Healthy Eating Habits

Beating bad eating behaviour is the key to weight loss. Putting on weight is as much about how we act around food as it is about eating it.

Research shows that people who learn how to change their eating habits, attitude to food and eating behaviour are more likely to lose weight successfully – and keep it off.

Going on a diet to lose weight is only a temporary fix – but making permanent lifestyle changes, that can be incorporated into your everyday life will give you the new and healthier life you’re after – and help you sustain it.

healthy eating habits

Beneficiary and NAC member Simone shares some top tips that helped her successfully lose and maintain her weight.

Get ‘real hunger’ savvy

When you're on a diet you should avoid allowing yourself to get overly hungry as this makes it more difficult to control your appetite, so it’s important to eat regular meals.

Learn to identify the difference between actual, physical “stomach” hunger and emotional hunger; -
If you’re tempted to eat in between meals ask yourself if you’re REALLY hungry. If the answer is no then find something other than food that will satisfy the emotion that is making you want to eat.


Learn to have a healthy relationship with food

Don't deny yourself the foods you enjoy, or feel bad if you occasionally succumb to temptation; banning your favourite foods will simply create negative feelings, making your good intentions more likely to fail in the long run.

Learn to eat the foods you really want in smaller quantities. If you have a craving don't try to ignore it; if you do the chances are you'll end up eating more food (and calories) than you would have if you’d given in to the craving to begin with. Many people end up eating the food they craved, after attempting to eat their way around it, because the alternative hasn't really satisfied their need.


I still eat more or less whatever I want – nothing is forbidden. But what I have changed is eating out less, getting takeaways occasionally and reducing my portion sizes. I also try to avoid snacking between meals.


Give food your full attention

Focus on your food and eat slowly. Make the time to sit down and enjoy your meals at the table, rather than from a tray balanced on your knee in front of the TV. If you don't concentrate on what you're eating, you are more likely to miss the signs that you're full.

The brain takes 15 minutes to get the message that the stomach is full - so if you eat too quickly your stomach fills up before your brain knows you're full, and you end up eating too much.  Eat slowly and consciously chew every mouthful well.  Savour how what you’re eating looks, tastes and smells.


I enjoy sitting down to eat a meal at a table. It’s the one time during the day when all the family are together and we can chat.


Avoid temptation

Never go food shopping when you're hungry. Always write a list and stick to it; and avoid buying things you know you won't be able to resist. If you find that your will-power disappears the moment you set foot in the supermarket try shopping online.

At meal times don't put serving bowls on the table - serve food straight onto plates. If you know you won't be able to resist second helpings, or picking at leftovers, freeze or throw surplus food away before you sit down to eat.

Prepare just enough food for everyone sitting down to meals to have a healthy portion size.  If you’re making a meal for one, make two or four portions and freeze what’s left, as soon as it’s cool, so that you have a meal ready to enjoy on another day, when you may not have the time cook one.


Break the snacking habit

Ideally you should get to a point where you can break the habit of eating between main meals. Many of the snack foods that people turn to for a quick “fix” between meals are highly processed (crisps, cakes, biscuits, chocolate, sweets, fizzy drinks) and, therefore, more likely to lead to a “spike” in blood sugar levels. This is usually followed by a “slump” - leaving you feeling hungry soon after eating them.  Diets high in processed foods combined with a sedentary lifestyle can mean we are more at risk of developing type 2 Diabetes.

Eat at regular times and make sure that your food is ready ahead of those times.  Make your meals substantial and filling – containing a good balance of protein (lean meat, lentils, pulses, beans) or some healthy fats (oily fish, avocado, nuts and seeds) which will help keep hunger at bay.

Some simple steps to help you resist snacks and eating between meal times are:-

  • Stop keeping snacks in the house; if you really need them, keep them out of sight in a cupboard or in a tin
  • Buy individually wrapped biscuits; never eat more than one
  • Try and swap less healthy snacks with things like fresh fruit, measured portions of nuts (healthy but calorific) and dried fruit
  • Try drinking a large glass of water instead of eating a snack – it’s easy to mistake thirst for hunger.
eating well calories

Kick tempting TV treats into touch

When you’re watching TV, note how often food makes an appearance – not just in the various cookery shows, but also in the ad-breaks.   Ads showing ice creams, pizza and other tempting foods are designed to make you think about them, trigger cravings and send you rushing off to the kitchen.

It’s much easier to resist temptation if you’re aware that advertisers are deliberately trying to manipulate you in order to sell their product.

When the ad-break comes on, why not take a break yourself? Move away from the TV, stretch your legs or have a glass of water or a hot drink. Fold up some dry washing or mute the sound and check your emails - anything to keep your mind occupied and away from the temptation on your TV screen.

Find other things to do that take you away from the television or keep your mind distracted.


I never really noticed just how often food appears on the TV screen.  I started to write down each time it happened and I was really shocked – nearly every ad break contains two or three food advertisements!


Plan your way to healthy eating

Don’t use your lack of planning as an excuse to eat those unhealthy treats.  If you know you’re going out and might be tempted to eat lunch out, too, why not plan something and prepare it so that it’s ready immediately on your return - a salad, a bowl of soup or a sandwich?


When I know I’m going to a work meeting where lunch is provided, I pack a salad and some fruit in a small cool bag with a tiny freezer pack.  I find that often my lunch appeals more than the sandwiches that are on offer.
I often use spare time in the evening or at a weekend to do a batch cook of something like spaghetti Bolognese or a curry.  I’ll make enough for four portions and then freeze these in containers or freezer bags. It’s a great way to spend a rainy Sunday and I feel as though I have achieved something.


Break free from bad behaviour

You may have several behaviours or habits around food that have become “normal”.  Things like:

  • Eating sweets in the car
  • Snacking when you’re at the cinema - a small portion of sweet popcorn contains over 450 calories - as much as a main meal!
  • Popping into a café for a hot drink but then being tempted to have a slice of cake, a cookie or a Danish pastry to go with it

Try and identify these habits and break free of them.  Pretty soon, your “new” behaviour with be your “new normal”.


When I go to watch a film, I take a small handful of boiled sweets to eat should I need them.  I now find myself getting quite cross at all the rustling of wrappers and munching of crisps that seems to go on!


Don’t let eating out mean ‘pigging out’

dining out

Is eating out a regular event for you, or is it something you do to celebrate a special occasion, like a birthday or anniversary?

Whilst it’s lovely to eat a meal away from home, that someone else has prepared and cooked (saving you the hassle of washing up afterwards), meals provided at pubs and restaurants are often served in much larger portions.  It’s also likely that you’ll be tempted to eat things that you wouldn’t usually eat at home – like a three course lunch rather than your usual sandwich or bowl of soup at the kitchen table.

Why not save eating out for special occasions when there’s something to celebrate like a birthday or a get-together with an old friend? Then you can celebrate in style – without piling on the pounds.


As portion sizes in many restaurants are often too much for me, I’ll sometimes select 2 x starters…. or I’ll choose a side salad and another side dish and have those with a starter as my main course. I only have dessert if I see something on the menu I “really” want; again, many of the choices I’ll just find too sickly or stodgy.  I’d enjoy a pavlova or a creme brûlée – but won’t fancy cheesecake, sticky toffee pudding…  I’ll often just have a mouthful of the husband’s dessert (if he can be persuaded to part with it) and a nice coffee.


I purposefully select restaurants which serve higher quality (nicer) food in smaller quantities. At the end of the day, it is all about my choice.  What do I want more – that meal out, that dessert – or to lose weight?