How to Eat Healthy and Avoid Fad Diets

Fish is an excellent source of DHA

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Fad diets are bad. Oh sure, they can lead to successful weight loss if you follow them exactly as they are designed. But that doesn't mean every food that fits a diet is healthy, but it does mean you have to change your eating patterns to fit the diet's rules.

The rules are difficult to follow for a long-term, so most people give up. The weight they worked so hard to lose comes back, and they find a new diet, lose the weight once more, and end up on a weight loss roller coaster.

This kind of yo-yo dieting may or may not be bad for your health. At the very least, it's frustrating and disappointing.

So why bother? Give up the fad diet. And, instead of worrying about the mirror and your dress size, think about your health.

Besides, being healthy doesn't mean you have to be a size 2 or a size 0. It means feeling good physically and emotionally. It means having energy and enjoying every day. It isn't difficult to lead a healthy lifestyle, feel great, and still have room for the occasional treat. Let me show you how.

Know Your Healthy Foods

The first step is to know what foods are good for you. It's fairly simple, really — the closer a food is to its natural state, the better it is for you.

Fresh fruits and berries are great and can help satisfy a craving for sweets without adding extra sugar. Serve them in a bowl with a dab of real whipped cream or buy a good blender and make fruit smoothies.

Whole fresh vegetables have lots of vitamins and minerals, so eat vegetables of different colors to ensure a range of nutrients. Steam them—or eat them raw—to retain the most nutritional value. Be careful with cheesy and creamy sauces, they may be high in calories and fats that aren't good for you.

Pasta or baked goods made with whole grains are better than those made with refined white flour. Avoid white breads and noodles because they're made from flour that has had much of the nutritional content removed and the high starch content will affect your blood sugar as quickly as regular sugar. Avoid sugary snacks and pastries as well. An apple is good for you; an apple pie really isn't.

Shop for lean meats and don't forget the fish. The omega-3 fatty acids found in cold water ocean fish are often deficient in Western diets, so eat fish or seafood two or three times per week. Cooking methods matter too. Baked fish and chicken are healthier than fried, and lean meats like grass-fed beef, bison or venison are healthier than higher fat corn-fed beef. Processed lunch meats, hot dogs, bacon, and sausages are linked to health problems, but if you love these meats, find better-for-you versions sold at health food stores.

Stick to water as your main beverage, and avoid sugary sodas. If you get tired of plain water, add a slice of lemon or lime for a touch of flavor. Or mix fruit juice with carbonated water. Some herbal and green teas may add great benefits to your health. Even plain coffee enjoyed in moderation can be good for you.

Assess Your Lifestyle

Once you learn which foods are good for you, you need to look at your eating habits. Change isn't easy, so If most of the foods you eat aren't healthy, you might want to work with your current habits and lifestyle conditions, so you don't have to make a bunch of huge changes all at once.

Consider these questions, and then read on for tips to help you eat healthier:

  • Do you eat because you are bored, sad, or happy?
  • Do you snack in front of the TV without even giving it much thought?
  • Are most of your meals eaten at home or in restaurants?
  • How often do you eat fast food?
  • Do you like to cook?
  • How often do you grocery shop?
  • Do you skip breakfast or lunch, and then overeat later in the day?
  • How big are the portions you consume?
  • Do you crave sweets?
  • Are there foods you won't give up?

Solutions for Snackers

If you're an emotional eater, keep the junk food like potato chips, tortilla chips, ice cream, and candy out of the house. Buy healthy snacks like fruits, crunchy vegetables with dips, or nuts instead. If you absolutely feel the need for a treat, go ahead and purchase a small piece of high-quality chocolate or something similar and enjoy it, just don't buy more to bring home.

The same tips are helpful for those who enjoy TV snacking at home. If you don't want to give up nibbling while watching your shows, keep low-calorie volume foods on hand like air-popped popcorn, because it's very easy to eat too much when you're entranced by your favorite drama, football game, or cooking show.

