Growing up, I never maintained a sustainable diet. There would be days when I would eat more than 5000 calories a day and days when I would eat less than 500 calories. I found myself constantly drawn to the unhealthy option, to the point that anything that wasn’t sweet or loaded with carbs tasted bad. This problem got worse when I moved to a new school and started going out for lunch every day: my friends and I would go to our local bakery and buy sodas, pastries, donuts, ice cream, candy… you name it! These lunches became a daily routine and were often what I looked forward to most when I went to school. The problem was that I associated this daily routine with happiness. Sitting in cafes for hours and buying Starbucks sugary drinks was my favorite thing to do. When I was most stressed about a test, or felt like I had no friends, I would go to a cafe and buy everything. Before I knew it, I was hooked.
Then the global pandemic hit. I couldn’t go out to lunch with my friends every day because of online school. All of our non-essential products have been closed. And I found myself going through a form of withdrawal. I realized that the lack of sweets and sugary drinks made me sad, as if something was preventing me from being happy.
After a few weeks, I had an epiphany. I had associated these foods with happiness and I associated everything else with unhappiness. So, I set out on a mission to fix my diet. And it didn’t work. Time and time again, I would do nothing but salads and rice cakes for a few days, then snack on desserts. It was incredibly frustrating. Eventually, after much experimentation and failure, I managed to find a healthy diet that worked for me. When school reopened, I started going out every day with my friends for lunch again. But this time I didn’t fall back into my old ways. Here’s how I did it and how you can too:
What are sustainable eating habits and why are they important?
Sustainable eating habits mean developing a stable diet that you can maintain for the long term. In order to make lasting changes to your eating habits, you need to focus on a diet that you can sustain for the next 15 years. For example, eating too much junk food is not sustainable because you will gain weight or have health problems. But eating ‘clean’ 24/7 isn’t sustainable because you won’t feel like you’re enjoying your meals and this can lead to an eating disorder. Other things to consider when considering whether your diet is sustainable are your budget, time constraints, and the type of food available where you live. It’s extremely important to make sure your diet is sustainable because having to constantly think about your food choices can be energy-consuming and frustrating. Eventually, you’ll probably give up and resort to an even worse diet than before!
It was a huge challenge for me! Junk food tends to be cheaper than healthy food because companies can use cheaper quality and processed ingredients. In fact, a Plutus Foundation review of 27 studies in 10 countries found that unhealthy foods cost about $1.50 less per day than healthy foods. Healthy foods also tend to be packaged in smaller quantities, so you need to buy more. But don’t be discouraged! There are many ways to lower your grocery bill. Be sure to buy generics rather than name brands (they are normally of similar quality), stick to your grocery list, and take advantage of any coupons you can find!
If you spend three hours preparing and planning your meal a day…you probably won’t be able to keep going! Consider how much you enjoy cooking and how much time you can devote to meal planning. For example, I find cooking very relaxing and I like to spend twenty minutes on my lunch. Here are some habits you can adopt if you want to minimize the time spent in the kitchen:
- Plan your meals on Sundays, or at a time when you are not very busy
- Consider the ingredients you already have at home when planning meals
- Develop 5+ easy meals you can make in less than 10 minutes
- Prepare meals in bulk so you can eat them for several days
The 80/20 rule
The 80/20 rule is a well-known rule that everyone should follow if they want to be healthier. It states that 80% of your food choices should be healthy and 20% should be unhealthy. This means that you never restrict your diet or completely cut out the foods you love! Instead, you focus on balancing the two. In terms of daily diet, you should eat a healthy breakfast, lunch, dinner, and then you can have dessert in the evening! Remember that this rule does not apply to holidays or special occasions! In these scenarios, you can eat what you like in moderation and shouldn’t feel guilty at all.
How many calories should I eat a day ? This is a question that almost everyone has asked themselves at some point. You’ve probably been told 1200-1600, but that could be too much or too little for different people! The amount of calories you need depends on your height, age and physical activity. You can use this calculator to determine how many calories you should eat per day. Something I’ve learned is that you don’t need to “work out” all the calories you consume in a day. For example, a person who eats 1400 calories a day does not need to burn 1400 calories on the treadmill to lose weight. According to GoodTO, the average person burns 1800 calories a day doing nothing! Your body naturally burns calories just to function at normal capacity.
This is the most important factor in any diet. You want to make sure you enjoy the food you eat. There are probably healthy foods that you really enjoy and others that you hate! Experiment until you find foods that you actually enjoy and make those foods your main sources of nutrition. The more healthy foods you eat, the more your body begins to crave and appreciate those foods. Reprogram your mindset so that your mind wants to choose the healthy option.
All in all, to create a sustainable diet, you need to make sure it’s achievable in the long term and consider other external factors. Although it may be difficult in the end, you will feel 1000 times better about yourself and much more put together. Implementing the habits mentioned above is the first step on a long journey. It’s important to stay motivated, keep track of small improvements, and not get upset when you make mistakes! Enjoy your lunch!