We all want to eat more healthfully and mindfully. But just because we want to doesn’t mean we always have the patience, discipline or know-how to eat our best. Ever since I started studying nutrition 12 years ago, I’ve learned a lot about how to eat my best, especially in the moments when eating well is a struggle. So I’m sharing with you my top seven recommendations for eating “clean” (and managing cravings) that have kept me on track.
1. Set achievable goals.
"Cut out sweets" won’t work for most people. Instead, try a more reasonable "cut down on sweets" or a more specific, "limit sweets to every other day, and eat only those that contain natural sweeteners.” These goals aren’t as snappy-sounding, but they’re much easier to stick to.
2. Forget perfection, focus on progress.
A goal is essential to creating change, but having patience with yourself is the key to achieving that goal. I apply the 80/20 rule to the way I eat. I work hard to eat my best 80% of the time, and I don’t sweat the remaining 20%. Self-improvement is a journey; don’t get overwhelmed by bumps (or French fries) in the road.
3. Keep your mind clean, too.
Guilt and stress can cause just as much physiological damage as unhealthy eating, and they may lead to my eating more French fries for comfort after I’ve beat myself up for eating them in the first place. I manage these feelings by thinking about how I can do better the next time.
4. Choose the better version.
A French fry made from an organic, locally grown potato and fried in high-quality oil is going to satisfy your craving just as much as an average fry that's snacked on mindlessly. I always try to find the organic, local, sustainably raised, non-GMO version. Being aware of what you’re putting into your body is a key step to improving your eating habits.
5. Indulge in smaller doses.
Eat a few French fries and then take a break. You might notice your cravings subside from just the first few.
6. Find friends other than French fries.
Aside from fries, my other big weakness is potato chips. (I’m vulnerable to anything salty and delicious.) That’s why I’ve learned to feed my salty, snacky cravings in other ways—say, seaweed snacks, miso soup, or nut butter on sliced pears, apples, or multigrain bread.
7. Treat yourself.
Cookies are not a crime, especially if they’re made with healthier sweeteners and organic flours. Sometimes, you might eat that cookie (or French fry, in my case). Go ahead and forget about it. Remember rule #3: “Keep your mind clean, too.” So, enjoy.