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How to Make Healthy Eating a Priority — Even if You Already Feel Overwhelmed With Life!

For 15 days, we’re exploring the topic of making our health and well-being a priority as part of the 15 Days to a Healthier You series. You can read Day 1 hereDay 2 here, Day 3 here, Day 4 hereDay 5 here, Day 6 here, Day 7 hereDay 8 here, Day 9 here, Day 10 here, Day 11 here, and Day 12 here.

I’ve always eaten fairly healthfully, having grown up with a mom who valued healthy living and taught us to love whole grains, real butter, and big salads.

(Truth: we basically never bought white bread unless we were making croutons or feeding the ducks and I don’t recall a time we ever bought margarine. Yes, she was pretty hard core when it came to health!)

My husband wasn’t so keen on health food when we got married. In fact, he was more keen on McDonald’s and Vanilla Coke. 😉

Making Healthy Eating a Priority

During our lean law school years, I just did the best I could do with the small budget we had while also making sure the food I cooked was stuff Jesse would actually eat. We didn’t eat terribly unhealthy, but I knew it could be improved upon.

As our financial situation bettered and my husband started becoming more interested in fitness, we’ve slowly made small changes in our diet.

First, we eliminated artificial dyes. Next, it was corn syrup. Then, we stopped cooking with anything but olive oil, coconut oil, and butter. And then we stopped buying bleached flour and refined sugar.

Making Healthy Eating a Priority

This journey has been years in the making, but as we’ve made slow and steady changes, we’ve seen such positive improvement in so many areas in our lives.

And that’s not really surprising because food is your body’s fuel. If you’re mostly fueling yourself with donuts, candy bars, and carbonated beverages, there’s a good chance that’s contributing to you feeling tired, worn out, and lethargic.

We only get one body. There are no replacements. So it’s in our best interest — and in the best interest of everyone we love — for us to fuel that body well.

However, let me be quick to say that the last thing I am trying to do with this post is to make anyone feel stressed about how they are feeding their family or heap on mom-guilt. Trust me, we don’t eat anywhere near “perfectly” and that I find that it can be overwhelming to even figure out what is best for your family with all of the noise and chatter out there from so many different sources telling you that you should eat this and shouldn’t eat that.

Making Healthy Eating a Priority

With this in mind, if you’re I just want to encourage you to focus on three priorities when it comes to healthy eating:

1. Keep it simple.

Don’t stress over making your own kombucha, soaking your grains, growing all your vegetables, or driving miles away to get the “best” dairy for your family. If trying to eat healthfully feels overwhelming and stressful, it’s likely because you’re making it more complicated than it needs to be.

Keep it simple. Make one small change every month or two. Eliminate one item from your diet or switch out a healthier alternative (maybe eliminate food dyes or switch out white rice for brown rice or start using whole wheat pasta instead of pasta made with refined white flour, etc.)

Once you feel like that one small change has become part of your lifestyle, add another small change. And then another. And then another.

Over time, these babysteps will add up to a lot of progress and traction made!

How to Make Healthy Eating a Priority

2. Focus on YOUR family’s priorities.

What matters most to your family? Is it eating more whole grains or having more fruits and veggies in your diet or eating consistent meals or cooking from scratch?

Don’t worry about other families and what they are making a priority. Tune out a lot of the conflicting reports out there telling you that you MUST eat this or you MUST eliminate this from your diet.

Really think about what is best for you and your family. And then make a plan of action based upon that.

Making Healthy Eating a Priority

3. Prep ahead.

My biggest secret for actually eating healthfully 95% of the time is because I choose to make it a priority by planning and prepping ahead.

Here’s the thing: Life is likely always going to be full of responsibilities and to-do’s. Every day, we can come up with excuses for what we just can’t eat heathy today.

If you’re not willing to make something a priority, it will always fall to the bottom of the list and then probably not happen at all. Healthy eating happens when we choose to make it a priority and then we choose to plan ahead to have nourishing food options available. 

I’ve found it helpful to make raw fruits and veggies really accessible. If I have a big bag of carrot sticks pre-washed and chopped in the fridge, fresh fruit already cut up, and eggs already hard-boiled, I have a lot fewer excuses for not grabbing a healthful snack or for not filling up on good foods at lunchtime instead of reaching for empty carbs and desserts.

Making Healthy Eating a Priority

My Personal Guidelines for Healthy Eating

A lot of people have been asking me what I’m eating now that I’m working out in earnest multiple times per week. Here are some of my own personal guidelines right now (please remember that these are my guidelines, not guidelines I think everyone should follow or adopt!):

1. Eat breakfast every day, early in the day. (I have a tendency to get busy and then it’s 10 a.m. and I’m starving… not good if you’ve been up since 5 a.m. and put in a strenuous 1+ hour workout.)
2. Eat smaller meals/snacks at least 5-6 times per day.
3. Eat when you are hungry. (i.e. If your body is telling you you need to eat, listen to it.)
4. Eat healthful foods at least 95% of the time. (I give myself a little wiggle room for splurges and cheat foods a few times per week.)
6. Eat a big salad every day.
7. Drink water. And more water.

Most importantly: I’m learning to re-define what “healthy weight” is for me. I used to let the number on the scale define me and how I felt about myself.

Weight-lifting has helped me realize that I feel happier and stronger and healthier when the number on the scale is higher than it once was. And it’s helped me feel liberated to realize that the number on the scale does not dictate or determine my worth.

You are more than a number.

