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Healthy Eating: Staying With Your Plan

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Eating one healthy meal isn't hard. It's not even hard to eat three healthy meals in a single day. The hard part is making changes in your daily life so that you start eating healthy every day—and keep eating healthy every day.

If you're having problems staying with your plan, don't worry. You're not alone. You'll be glad to hear that there are plenty of tips and tricks you can use to get yourself back on track and stay there.

Let's begin with these key ideas:

  • Your reason for wanting to eat healthy is very important. It won't work if you're doing it because someone else—your spouse, your children, your doctor—wants you to. You have to want it.
  • If you've started a healthy eating plan but don't feel like you're making any progress, it may be time to update your goals.
  • If you've started a healthy eating plan but are having trouble keeping it going, it may help to figure out what's getting in your way. Then you can figure out how to work around those barriers.

If you haven't started a healthy eating plan yet, it may be helpful to read:

Click here to view an Actionset.Healthy Eating: Starting a Plan for Change.

It can be frustrating to start a new habit like healthy eating and then have to stop because something gets in the way—illness, travel, or even just having a bad day. Your goal is to get back in the habit and find a way to make it a routine part of your life.

Remember that you can't create a habit overnight. Keep at it, even if you slip up along the way. It can take as long as 3 months of repetition to form a habit, so every day is a step in the right direction.

Here are three important steps:

  1. Have your own reasons for wanting to eat healthy.
  2. Set goals. Include long-term goals as well as short-term goals that you can measure easily.
  3. Think about what might get in your way, and prepare for slip-ups.

Test Your Knowledge

In order to stay with your healthy eating plan, you need to make healthy eating a daily habit.


Your reasons for wanting to eat healthy are really important. Knowing your reasons may help you keep going. What makes you want to eat healthy?

  • You want to feel better and have more energy.
  • You want to control your weight.
  • You have another reason for wanting to do this.

It's not always easy to make healthy eating a lifelong habit. But taking the time now to really think about what motivates or inspires you will help you stay with it.

Tips for staying motivated

  • Sit down with a pencil and paper and write down all the reasons you can think of for wanting to stay with your healthy eating plan. It may help to see them written down. Hang the list in your kitchen, bathroom, or maybe at work—someplace where you will see it every day.
  • Think back to when you first started your switch to healthier eating. Did you notice a difference in the way you felt? Did anyone else notice a difference? Write down any positive responses you got, and hang them up too.
  • Put up a photo or a quote that inspires you. It can be something that you find in a book or online. Or maybe it's a snapshot of you and your family playing sports or doing some other activity together.

Test Your Knowledge

It's easier to stay with a healthy eating plan when you're clear about why you want to do it.


Update your goals

When you first started your healthy eating plan, you probably had one or more big goals in mind, like controlling your high blood pressure or lowering your cholesterol.

Are those goals the same today? Or do you need to change them?

  • Are you having trouble meeting those long-term goals? You may need to come up with new short-term goals to help you get there. Short-term goals are things that you want to do tomorrow and the day after.
  • Did you try to take on too much too fast? That's a reason why some people have trouble making a lifestyle change. Remember to make your short-term goals small steps. For example, if you want to lower your blood pressure, a small step would be to limit the amount of sodium in your diet by cutting down on the amount of processed foods you eat, like packaged snack items, luncheon meats, and canned soups.
  • Did you meet your long-term goal and then stop? Good for you for meeting your goal! But now you need a new long-term goal to help you stay with your healthy eating plan.

Getting past slip-ups

Everyone has slip-ups. But there's a difference between slipping up and giving up. Going back to your old eating habits for a while is a slip-up. It doesn't mean that you're a failure.

When you slip up, don't get mad at yourself or feel guilty. Think of it as a learning experience. Figure out what happened. Why did you stop? Think of ways to get yourself going again. Learn from your slip-ups so that you can keep on toward your goal of eating healthy.

For some common reasons for slip-ups, and suggested solutions, see:

Click here to view an Actionset.Healthy Eating: Overcoming Barriers to Change.

Tips for maintaining your healthy eating plan

Remember that healthy eating means eating a wide variety of foods in the right amount:

  • Limit alcohol. Alcohol provides a lot of calories and no nutritional benefit.
  • Make mealtimes pleasant. A meal is more than just eating food. It can also be a social event, a time to communicate with family and friends, and a time to relax. Eat slowly, and enjoy the food. Do not watch television or read while you eat.
  • Use a meal plan to help control what you eat. Plan meals ahead of time. Many people find it easier to plan meals for a week at a time.
  • Avoid unplanned eating. Eating unplanned calories can spoil a healthy eating plan. If you are someone who tends to get hungry between meals, schedule healthy snacks throughout your day to manage that hunger. The healthy snacks will keep you from being so hungry at regular mealtimes that you overeat. Just be sure to plan your snacks as part of your overall calories for the day.
Click here to view an Actionset.Healthy Eating: Recognizing Your Hunger Signals

Test Your Knowledge

Feeling guilty is the right response when you let your healthy eating habits slip.


There's something wrong if you've tried a new healthy eating step for 4 weeks and you still don't feel like it's become a habit.


Now that you have read this information, you are ready to start making those healthy changes in your eating habits.

If you would like more information on healthy eating, the following resources are available:

3101 Park Center Drive
Alexandria, VA 22302-1594
Phone: 1-888-779-7264
Email: [email protected]
Web Address:

The USDA food guide website provides many options to help people make healthy food choices and to be active every day. Enter your age, gender, and activity level to get a food plan specific to your needs. You can also print out worksheets for tracking your progress and goals. On this website, you'll find answers to many of your questions about healthy eating.

National Agricultural Library:
10301 Baltimore Avenue
Beltsville, MD 20705
Phone: (301) 504-5414
Fax: (301) 504-6409
Web Address:

This Web site has information on nutrition, healthy eating, exercise, and food safety. You can use an e-mail form to ask a food-related question.

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ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerKathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerRhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
Last RevisedJanuary 25, 2013

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