You know that friend (or person on instagram you stalk) that you always admire for ordering a green smoothie for breakfast instead of a blueberry muffin? You may think that she has so much willpower, and that she is putting so much effort into her health! Although that may be true in some cases, a lot of times healthy people are not really thinking much about their healthy decisions at all. Rather, they have made their clean eating and fitness choices a habit, and it is now just part of their daily lifestyle. Ordering a blueberry muffin probably didn’t even cross her mind, since she always gets a smoothie for breakfast when she goes out to a cafe. This is what I call making healthy your default choice.
Basically, you are creating a new habit of making healthy choices, so when you don’t want to think about making a decision, you make a smart decision. You know those days when you get off work and you are exhausted and starving and the last thing you want to do is make a decision about whether you should have a nutritious dinner or grab takeout? The idea here is to create a habit of making the healthy choice so you don’t have to think about it. Maybe you make sure you always have cooked quinoa and prepped veggies in your fridge so that after work, without thinking about it, you can just throw together something quick and nutritious. After a while, this will become your habit rather than grabbing takeout on the way home. Then, you can save the eating out or indulgences for times when you actually want them, not just when you don’t want to think about what to do.
Since making smart decisions is hard, especially when you are busy, tired, or hungry, making healthy choices your default is my best tip for leading a healthy lifestyle. This is because once you make it a habit, you no longer have to actively decide to make good choices, and living healthy becomes fairly effortless.
The first step to doing this is to think about what habits you already have, good or bad. What things are you eating and drinking every day? If there are certain unhealthy things you are eating or drinking every single day, you may want to consider breaking that habit and replacing it with a healthy habit. Then, save your indulgences for once a week or when you really crave them. Here are some examples:
Coffee: If you drink coffee in the morning, figure out a healthy way to enjoy it. Black, with a splash of organic cream, with a little almond milk, etc. Throw out all those nasty coffee creamers that are so bad for you and break that sugar habit! If you go to a coffee shop, try an Americano (espresso and hot water) with a splash of cream. Your taste buds will get used to the lack of sweetness in no time. Keep your coffee habit low sugar/additives for your daily cup, and then treat yourself to an indulgent latte or whatever you prefer on the weekend or when you are meeting a friend.
Breakfast: Come up with a simple weekday breakfast that you can easily prepare and eat before work that will keep you satisfied. This depends how much time you have in the mornings and how much of an appetite you have, but some good choices are a smoothie, some low-sugar granola with greek yogurt or almond milk, avocado on whole grain toast, or scrambled eggs with sauteed veggies. Then use the weekend as a time to indulge in decadent breakfast foods like bacon or french toast!
Afternoon pick-me-up: I think most of us are familiar with that rough afternoon slump. It’s after lunch and still hours until dinner, you have no energy, and all you want is something sugar-filled or a huge cup of caffeine. Experiment to figure out a healthy alternative to your usual afternoon muffin or mocha. Maybe it’s some almonds and a piece of fruit, some granola and berries, a piece of avocado toast, a banana or apple with some almond butter, etc. I usually gravitate toward something a little bit sweet, but that has staying power. I also just finally broke my afternoon coffee/latte habit, and I have found that just having something pleasant to drink in the afternoon tricks my mind into thinking I had my usual coffee and quenches my craving. Some afternoon drinks I have enjoyed are hot tea, iced tea, homemade ginger ale, or a low-sugar kombucha.
After work dinner: I find this one particularly hard sometimes because I am always starving after work and all I want is something delicious and fast. It’s extremely tempting to just grab take-out or get a pizza, especially if you know that you don’t have any healthy food prepped at home. The key for me has been to keep healthy foods on hand and already have it set in my mind what I’m going to make for dinner. It also helps a lot to prep things like quinoa, chicken, and veggies ahead of time, although i am still working on that myself! If you have a basic plan for what you will eat after work, keep supplies on hand, and make it a habit by doing it night after night, eventually the thought to grab take-out won’t even cross your mind.
Work out schedule. Working out regularly is another one of those things that you just have to get in the habit of. At first, it’s going to feel hard, and you’re going to be dragging yourself to the gym. But after a little while, it will feel like part of your routine is missing if you go too many days without working out. Your body will actually start to crave it. Make working out a habit by pre-scheduling your workouts and writing them down in your calendar. I sometimes adjust what I planned to do that day based on my energy and how I’m feeling, but generally I will exercise in some form or another if I planned it.
The wonderful thing about making healthy your default choice is that your taste buds and your mindset actually start to change. You will actually begin to love the taste of vegetables and look forward to a healthy dinner after work. You will start to gravitate away from all those high sugar coffee drinks and baked goods that you used to eat all the time, and indulging in them every once in a while will totally satisfy you. I’m not saying at all that you should give up anything you love. Instead, making healthy your default choice allows you to be confident that you have been eating well on the regular, so you can indulge in your favorite things with no guilt whatsoever.