How to Build Healthy Eating Habits That Work for You

Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

Reviewed by Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

Written by Vanessa Gibbs

Published 05/23/2024

Healthy eating habits can help you lose weight, maintain weight loss, and lower your risk of certain chronic health conditions. Healthy eating can also help you feel your best.

The catch? Building these healthy habits can take time and patience — but that doesn’t mean any of it is impossible. 

Below, we share more information on these healthy eating habits, including how to build them into your daily life.

You might have heard this tip from mom, and for a good reason. Fruits and vegetables are the cornerstone of a healthy diet. 

They’re packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber; low in calories and fat; and they help prevent a long list of health issues. 

Aim for at least five portions of fruit and veggies a day.

You can do this by: 

  • Making half of your plate fruit or vegetables

  • Adding a portion of fruit or vegetables to meals like oatmeal, curries, and pasta dishes

  • Buying ready-chopped, canned, or frozen fruit and vegetables to make cooking with them easier 

  • Eating apple slices and peanut butter or carrot sticks and hummus as a snack 

Try to incorporate a range of fruits and vegetables into your meals. You could aim to buy one new vegetable a week or vary the recipes you cook, for example.

Protein isn’t just for muscle gains. Eating enough protein is vital for your overall well-being and it can help you feel fuller and boost your weight loss efforts. 

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans state that women should eat 46 grams of protein per day and men should eat 56 grams of protein per day.

This is the minimum to aim for. If you’re looking to lose weight or gain muscle, you might want to eat even more protein.

Try adding a source of protein to each meal. Foods high in protein include:

  • Lean meats like chicken and turkey 

  • Fish 

  • Eggs

  • Tofu

  • Nuts and seeds 

  • Legumes, like lentils, chickpeas and beans

Learn more about protein for weight loss.

Fiber is a powerhouse of a nutrient. It can help you feel fuller, improve your digestion and gut bacteria, and lower your blood sugar levels, cholesterol and blood pressure. 

It also reduces your odds of many health conditions and it can help with weight loss and weight management. 

Most adults should aim for 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day.

Foods high in fiber include: 

  • Fruits 

  • Vegetables 

  • Legumes like chickpeas, lentils, and beans 

  • Whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, oats and whole-wheat bread 

Try swapping out refined grains, like white bread, for whole-grain alternatives, like whole-wheat bread, and adding fruit, vegetables and legumes to your meal and snack rotations.  

Staying hydrated can boost your energy levels, increase your mental and physical performance, and reduce your chances of health issues like headaches, constipation, high blood pressure, and maybe even fatal coronary heart disease. 

It can also help you lose weight. Water can suppress your appetite and promote lipolysis, or the breakdown of fats for energy. 

Plus, when you’re drinking water, you’re not drinking sugary drinks, like soda and fruit juice. 

According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, women should drink 91 fluid ounces of water a day and men should drink 125 fluid ounces. This is your total fluid intake from food and drinks, though, not just water.

As well as drinking more water overall, try drinking a glass of water before meals. It may help you eat less, if that’s something you’re aiming for.

You learn more in our guide to drinking water for weight loss.

You might be skipping meals in an effort to lose weight. Or maybe you’re skipping breakfast because mornings are busy enough as it is. Either way, skipping meals isn’t a great idea. 

Skipping a meal can make it harder to stick to healthy eating habits when your hunger levels are sky-high at your next meal time. 

A healthy eating pattern is one that includes regular meals.

In fact, research shows that skipping breakfast increases the risk of overweight and obesity, and eating a high-calorie breakfast can actually prevent obesity. Regularly eating breakfast can help you maintain weight loss too.

If you need quick and easy options in the morning, try: 

  • Overnight oats you’ve prepared the night before

  • Yogurt and berries 

  • An omelet with mushrooms, onions, and peppers 

  • Leftovers from the night before — if you’ve had a healthy dinner, why not enjoy it as a healthy breakfast? 

If you find yourself skipping lunches and dinners because of time constraints, consider meal prepping ahead of time so you have healthy choices ready to go.

