8 Ways to Trade Your Diet for Sustainable Nutrition Habits

woman chopping vegetables

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Supporting your health with nutrition is an excellent goal. For some, the advice they hear on diets and food restrictions can be confusing and turn the act of enjoying a meal into a stressful event. To regain confidence around food and keep the focus on health and wellness rather than cutting out foods or restrictive practices, trade your diet for sustainable nutrition habits.

Creating eating habits that will serve you long-term is a more sustainable approach than a trendy diet and is more often better for your mental and physical health. Below, you will find tips for breaking free from diets and adopting sustainable nutrition habits that support your whole health.

Examine Your Existing Habits

One of the least sustainable practices people sometimes adapt without realizing it is to completely overhaul what you're already doing. Making sudden, extreme changes can feel motivating, but they are more challenging to maintain. Instead, making minor changes to your current habits may be easier to adapt to and sustain.

For instance, if you already make your lunch at home rather than going to a fast food place, build on that by also packing snacks like fresh fruit, yogurt, nuts, or a homemade muffin. If you eat cereal for breakfast, try adding some yogurt and fruit to the bowl for added protein and nutrients.

Begin With a Plan

Having a plan can create a structure for your sustainable nutrition habits. A plan does not have to be minutely detailed or strict. Planning is a tool that helps take the pressure off of making in-the-moment decisions.

Whether you decide to follow an eating plan like the Mediterranean, DASH, or MIND diet or build your own using the USDA guidelines, a general idea of how you'd like to eat will make decision-making easier.

Note that these eating plans are not restrictive or all-encompassing, but rather general guidelines on what types of foods support certain health outcomes and goals such as boosting heart or brain health and maintaining a balanced weight.

Make It Sustainable

Whatever plan you create should be one that you can envision yourself following, for the most part, long-term. This doesn't mean strict adherence or never eating foods not typically consumed in your plan, but just a basic ability to stick to eating in such a way that supports your health and goals long-term.

To do this, creating practices that support your eating style will help. These can include meal planning and prepping, deciding on a certain number of meals out you will enjoy, and pre-planning desserts and treats to fit into a balanced eating plan. Meal planning is associated with a more nutrient variety and higher quality eating habits and makes an excellent way to increase the sustainability of your nutrition habits.

Pay Attention to Your Body’s Cues

Your body is adept at providing you with cues for when you are hungry and when you are full. However, if you've dieted a lot in the past or if overeating has become the norm for you, you may be out of touch with your hunger and fullness cues.

If you've dieted for a long time, hormones like ghrelin will send signals that increase hunger and cause you to seek out food as a way of avoiding potential famine. Re-learning or tuning into your body's cues can help you eat the amount of food that you need.

Tuning into your body's cues and using them to determine what and when to eat is often called intuitive eating. You can practice this by using a hunger and fullness scale where you try never to allow yourself to get hungry below a 3 out of 10, and you stop eating when you reach a fullness level of 6, wait about 20 minutes to see if you'd like more food or if your body is telling you you've had enough.

Avoid Restrictions

It's worth reiterating that no matter how you choose to eat, what plan you choose, or which habits you build, there is no reason you need to follow any of these to perfection. In fact, choosing to go off-plan now and again is a healthy and balanced way to live.

Food is meant to be enjoyed and is a part of every culture in ways far more profound than simply sustaining life. Food is celebratory and comforting, it builds memories and communities. It's important to take a step back from associating food only with your health and to view it as an enjoyable part of life.

Research suggests that enjoying your food and relaxing around situations where you may eat more indulgent items can help you achieve more balance over the long term.

Have a Plan for Eating Out

If you enjoy eating out but are concerned about how it might fit into an overall health-promoting lifestyle, you can brainstorm some strategies for eating out while feeling good about your choices. Keep in mind that the occasional indulgent dinner out is perfectly acceptable and even ideal for balanced and long-term nutrition that serves your mental and physical wellbeing.

However, if you find yourself eating out a lot and want to avoid some of the foods and dishes that leave you feeling less energized or nourished, try to plan ahead. Check the menu online beforehand to decide on what meal or side dishes you may choose. You can include foods you love, like a juicy burger or steak, and add some steamed broccoli in place of fries, for instance.

Make Sure You Enjoy It

Enjoying your food is essential for long-term success. If you don't enjoy what you eat, you'll likely be more tempted to give up and eat more comforting foods. There's no reason to force yourself to eat foods—no matter how nutritious they are—that you don't like.

If you want to include more green veggies but don't like kale or spinach, experiment with other greens until you find one you enjoy or a tasty preparation method, such as in a smoothie. But if you can't find a version you like, skip it altogether. There is no one type of food you must eat to be healthy.

Add Exercise

Exercise is a vital aspect of any healthy lifestyle. The benefits of exercise are profound and go far beyond weight control. Adding exercise increases the likelihood that you will reach and maintain a healthy weight. Exercise also blunts hunger and can be a good strategy if weight loss is your goal.

Ensure your sustainable nutrition habits support your exercise as well, including getting enough calories in optimal amounts to support energy production and repair tissues.

A Word From Verywell

Fad diets and extreme practices can be enticing, especially when grand promises are made by advertising efforts. However, any eating style that is restrictive, highly structured, or that you cannot see yourself sticking to long term is highly likely to fail.

One to two-thirds of those who diet end up regaining more weight than they lost initially. Restrictive dieting also increases the risks of developing eating disorders, body dissatisfaction, osteoporosis, psychological stress, physical health concerns, depression, and low self-esteem.

Balanced, health-forward nutrition habits will serve you much more in the long term. If you are struggling to develop an eating plan to fit your needs, consider speaking with a registered dietitian. They can help you craft a plan that is right for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How should you eat to promote longevity?

    To promote longevity, you should eat in a way that helps you maintain a balanced weight with foods that are packed with nutrients, including protein, fiber, antioxidants, phytochemicals, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. Such diets include the Mediterranean eating style, the DASH diet, and the MIND diet.

  • Which diet is the best for health?

    There is no one diet that is best for everyone's health, however experts tend to agree that the Mediterranean style of eating is one of the best to support health. Other versions of this diet such as the MIND diet are also very healthy. Eating a diet with a lot of variety of whole foods will support health.

  • Can you meet all your nutritional needs with food?

    You can likely meet all of your nutritional needs with food, as long as you eat a diet centered on whole foods. If you are vegan or have food restrictions and allergies, this can be more complicated and challenging. It's best to seek the guidance of a registered dietician for individual advice.

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Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Rachel MacPherson, BA, CPT
Rachel MacPherson is a health writer, certified personal trainer, and exercise nutrition coach based in Montreal.