Habits are Hard to Make and Easy to Break!

I don’t know about you, but between quarantine and now summer it seems like it has been harder than ever to stay on track with nutrition and physical activity. It was definitely a strange feeling seeing empty shelves in the grocery store and I still can’t get used to not going to the gym regularly. Truly, everything has been completely thrown out of whack. If you are an emotional eater, like me, you have probably been on a roller coaster ride since March. Grabbing this when you’re stressed, that when you’re nervous, then that over there when you are happy. Seems the healthy habits that I rely on started to dwindle into the sunset over the past few months.

You have likely heard the saying, ‘You won’t always be motivated. You must learn discipline’. Motivation is short-lived. It comes and goes. A spark is bright and attractive, but it fades over time. And so does motivation. Discipline is different. Discipline can endure trials and tribulations. It is the backbone that helps us play the long-game in whatever we are trying to accomplish in life.

When we think about our eating habits, there are many components that have gotten us to where we are today. To complete our current life’s puzzle of nutrition we can look at each puzzle piece as a part of our lives. There are pieces from our childhood, the food that was in our fridge and cabinets growing up, the home-cooked meals vs. take-out, eating around a table vs. in front of a tv, prep vs. convenience, the college years, our friends, our spouse or loved ones in our home, stress levels throughout life, illnesses, and the list goes on.

Our habits are what dictate what we fill our fridge and pantry with today. Do we shop mostly on the perimeter of the grocery store or are we up and down scanning through all the items on the shelves? Do you use a list or wing it? There are so many components that make us choose what we do.

There are so many ways we can build strong habits and learn the discipline it takes to keep them burning. There are apps, gym classes, meal prep, etc. Organizing your house and cleaning out your fridge have been known to translate to healthier habits. I have been a dietitian for 14 years and my list of advice has changed as each year passes.


My current Top 3 favorite healthy habit-building tips and tricks are:

1. Pick one, any one- Frozen veggies that is
Yes, we all know that fresh is the best. I, personally, prefer fresh veggies over all the other options. However, I definitely recommend buying frozen veggies and keeping a par stock of them. This first tip is- next time you go to the grocery store, buy one more bag of any kind of frozen vegetable than you do normally. If you never buy frozen veggies then you are going from zero to one. If you normally buy one, add another. I know so many people that are worried about the hit to the wallet fresh produce will cause or they are overzealous and buy too much and a lot goes to waste. So back to my point, buy one bag of $0.99 generic brand of vegetables or spurge for the $2 steam bag veggies and prepare it IN ADDITION to your normal vegetable one night of the week. Do this weekly to work on building a new habit of having two vegetables for dinner and working to fill half of you plate with veggies. This tip will not break the bank and worst case scenario, if you don’t get to the veggie this week, it’ll be there for you, just as you found it, frozen and waiting.

2. Keep it simple- buy fruit whole
Buying produce in-season and whole are your best bets at spending less money. Try to steer clear of the pre-cut, pre-washed, and ready-to-eat options. I always joke in class about the standard cut-up mixed fruit in a plastic container, that if you were blind-folded you probably couldn’t decipher which fruit you were eating since the additives/preservatives tend to make them all taste similar. Instead of paying more for the convenient option, take the steps to build the discipline to buy whole produce and do the prep at home, which leads me to my last tip.

3. Be Ahead of the Game- Prep those fresh fruits and veggies
Just like I asked you to spend $1 on a frozen veggie, I am going to ask you to do the same thing, but this time make it a raw fresh veggie. Cucumber, carrot, celery, tomato, pepper, broccoli, cauliflower- your pick! Now here is the craziest part—when you get home and unpack your groceries, do NOT put that veggie away in the fridge. Especially do not put it down in the black hole of Forgotten Land a.k.a. the ‘crisper’. We all know that is where perfectly good veggies go to get moldy and die. Instead, leave that veggie out on the counter so it stares at you until you decide to wash it and cut it up. This is key! You have to prep the veggie before it goes into the fridge or else your chance of eating it goes way down. Imagine you’re starving and you go to grab something out of the fridge, that red bell pepper sitting on the shelf has 0.5% chance of being the winner for your growling tummy. To wash it and cut it when you’re hungry is much more annoying than having it prepped and ready for you to reach in.

An additional piece of advice I have regarding this topic is to consider purchasing good glass containers. Amazon has so many choices that are affordable. Now imagine your cut veggies in your see-through glass containers sitting eye level on your fridge shelf ready to be snacked on. This is way better than the week-end mold check of your produce in the bottom drawer.

The last point I’ll cover in regards to the fresh veggies is that they don’t have to be eaten alone.
You don’t have to just snack on a plain carrot or cucumber. Use them in your salads, in a wrap, or with a dip. A few dip suggestions I have are- try a dry pouch of Hidden Valley Ranch mix with plain non-fat Greek yogurt instead of sour cream. This dip is for all those ranch lovers that don’t want the calories or fat from regular ranch dressing. Instead of 2 measly tablespoons of dressing, this dip gets you 3/4 cup! The nutrition breakdown is- 100 calories, 0 grams fat, 5 grams carbs, 18 grams protein! Not many dips will give you those macronutrients. Other options are, guacamole single-cups, Greek Tzatziki dip, hummus, vinaigrettes, and powdered peanut butter (rehydrated to make a spread).

In summary, as the title says, habits are hard to make, easy to break. Remember, start small and build on each habit as a stepping stone. The older I get the more I believe that all the little things in life are truly the big things. Do one easy thing this week that you didn’t do last week. Then do it again, then again. Before you know it a new healthy habit will emerge!