Are you struggling to stay consistent with your diet or create a healthy lifestyle you enjoy?
These days it’s very common for strict and obsessive eating habits to form when one is dieting.
However, this rarely lasts long term and fails to address the key principles of forming long-term healthy eating habits.
In this article, I provide you with 7 scientifically backed tips to help improve your eating habits and create a long-term sustainable plan you enjoy!
1. Eat Low Energy Dense Foods
Adding in more low-energy dense foods into your diet is a quick and easy way to improve your eating habits. The density of a food may be described as the calorie content relative to its weight or volume1.
For example, 100 grams of broccoli contains roughly 30 calories, whereas 100 grams of peanut butter contains 400 calories. In this case, broccoli is the lower energy dense food.
Eating too many calories is one of the main factors responsible for weight gain and obesity. Research has shown when you consume low energy dense diets, you also consume fewer calories and as a result lose more weight.2
But that’s not all, by switching your food intake from high calorie dense foods to low calorie dense foods you’ll naturally eat more whole foods.
Increasing your whole food intake not only increases the amount of vital nutrients in your diet, but has been shown to help your brain signal to stop eating after a meal. This signal is often delayed or negatively affected with diets high in processed foods3.
If you struggle to feel full constantly, then eating more low energy dense foods has been shown to make your meals last longer and, as a result, increases your feeling of fullness after a meal. The key reasons for this are lower energy dense foods have a higher water content and are high in fiber4.
One study analyzed the effects of switching an individual’s diet from primarily high energy dense foods to low energy dense foods for a full year. By using this simple but powerful healthy eating principle the participants lost an average of 17lbs!
Low Energy Dense Food List:
- Vegetables (especially the green leafy ones)
- Grilled chicken
- Fruits, especially apples, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries
- Greek yogurt
2. Increase your protein intake
Another easy but fundamental way to improve your eating habits is to increase your daily protein intake. Diets high in protein have been shown to result in reductions in appetite, hunger hormones, and ultimately lead to greater weight loss.
If you’re worried about any potential health effects with a high protein diet, you have nothing to fear. A recent study investigated the effects of high protein diets well above the recommended daily allowance (RDA) and concluded that high protein diets are safe and effective for resistance trained individuals6.
Another study investigated the effects of protein intake on calorie consumption and weight loss. These researchers concluded that diets high in protein increased satiety from meals, reduced participants’ hunger as well as increased weight loss compared to low protein diets7.
One way to immediately increase your protein intake is by kick-starting your day with a high protein breakfast such as eggs or a protein shake. Beginning your day with a high protein breakfast has been shown to reduce daily hunger, increase daily fullness, and even reduce night time snacking!9
If you count calories or track macros, aim for 1g of protein per 1LB of bodyweight. This usually equals 120-200g of protein per day depending on size and has shown to be sufficient to maximize the benefits of protein.
Here’s a list of high protein foods:
- Chicken breast
- Fish (tuna, salmon, tilapia)
- Cottage cheese
- Greek yogurt
3. Use smaller plates or bowls when eating
Did you know 54% of American’s claim they eat until they clean their plates?10
Eating the right portion sizes is critical for maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle. When used properly, eating the right portion sizes can help ensure you're consuming the necessary nutrients and an optimal amount of calories, without the need to track or become obsessive with macros if you don’t enjoy it.
It’s human nature to use our visual senses to determine how much food we’ve eaten/ have left to eat. For example, how often have you eaten a full plate of food or your entire meal even if you were full?
Instead of this being harmful to your diet, flip it around and use it to your advantage! Simply use smaller plates and bowls or prepare smaller meals. By using this technique you quickly and easily reduce calorie intake and promote fat loss, while creating long-term healthy eating habits.
4. Drinking Water Before a Meal
Everyone knows the importance of water for survival and overall health. Water makes up around 60% of the human body and we can only survive for a few days without it.