Day 13 Project

1. Decide what your family’s priorities are for healthy eating and what areas you want to change or improve.

2. Pick one area that you’re going to focus on for the next 3-6 weeks. Remember to keep it simple and doable.

3. Leave a comment letting us know what area you’re committed to focus on for the next 3-6 weeks. You can do it! I’m cheering for you!

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27 Comments

  • I have to admit I am a huge Vanilla Coke fan too. Something that helps my family keep meals simple and healthy is spending one day a month preparing and cooking healthy freezer meals. We use these meals on those nights when we know the temptation to eat out is greatest. We have saved so much money (and sanity) by doing this.

  • Teresa says:

    I always plan a healthy dinner but I am going to work on eating a healthier breakfast. I tend to grab what is quick and easy for breakfast so I need to be more intentional about that. I have also gotten out of the habit of drinking water. I am going to commit to getting back in that habit also. Thanks Crystal for all your inspiration!

  • Keelie says:

    We have made many of the same changes. I even stopped buying certain types of coffee creamers because of the bad ingredients. The biggest thing that we did to stick within our budget when eating healthy was to realize that snack foods, like crackers and chips, are more expensive than things like carrots. So, we stopped buying those snacky things and used that extra to buy more carrots. 😀 We are a family of rabbits over here.

  • Genevieve says:

    Thank you for this great advice. Like you said there is a lot of noise out there and I haven’t even known where to start. This reminds me of Dave Ramsey’s baby steps and to focus on one step at a time. I’m gonna talk with my husband about our priorities and what we want to work on first.

  • I menu plan, meal-prep every week and share it with my readers. Most of my menu is Indian and I believe in cooking fresh every day (majority of the time). So, my weekly meal plan is primarily prepping the seasonings, cutting veggies, and making part of the stuff for a meal so that I can whip up a meal quickly during week days.

    It helps a lot in eating healthy. I go haywire when I’m hungry. So, i try to keep healthy meals available when i get hungry.

    The one area we need to improve is, eating more fruits. Looking forward to the progress in the next 3-6 weeks.

  • I love this article! I recently committed to two things:

    1) Drink lots of water. Taking a canteen to work has helped a lot with this!

    2) Eat fruit first. If I want junk food, I’m not depriving myself, just making an intentional choice to reach for fruit (or a veggie) before popping sweets into my mouth.

    I’ve found that doing those two things changes my mindset overall, and if I still want a cookie after water & a healthy snack, I can just eat one or two cookies and be satisfied, instead of being tempted to eat 4 or 5 (or more!) like I would be if that was the first thing I grabbed 🙂

  • Alicia says:

    I have to admit, eating healthy is an area I really struggle with, but it’s not because I eat terribly unhealthy. It’s because I tend to obsess about it!

    If I’m not careful, I quickly go from simply making healthier overall choices to obsessing over every last thing I put in my mouth. I have a long history of eating disorders as well, and only just realized it’s still something I struggle with. For that reason, I have to tread VERY carefully.

    I also want to be an example to my children of having a healthy POSITIVE relationship with food, unlike my negative, restricting, bondage-type relationship with food.

    SO for me, it’s actually a bit opposite of what you’re suggesting! I have to learn to back off a little. It’s a work in progress, and I’m still working really hard to figure out where my “line” is that I shouldn’t cross, while still being healthy for myself and my family. 🙂

    • Amy says:

      I totally hear you, Alicia. I am a complete glutton and I attribute to a mother who was a Nazi about sugar while growing up. We had to ask about every possible encounter with sugar as we grew. I still remember asking if I could have soda with my dinner at a friends house when I was a teenager! My sister ended up with eating disorders because of this. For me, it caused me to go off the deep end as an adult so I have gained and lost over my 20 years of adulthood. Now that I have 3 kids, I find myself doing the same things with them! My kids actually eat more sugar than I did but I am still extremely careful. It’s tough to find that balance! Anyway, I cook all our meals from scratch right down to making my own bone broth and “cream of” soups but it wasn’t always like that so this article is wise in recommending small changes and not overwhelming yourself with the big picture 😊 I have had to do that because I definitely get overwhelmed if I let myself go there! God’s blessings!

      • I love how both of you are so self-aware of things that might trigger unhealthy behaviors/obsessiveness and are working hard to be wise and have balance. I’m so encouraged and inspired by reading your comments!

    • Kortney says:

      If you haven’t already read it, the book Intuitive Eating is a good read.

  • Libby Sims says:

    I don’t know, I ate a donut this morning and feel pretty good about it. 🙂

  • Celeste says:

    Hi Crystal, What do you use instead of refined sugar and bleached flour, for the occasional dessert and baking? I’m definitely going to try to prep veggies into easy into bite size pieces more often. 🙂

  • Beth Anne says:

    Love, love, love this practical advice! Small steps over time are always easier to implement and keep as solid habits. AND – the advice on cutting out all the noise – perfect. We can absolutely get overwhelmed when we let 100 voices dictate what we should do instead of deciding as a family what’s best. As always, great post, Crystal!

  • I’m trying to make healthy food changes, but am getting a lot of pushback from my hubby and teens. For instance, I made a meal with gluten-free noodles and my husband adds wheat crackers to his…. It’s frustrating when you are trying to improve what your family is eating but you have to fight for every little thing. 🙁

    • Anne says:

      My husband has non-celiac gluten intolerance. Unless your family members can’t eat gluten, gluten free isn’t really healthier. It often is just as processed and has more calories than regular white pasta. Feel free to ignore my unsolicited advice but GF pasta might be one battle to let go 😉

  • Stacy says:

    This is a wonderful post. So many great tips!

    I’m trying to adopt your habit of eating a big salad every day.

    Thanks for sharing my veggie tracker printable, Crystal!

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