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You get home from work exhausted from the day, open the fridge and…nothing. You then head to the grocery store when you’re ravenous or succumb to ordering takeout. 

Even the most strong-willed among us struggle to stick to healthy eating habits in times like these.  

To remedy, try planning your meals ahead of time. You can make a weekly meal plan covering what you’ll eat throughout the week. 

This doesn’t have to be set in stone, but having a rough idea of what meals you’ll have during the week can be useful for a few reasons: 

  • You can make a shopping list and buy all the ingredients you need

  • You can make healthy meal choices when you’re not tired, hungry or stressed 

  • You can prepare some meals in advance, saving you time on busier days 

  • You can make sure each meal has a mix of fruit, vegetables, and protein

Having a plan and making healthy foods available at home can help you lose weight and maintain a healthy weight. Plus, you’ll avoid that stressful mealtime scramble that can lead to unhealthy eating habits.  

You can snack and eat healthfully — it just comes down to what you’re snacking on. 

Some ideas for healthy snacks include: 

  • Hard-boiled eggs 

  • Nuts and seeds

  • Yogurt 

  • Dried fruit

  • Popcorn 

  • Kale chips 

Stock up your fridge and cupboards with healthy options, so you always have something to reach for. 

Snacking in between meals can keep your hunger levels under control and help you stay satisfied with your eating habits, a key part of staying healthy and happy.

Good eating habits aren’t just about what you eat. They’re also about how much you eat. 

This is where portion control comes in. Portion control isn’t about restricting yourself, though. It’s about eating the right amounts of nutritious foods for you and your body. 

You can practice portion control by: 

  • Using a smaller plate or bowl. You may find yourself naturally serving yourself healthier-sized portions. Smaller serving spoons can also help.

  • Eating more slowly. This can help you feel more full and eat less overall. Try taking a sip of water every few bites or putting down your cutlery as you chew.    

  • Checking serving suggestions. You don’t need to measure out every meal, but measuring out the recommended serving sizes of foods like oats, pasta or rice once or twice can help you get an idea of what a healthy portion size looks like. 

  • Eating more low-energy-dense foods. These are foods that are low in energy, or calories, compared to other foods of the same volume. Think fruit, vegetables, beans, lentils, and broth-based soups. These foods make for a satisfying meal, helping you stick to healthy portions.

We’ve shared more tips for portion control

Research shows that it takes about 60 days to form a habit. So, if you’re building new healthy eating habits, don’t worry if they don’t stick straight away. Keep at it.

Setting yourself specific and challenging —yet manageable — goals can help you stay motivated and make changes.

For example, you could aim to cook one more meal at home next week or add an extra vegetable to each meal. Picking one goal, making it a habit, and then moving on to the next one can help you avoid feeling overwhelmed. 

And remember, you don’t have to eat perfectly 100 percent of the time — you’re not a robot. 

When you focus on healthy eating habits and fueling your body with nutritious foods, you’ll probably find yourself eating less foods that aren’t so good for your health, like foods high in sodium and ultra-processed foods. 

Changing eating habits can be tricky and it might not happen overnight. But by sticking with it, you can build new habits and become a healthier, happier you. 

When working on healthy food habits: 

  • Focus on eating more fruit, vegetables, protein, and fiber. Fuel your body with nutrient-rich foods and foods that’ll support weight loss, weight management, and overall health. 

  • Plan ahead of time. Whether that’s planning your meals for the week or planning which habit you’ll focus on first, the secret is in the preparation. And remember to be kind to yourself if plans go awry. Just get back to your healthy habits when you can. 

  • If you’re looking to lose weight, think beyond your eating habits. Dietary changes are a key part of weight loss, of course, but consider building other healthy habits into your life. That could include getting 2,000 more steps a day, going for a morning walk, or prioritizing getting enough sleep each night.

For some, weight loss medication can support healthy eating habits and weight loss goals. Drugs like metformin and Ozempic can help control hunger and cravings. 

You can learn more about the benefits of metformin or take our free online assessment to find out about weight loss treatments available.

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