Drinking water before a meal may increase satiety and reduce calorie intake. Multiple studies have been conducted on the topic and in a recent review these researchers found when water was removed before a meal caloric intake per meal increased on average by 8.7%.11
Importantly, other forms of fluid such as sugary soda may not have the same benefit. One group of researchers analyzed over 15 studies comparing just that and discovered calorie intake increased on average by 7.8% when drinking a sweetened beverage before a meal.11
For long-term fat loss, results demonstrated that both groups lost fat mass; however the group that drank water before each meal lost 11.8lbs compared to only 7.26lbs in the non-water group12.
Try drinking a large glass of 12-16oz of cold water 30 minutes before your main meal along with increasing daily water intake. This will likely reduce your total daily food intake, help improve satiety, aid in health, and potentially even increase performance.
5. Add More Fiber into Your Diet
Adding more fiber into your diet may be one of the most beneficial ways to improve your health and physique. High fiber diets have been shown to decrease total food intake, body weight, and fight disease such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease13.
One study investigated the addition of increased dietary fiber to a low calorie diet and as a result, the fiber group significantly improved weight loss. The placebo group lost 12.72lbs whereas the fiber group lost 17.6lbs.
Eating more fiber is a great and healthy habit for several reasons. Firstly, a high fiber diet typically includes low energy dense foods such as vegetables and grains, which, as we mentioned earlier, is a great way to reduce calorie intake while still eating a sufficient amount of food.
Other research has shown high fiber foods increase chewing which results in an increased secretion of saliva and gastric juices. This increases the feeling of fullness. Lastly, fiber decreases the absorption efficiency of the small intestine which may aid in weight loss and nutrient absorption over time14.
Here are some high fiber foods:
- Brussels Sprouts
- Kidney beans
- Sweet potatoes
6. Plates Filled with Mixed colors
Although this isn’t a mainstream tip or method, having a plate filled with different colors means you’re likely consuming a meal containing a variety of essential nutrients. This will also reduce the amount of “white” or starchy foods which tend to be higher in calories and easier to overeat.
For fruits and vegetables, the different colors all provide different and specific vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and antioxidants.
Plenty of research suggests having at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day may lead to the prevention of chronic diseases15. This is likely due to the low energy density of these foods combined with high amounts of micro nutrients and fiber. For weight loss, research has also continually shown more fruits and vegetables promote fat loss and long-term weight maintenance.16
Here’s an example of a colorful plate:
Sweet potato- Orange
Raspberries & Blue berries- Red and Blue
7. Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting is a fascinating research proven technique that can help some people eat better and create a maintainable weight and lifestyle. Often referred to as time-restricted feeding, intermittent fasting incorporates a daily schedule of fasting and feeding, with the feeding period typically placed around the training session.
Intermittent fasting boasts several benefits that extend further than simply helping you lose body fat and maintaining muscle. Surprisingly, in some cases it seems to do so more effectively than traditional calorie restriction alone, especially in obese populations.
Based on several research studies it can reduce hunger, increase insulin sensitivity, and increase fat loss. There are various different ways you can apply intermittent fasting, including a 12 hour fast with a 12 hour feed all the way to a 16 hour or even 20 hour fast.
Example Fasting Day:
- Fast until 11am
- 11:00 a.m. Meal 1
- 3:00 p.m. Meal 2
- 7:00 p.m. Meal 3
- 9:00 – 10:00 p.m. Pre-bed Protein Snack
Hopefully these 7 scientifically backed tips will help you improve your eating habits and aid in your physique goals. Remember, it’s often the smaller but consistent changes that can have the biggest impact.
Here is a summary of all 7 points:
- Next time you go shopping keep an eye out for low energy dense foods, to keep you full and help you lose weight.
- Don’t be afraid to bump up the protein! This will increase satiety as well as the thermic effect of food.
- Switch to smaller portion sizes to adhere to your recommended portion sizes.
- Drink a glass of water before dinner to increase satiety and not consume as many calories per sitting!
- Add some fiber into your diet for gut health and weight loss!
- Mix up the colors to ensure you are eating highly nutritious foods.
