever found yourself so swamped at work that you end up skipping lunch, only to over-indulge at 4:30 in the afternoon, after having spent the day hangry, distracted, and being less productive than you’d wanted to be?
Unfortunately, you aren’t alone. Most people who work 40+ hours a week find it difficult to keep on top of healthy eating habits1. If you're looking to start some healthy new eating habits, here are some tips that might help.
1. Prep Ahead
Meal prepping might seem like adding yet another item to your to-do list, but it's a time-saver in the long run. The trick is to look at your schedule and plan ahead, so you can fit in a trip to the grocery store and still have time to cook. I like to do all my grocery shopping on Saturday, then do all the cooking on Sunday. Then I prepare something that I can have whenever I need a quick meal in the coming week.
For example, I like to prep a really easy breakfast scramble full of eggs, veggies, and sweet potatoes, which I can simply warm up in the microwave every morning. I’ve just saved myself the hassle of cooking during the work week and started the day off right while avoiding the extra calories of grabbing something quick and unhealthy on the go.
Not only will meal prepping save time during the week, but it's a good way to work in some healthy options. I can set aside an afternoon to prepare something healthy that takes longer to cook than I might want to spend every day, such as whole grains or dried legumes, and make enough of it to last a few meals.
2. Make a Meal Plan
One of the most time-consuming parts of cooking is the decision-making. By the time I find a good recipe that I have all the ingredients for, I've typically lost a half hour of cooking time. Let's be honest: the end of a long work day is not the time that we want to be making more plans and decisions. That's when we're most likely to throw up our hands and order food delivery instead.
So let's take the mystery out of the process and have a weekly meal plan. This can be as basic or as detailed as you prefer, depending how much you like variety or prefer simplicity. Maybe you just want to make the same thing every Friday, like an old-fashioned family spaghetti night. Or maybe you like to rotate through the same 5-10 recipes on weekdays and mix it up on the weekends.
Plan out your main meals for the week before you go shopping, so that you can make sure you have the ingredients you need. I like to simplify my meal planning by only planning the dinners. Then I make enough for dinner each night to have leftovers for lunch the next day.
3. Don’t Skip Meals
Skipping meals does not equate health or healthy habits. Some people think it will help them lose weight, but it can actually have the opposite effect. Your body compensates by slowing your metabolism, so you burn fewer calories. Skipping a meal will only leave you hungrier and more likely to overindulge later. Planning ahead and giving yourself adequate time to eat can help you break this vicious cycle.
If you tend to forget to eat when you're working, it's a good idea to plan some healthy snacks. Snacking at intervals throughout the day keeps your metabolism more active and keeps hunger from sneaking up on you, so that you have more time to make smart food decisions. Have some simple, healthy snacks on hand that include some protein and nutritional value, rather than empty carbs. Try roasted edamame or trailmix, some carrot sticks with hummus dip, greek yogurt with fruit and granola, or a protein shake.
4. Drink More Water
Sweetened drinks are one of the easiest ways to thoughtlessly ingest more calories and sugar than you need. If you can eliminate that one indulgence, it can make a significant difference in your health and will likely affect your weight, too. You'd also be surprised how often your body mistakes thirst for hunger. When you start drinking more water, you'll see some of your cravings for food and sugary drinks begin to disappear.
Keep a water bottle handy at your desk or wherever you go, and you will quickly build a habit of drinking water regularly. If plain water seems too uninspiring, you can add a little something to it for a hint of flavor, such as sliced fruit or cucumber, a squeeze of citrus, mint leaves, rose petals, ginger root, or a cinnamon stick. Try out different combinations to keep it interesting and fun.
5. Try Something New
Eating healthy doesn’t mean you have to eat the same boring meal over and over again. In fact, changing it up can have benefits. For one, your body won’t get used to the meal and plateau3 when you’re trying to lose weight or gain muscle. You'll also be less likely to get bored and grab that pizza that you’ve been trying to avoid.
Make healthy eating more fun by trying new, exciting foods. Healthy doesn't have to mean bland and flavorless. Many international dishes are full of veggies and lean protein, but packed with flavor from a variety of spices and unique sauces. Experiment with new styles of cooking or try out some restaurants that draw from different food traditions. Get creative and find out how much fun "healthy" can be.