They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I like to think that’s a silly, meaningless expression because you should strive to improve yourself a little bit every day. Even when you’re stuck in a harmful routine, baby steps will lead to bigger steps that can result in 180 degree lifestyle changes.

There are a number of different ways you can make changes to your eating behaviors that will not only make you feel better but will help you look great years from now.

I have highlighted 12 healthy food habits that I encourage you to adopt into your daily routine as soon as you can, because let’s face it, you won’t be twenty-something forever.

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Top 12 healthy food habits

1. Drink more water

You probably know the unwanted effects of drinking sugary drinks but do you overlook the beneficial effects of drinking water? Water provides more than just hydration, it is also a metabolism booster.

One study showed that people who drank 16 ounces of water with their meal burned up to 30% more calories after the meal and consumed less calories than average at the end of the day.

In order to get the most out of water, it is ideal to drink two cups of water four times a day. You can spice it up by adding flavors like lemon, ginger and mint. The goal is to make water your beverage of choice; your skin and your body will thank you for it.

2. Plan your own meals

Planning and prepping your meals in advance will make it quicker and easier to put together a quick lunch or dinner when you are short on time. Preparing your meals at home gives you the advantage of controlling what goes into your food.

It also gives you the advantage of setting aside the right portions for you. When you prepare your meals in advance, you won’t look for second servings and you won’t have the urge to eat out as much. That way your body and your wallet won’t be hurting tomorrow.

3. Stop labeling foods

The media is flooded with information that tells you to “eat this, not that.” Labeling foods as strictly “good” or “bad” is a mindset game. When you eat a food you mentally consider “off limits”, you likely will consider it a failure when you give into temptation.

A better way to handle the situation is by welcoming all foods into your eating repertoire and no longer having forbidden foods. By doing this, food no longer holds the power to make you feel guilty for eating it and you will see you have less overeating episodes.

4. Eat mindfully

Society makes you believe that there aren’t enough hours in a day to get everything done. Though lunch might seem like the perfect time to answer your emails or finish an episode of Scandal, it’s important to take your time to eat and to focus on your food.

Turn off and put away all distractions so that your meal is the only thing on your mind. It takes a couple minutes for your brain to tell the rest of your body that you’re full, so eat slowly.

Having the patience to appreciate the flavors and textures will not only help you to eat less but also make the process of eating all the more enjoyable. For more information on how to eat mindfully, read here.

5. Avoid eating at night

The reason is pretty straight forward–the more calories you consume when you’re resting and not expending energy, the more weight you’ll gain. Try to eat your meals around the time you are active and your body will use some of the energy.

But it’s more than just the time of day that you eat, it’s also the types of food you’re eating. Most people will mindlessly eat high calorie snacks while watching TV before bedtime.

The best thing you can do is avoid late night snacking and instead develop a nighttime ritual such as reading a good book, drinking some tea or taking a hot bath before bedtime. Your body will certainly feel better in the morning.

6. Eat breakfast

You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It jump starts your metabolism and keeps your energy up so you can focus all of your attention on your tasks at hand.

So while you might be tempted to hit the snooze button again, try to get up and make the time for breakfast. Remember, breakfast sets the tone for the day.

Healthy food habits to adapt before you turn 30_2

7. Add more whole grains

While carbs have received some bad attention in the past, it’s important to identify what kind of carbs are healthy. Carbs found in beans, vegetables, fruits and whole grains will keep your blood sugar stable. Though you might be apprehensive about whole grains, fear not.

The Whole Grain Stamp Council makes it easy for you to identify what foods are actually whole grain and not a hoax. Replacing some of your refined grains with whole grains will provide you with a significant amount of fiber and nutrients to keep your digestive system on track and your stomach fuller, longer.

8. Learn how to read food labels

Foods labels are more than foreign hieroglyphic on every package. Many neglect how important it is to know what you’re putting into your body.

Take the time to research the content of a nutrition label and what it can tell you. It may also be helpful to research alternative labels that manufacturers will use to deceive their consumers.

There are over 50 different names for sugar that can be identified on a food label and I can almost guarantee you haven’t heard of all of them. Be aware of all of the different preservatives and additives in processed foods and aim for foods with the least ingredients.

9. Reduce your sugar intake

It probably isn’t a surprise that most Americans get too much sugar. For an adult woman, the recommended daily allowance is 25 grams- less than a package of Poptarts.

Excess sugar that isn’t used throughout the day is directly converted to fat. Though it may seem like an impossible task, try to cut out processed sweets from your diet. The less you eat them, the less you’ll need them.

10. Know your MyPlate requirements

For the average person a 2000 calorie diet is standard. This includes three cups of dairy, two and a half cups of veggies, two cups of fruit, six ounces of grains and five and a half ounces of lean protein. The USDA MyPlate is great because it offers advice as a general rule of thumb.

Understand that a portion of meat should be about the size of your fist and not half of your plate. Understand that the broccoli topping on your pizza was not a sufficient amount for the day.

And know that at least half of your grains should be whole. Take a couple minutes to check out the USDA website for more information.

 11. Eat only when you’re hungry

I know what you’re thinking, you wouldn’t dare sit through a movie without a bucket of buttery popcorn. Most of the time, eating is a mindless task. You eat when you’re sad, you eat when you’re bored and you eat to be social.

The trick is to train your mind to ignore cues to eat other than a grumbling stomach. You need to ask yourself whether you’re hungry or just bored. Your body will begin to learn to reach for food only when the hunger hormone kicks in and you’ll save yourself from a lot of unnecessary calories.

12. Cut out salt

A good diet and exercise program will maintain a healthy blood pressure. As we get older, it’s harder to find the time or energy to exercise or go grocery shopping. Rising blood pressure is a silent condition that can be putting a lot of stress on your body.

A way to reduce this stress is by limiting salt intake. Limiting salt intake is easy by reducing processed foods and increasing fresh and frozen vegetables. Checking labels for sodium content will also help you keep your salt consumption in check.

Try adding flavor to home-cooked meals with herbs like garlic, cayenne pepper or black pepper as an alternative to sodium. Some habits may be tougher to break than others. But once you start a healthy habit, the ball will start rolling.

Try to incorporate one or two healthy habits this week and then next week try one or two more. Feel out what you can and cannot do. The best thing you can do is try.

Why not start today? Because the older you are the harder it gets.

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