- Lastly, give intermittent fasting a try if you want to lose weight and prefer fewer but bigger meals!
- Epstein, L. H., Paluch, R. A., Beecher, M. D., & Roemmich, J. N. (2008). Increasing healthy eating vs. reducing high energy‐dense foods to treat pediatric obesity. Obesity, 16(2), 318-326.
- Cutler, D. M., Glaeser, E. L., & Shapiro, J. M. (2003). Why have Americans become more obese?. The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 17(3), 93-118.
- Drewnowski, A. (1998). Energy density, palatability, and satiety: implications for weight control. Nutrition reviews, 56(12), 347-353.
- Duncan, K. H., Bacon, J. A., & Weinsier, R. L. (1983). The effects of high and low energy density diets on satiety, energy intake, and eating time of obese and nonobese subjects. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 37(5), 763-767.
- Ello-Martin, J. A., Roe, L. S., Ledikwe, J. H., Beach, A. M., & Rolls, B. J. (2007). Dietary energy density in the treatment of obesity: a year-long trial comparing 2 weight-loss diets. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 85(6), 1465-1477.
- Antonio, J., Peacock, C. A., Ellerbroek, A., Fromhoff, B., & Silver, T. (2014). The effects of consuming a high protein diet (4.4 g/kg/d) on body composition in resistance-trained individuals. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11(1), 1.
- Weigle, D. S., Breen, P. A., Matthys, C. C., Callahan, H. S., Meeuws, K. E., Burden, V. R., & Purnell, J. Q. (2005). A high-protein diet induces sustained reductions in appetite, ad libitum caloric intake, and body weight despite compensatory changes in diurnal plasma leptin and ghrelin concentrations. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 82(1), 41-48
- Swaminathan, R., King, R. F., Holmfield, J., Siwek, R. A., Baker, M., & Wales, J. K. (1985). Thermic effect of feeding carbohydrate, fat, protein and mixed meal in lean and obese subjects. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 42(2), 177-181.
- Leidy, H. J., Ortinau, L. C., Douglas, S. M., & Hoertel, H. A. (2013). Beneficial effects of a higher-protein breakfast on the appetitive, hormonal, and neural signals controlling energy intake regulation in overweight/obese,“breakfast-skipping,” late-adolescent girls. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 97(4), 677-688.
- Wansink, B., Painter, J. E., & North, J. (2005). Bottomless bowls: why visual cues of portion size may influence intake. Obesity research, 13(1), 93-100.
- Daniels, M. C., & Popkin, B. M. (2010). Impact of water intake on energy intake and weight status: a systematic review. Nutrition reviews, 68(9), 505-521.
- Dennis, E. A., Dengo, A. L., Comber, D. L., Flack, K. D., Savla, J., Davy, K. P., & Davy, B. M. (2010). Water consumption increases weight loss during a hypocaloric diet intervention in middle‐aged and older adults. Obesity, 18(2), 300-307.
- A. Parnell, J., & A. Reimer, R. (2012). Prebiotic fiber modulation of the gut microbiota improves risk factors for obesity and the metabolic syndrome. Gut microbes, 3(1), 29-34.
- Slavin, J. L. (2005). Dietary fiber and body weight. Nutrition, 21(3), 411-418.
- Who, J., & Consultation, F. E. (2003). Diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases. World Health Organ Tech Rep Ser, 916(i-viii).
- Sartorelli, D. S., Franco, L. J., & Cardoso, M. A. (2008). High intake of fruits and vegetables predicts weight loss in Brazilian overweight adults. Nutrition Research, 28(4), 233-238.
- Moro, T., Tinsley, G., Bianco, A., Marcolin, G., Pacelli, Q. F., Battaglia, G., ... & Paoli, A. (2016). Effects of eight weeks of time-restricted feeding (16/8) on basal metabolism, maximal strength, body composition, inflammation, and cardiovascular risk factors in resistance-trained males. Journal of Translational Medicine, 14(1), 290.