Do you know why most lifestyle changes don’t work? It’s because there’s a sudden change in lifestyle. It’s a shock to your system. Instead of abruptly adopting healthy habits, let it be a gradual change. This way worked best for me. Today, about 6 months after I started my transformation, I don’t even want junk food. Seriously, if you offered me a lifetime supply of chocolate cake, I’d decline. Even if it was free!
And here’s what’s important to remember. Eating healthy doesn’t have to be expensive. Some meals are more expensive but it is not an excuse to eat unhealthy. It’s not like you’ll need to skip out on rent just so you can buy your chicken breasts. You’ll be fine.
Here are my 7 steps to gradually becoming a healthy eater while keeping my grocery budget to a minimum.
Step 1: Understand Why You Eat the Way You Do
There are 3 reasons why we gravitate towards unhealthy eating patterns: 1) our surroundings, 2) our minds, and 3) evolution.
What makes a person fat? Sugars and carbs are mostly to blame. Look at the food around us. Most of it is carb-heavy with added sugar. Why? Because it’s tasty but most importantly because it’s cheap! Stores and restaurants can offer lower-priced items by using these ingredients. It’s why burger joints got popular. They use a ton of carbs (big buns and French fries) and they provide a cheap sugary beverage. Protein is expensive. That’s why McDonalds has see-through patties.
Sometimes we eat because we’re depressed. Sometimes we’re bored. Sometimes it’s because we think eating healthy just isn’t fun. Find out if any of these reasons are affecting your eating patterns. It’s time to fix faulty areas of your life so negative mental thoughts don’t bring down your physique. A healthy mind is a healthy body.
The prefrontal cortex of our brain is in charge of decision making. It’s the logical part of our brain. It’s a recent addition thanks to evolution. The rest of our brain is still thinking like a caveperson. The rest of our brain lusts after high calorie items. Our brain thinks this way because it worries about starvation. However, in our evolved society, we’re more likely to die of heart disease than starvation. The prefrontal cortex knows this. It just has to battle with the rest of our brain in order to win. It’s a hard battle. But it can be won with a heavy dose of will power and the assistance of therapy via BetterHelp.
Just realize that whenever you reach for a donut, you’re letting the inferior part of your brain win. You don’t need high-calorie donuts to fend off starvation. You need vegetables to fend off heart disease.
Step 2: Drink Plenty of Water
Staying hydrated keeps you from eating so much. Basically, if there’s water in your stomach, your brain will know you’re closer to being full. Water is also FREE! You won’t want to eat as much this way. If you would meet me, chances are I’m carrying a water bottle. I have a few stainless steel bottles I love. Carrying one wherever you go helps ward off random snack cravings.
Step 3: Will it blend?
I’m actually drinking a smoothie as I write this. It has an entire days’ worth of fruits and leafy greens – all before 9AM! I typically use fresh kale, spinach, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, almond milk, lime juice (to awaken the other fruit flavors), and a handful of oats or pecans. It’s delicious. I really don’t enjoy eating salads every day. But I’ll gladly drink a smoothie every day. It’s a super easy way to start the day. You don’t even taste the vegetables. Just use a 1:1 ratio of veggies to fruit. To save money, I HIGHLY recommend using frozen fruits and veggies.
Also, your will power is strongest in the AM. You’ll have an easy time convincing yourself to throw in another serving of those leafy greens.
Step 4: Your Sweet Tooth Can Only Make Special Appearances
And no, a special occasion is not waiting to check out at the grocery store. Save sugary indulgences for birthdays and holidays. That’s a good rule of thumb. I stuck to that rule for a few months. Today, I don’t eat any deserts – unless it’s some super rare chocolate or something I have never tried. I honestly don’t miss it at all. Deserts are kind of gross when you think about it. They are just a mess of sugar and carbs. You can almost hear someone getting fatter. Name that movie! Plus, you only get a tiny bit of happiness. As they say, a moment on the lips, forever on the hips.
Step 5: Only Eat the Fruits and Vegetables You Enjoy (at least kind of enjoy at this point)
I HATE fresh peas. I HATE acai berries. So guess what? I don’t eat them! By finding the fruits and veggies I enjoy, it makes it easy to devour these two essential parts of a meal. Just because your grandma forced you to eat a certain fruit or veggie when you were little, doesn’t mean you have to ever eat it again. Eating only what you enjoy means you won’t have any instances where you just can’t finish your healthy meal and end up throwing it away. Also, you won’t throw it back up. Ha – don’t mean to be gross.
But I’m kind of tricking you here. It’s true you don’t have to eat most kinds of fruits and vegetables in order to create a healthy diet. But as your palate evolves, you may find yourself liking more types of fruits and veggies.
Step 6: Hang around Other Healthy Eaters
If your peers are ridiculing your healthy eating habits, don’t let it bother you. If you can’t help but let it bother you, find a new group of friends. They aren’t being supportive by saying things like, “Salad is for rabbits.” This is one thing I envy about not living in southern California. I feel the culture there is supportive of healthy eating habits. There’s a saying… show me who your friends are and I’ll show you your future. They say you’re as rich as you’re friends. You’re probably as healthy as your friends too.
Step 7: Find Alternative Ways for Eating the Foods You Currently Enjoy
If you like burgers, fries, and a milkshake – that’s okay! We can replicate about any meal and turn it into something that belongs on the cover of Eating Well magazine.
Instead of ground beef, we’re going to switch to ground turkey. Instead of regular French fries, we’re going to bake some sweet potato fries. Instead of topping the burger with boring romaine lettuce (which is pretty much just water and a little fiber), we’re going to use fresh spinach, kale, and/or arugula. Instead of a milk shake, we’re going to make ice cream. After freezing peeled bananas, put them in a blender. Add the additional favors you desire: cocoa powder, fruit, anything. It will taste amazing! It has the consistency and flavor of ice cream but it’s actually good for you!
Viola! You have a far healthier version of an old-fashioned fast food meal. And fast food is cheap! Hooray!
I also highly recommend a book called, Eat This, Not That. Inside, the book gives tips and tricks for making your unhealthy meals quite a bit healthier.
Making this adjustment takes gradual improvements. Eating fast food as your next meal after reading this is okay. But 6 months from now, you’ll be shocked you ever did. Additionally, you can also lower your health care costs just by eating healthier!
Here’s to a happier, healthier, and wealthier lifestyle!
I’m a personal finance freelance writer and webmaster. I welcome you to visit me at www.thefrugalpreneur.com