How to develop better food habits without depriving yourself

BANT Registered Nutritionist Anjanette Fraser shares her top tips for how to change your food habits for the better

Are you looking for ideas to get your eating back on track? We all know that eating more healthily is good for us, but how do we make changes to our habits that we can stick to? One of the common mistakes people make when trying to eat healthier is to deprive themselves of their favourite foods, which can lead to cravings that make building new healthy habits really hard. In this article, I’ll show you how to develop better food habits without depriving yourself. And, remember – be kind to yourself. There are significant health benefits from even the smallest of changes.

Add, don’t take away

Gradually introduce healthier options into your diet like adding just one more vegetable to your plate. It may seem a small change, but it works! The increased fibre will fill you for longer so you’re less likely to crave sweeter foods. Here are some simple ways to eat healthier across the most common food groups:

Switching to wholegrains like wholemeal bread, wholewheat pasta and brown rice can help increase feelings of fullness and reduce sugar cravings. That’s because fibre, particularly the soluble type, absorbs water and swells leading to a greater feeling of fullness. It also helps to stabilise blood glucose levels, by slowing down the absorption of glucose into blood, and reducing the desire for sweeter foods.

Try reducing your red meat intake to less than twice a week due to it’s saturated fat content and eat at least one portion of fish per week. Fish is a great source of protein, and oily fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, and kipper are also fantastic sources of omega-3 which contributes to healthy hearts, strong bones and improved mental health. Lean animal products such as eggs, milk and yogurt are also great protein sources that will keep you feeling fuller for longer. Plant-based proteins such as beans, peas, and lentils are low in saturated fat while also being good sources of protein and fibre too.

A common mistake when trying to eat better is to cut out fats. However, fat has a satiety effect by slowing down the speed the stomach empties, which keeps you feeling fuller for longer. Instead, reduce saturated fats such as butter and coconut oil and increase unsaturated fats like omega-3, which can be found in salmon, nuts, and avocados.

Fresh fruit and vegetables may appear the most nutrient-dense, but frozen and tinned can be equally as good. They’re picked when ripe, flash-frozen to lock in the nutrients, cost a fraction of the price and create less food waste.

Behavioural change

Strengthen the connection between the mind and stomach by being more present when eating. Consciously thinking about what is on the plate prepares your stomach for digestion and will help you become more in tune with your body. Placing your cutlery down on the table between mouthfuls will help slow the speed of eating and allow the stomach more time to communicate to the brain that it is full.

Snack wisely

There’s nothing wrong with snacking, particularly when there’s large chunks of time between meals. But be mindful, some pre-packaged snacks are high in sugar which causes your blood glucose to spike and crash leaving you craving more. Here are some tips for better snacking:

Think portion size
Portion snacks into a bowl before you start eating to help you keep track of the suggested portion size.

Avoid impulse buying
A recent study showed how online shoppers spent less on unhealthy foods like sweets and desserts. The same is true about shopping when you’re hungry, so write a list before you go to help keep focused on the more nourishing foods and avoid the less nutritious foods you may be craving.

Plan ahead
Planning a few days ahead will not only reduce the stress of thinking about what to eat every day, it’ll also save you money. Here are some of my favourite quick, easy and healthy snack suggestions:

  • Natural yoghurt + fruit
  • Apple and celery + nut butter
  • Carrot, celery, pepper and oatcakes + houmous
  • Granary and seeded toast + nut butter
  • Banana + nut butter + wrap
  • Boiled egg
  • Toasted pitta bread + houmous

Prioritise sleep

Insufficient sleep disrupts the appetite hormones ghrelin and leptin. Not having enough sleep raises the level of ghrelin and reduces your levels of leptin. This simultaneously triggers hunger, particularly for high-calorie foods, and reduces feelings of fullness. Eating meals close to bedtime also makes it more difficult for the body to digest and may also lead to acid reflux making it more difficult to get to sleep.

Habit stacking

Build new habits by taking advantage of old ones. For example, when serving dinner at your usual time, put vegetables on the plate first. Another example is to follow each cup of tea or coffee with a glass of water.

Use a food diary or app

If you’d like help tracking your food intake or would like some gentle nudging in the right direction, here are some apps to choose from:

  • Noom – uses psychology to change eating habits incorporating food, exercise and mental health aspects.
  • MyFitnessPal – tracks what you eat and when you exercise.
  • MyNetDiary – lets you easily record your food choices.


Depriving yourself of things you enjoy often leads to overindulging and feelings of guilt. It’s time we were a little kinder to ourselves. Drastic calorie-cutting is not the key to maintaining healthy eating habits – in fact it often results in yo-yo dieting. Picking one or two small changes you can make every day will have a far greater impact, like adding in one more vegetable or one more glass of water a day. Make them a habit. Try it, you won’t be disappointed.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email