Tips for Dining Out

It's not as easy to maintain a healthy diet if you eat many of your meals at restaurants—those salads might not be as appealing as a greasy cheeseburger and fries. Restaurants frequently serve huge portions of food, too, much more than you need.

If you can't hold your resolve to stick to the dinner salads, try a compromise—pick out an appetizer you love, combine it with a salad or a cup of soup, and skip the larger entrees. You can also share a meal or take half of it home. Dying for dessert? Order as small a size as possible, or maybe just one scoop of ice cream, rather than a larger, heavier dessert. Be careful with the after-dinner drinks as well.  Maybe just have one glass of wine with your meal if you drink alcohol.

Fast food dining is especially difficult—if you eat a lot of it, you already know how difficult it is to eat healthily. Some places have added salads and some better choices, but it really isn't a good way to eat. Keep fast food dining to a minimum, don't go with the super sizes, and choose places that offer more fresh foods.

Hate to Cook?

The best way to improve your diet is to cook more meals at home. But if you hate to cook, all that fresh produce you bring home from the grocery store may just rot in your refrigerator. Depending on your budget, you might prefer to purchase prepared foods from markets that specialize in healthy, whole foods, or even order meals from a delivery service that only need to be heated and served.

If you have a tighter budget, perhaps you can set aside some time on weekends to prepare meals and freeze them to be reheated later that week. Or try once-a-month cooking. Set aside enough time to do your shopping for a few days' worth of healthy food and ingredients. Make a list and stick to it.

Don't go shopping when you're hungry, and once you're at the store, stay away from the junk and the processed food aisles. Buy lots of fresh produce and choose lean meats and fish. Stay away from processed meats and fake cheese products, and avoid the snack aisle. If you can't shop frequently, choose frozen fruits and vegetables instead of canned, as they retain more of their nutrients.

Don't Skip Meals

If you skip breakfast, you may find that you lose energy by midmorning, so rather than skipping breakfast entirely, split it in half. Eat a small breakfast early, such as an egg, small serving of oatmeal or some yogurt. Then have a small snack such as raisins and 10 to 12 almonds around midmorning. This split breakfast is a much better solution than reaching for sugary sodas or candy bars to perk yourself up.

Lunch and dinner are important too—in fact, all meals are necessary. Skipping meals may cause you to feel like you're starving and result in overeating at the next meal.

Control Portion Size

Stomachs aren't that large, physically. The unstretched human stomach will hold about 2 cups of food, but because the stomach will stretch, it can hold considerably more food than we need at any given meal.

Serve your meals on individual plates at home rather than family style at the table—you'll be less likely to reach for "seconds" that way. Ask for "take home" containers and take half of your meal home when you dine in restaurants. And avoid buffets, unless you are very disciplined, it's way too tempting to load up three or four plates, plus dessert!

Tame Your Sweet Tooth

Curb your cravings for sweets with fruits and stay away from sugary snacks and pastries that have lots of calories, sugar, and fats. If fruits and berries aren't sweet enough for you, add just a bit of sugar or non-nutritive sweetener. Avoid sodas and try iced herbal teas or ice water with lemon or lime. If you miss the carbonation, add some fruit juice to carbonated water, as I mentioned earlier.

Things You Won't Give Up

Do you feel like you can't live without your chocolate or your mornings just can't begin without a giant donut with sprinkles? If there are foods you won't give up, then don't—just enjoy them in smaller amounts. Love your latte? Stick with just one regular sized cup, instead of a giant 20-ounce cup. Limit other treats or favorite foods that aren't healthy, try to limit them to one time per week, or search for healthier versions at natural foods markets.

Rome Wasn't Built in a Day

So you can't transform your unhealthy diet overnight—don't despair, most people can't. Start implementing some of these ideas, even just one at a time. Every change you make will be one step in the right direction.

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.

By Shereen Lehman, MS
Shereen Lehman, MS, is a former writer for Verywell Fit and Reuters Health. She's a healthcare journalist who writes about healthy eating and offers evidence-based advice for regular people.