One thing a lot of people struggle with when thinking about adopting healthy eating habits is where to start. I get it! It can feel tricky to start eating healthy which is why I am sharing these healthy eating tips. The cravings, the comfort, and having to try new things can feel hard at first. But with time and desire, you can achieve your goal, whether that is weight loss, or deciding to start focusing more on your health and wellness through food.
When you’re a “beginner” or new to something, no matter what it is, starting is intimidating (even when you really want to do it)! Why? Because there is a lot of newness at the beginning. Where to start, what to do, how to begin, and usually a good dose of self-doubt can make healthy eating feel overwhelming. Then what happens? You either decide to climb the mountain or walk away, because you feel alone or like it’s an unachievable feat.
That’s where I come in – eating healthy is not always easy, but it doesn’t have to be impossible and I am here for you! If you’re a beginner and are looking to start eating healthy but don’t know where to begin, I got you!
Eating healthy is all about making changes gradually and working on new habits that will last. Everyone has different tastes and lifestyles, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for eating healthy. That’s why I’ve compiled 10 tips for beginners that can help you make healthier choices without feeling overwhelmed or deprived!
Why Clean Eating Is Perfect For Beginners Who Are Looking To Start Healthy Eating Habits
When it comes to diet, there are many schools of thought. Some people believe in cutting out carbs completely, while others swear by intermittent fasting. The truth is that almost any change you make to your current diet will help improve your health and wellbeing.
Clean eating, by definition, is simply eating whole or unprocessed foods. It’s really not complicated, but it does require some effort and planning. It doesn’t require you to count carbs, sugar, calories, or macros. It’s not a diet. It’s a lifestyle change (If you’re rolling your eyes at that thinking about how many times you’ve heard that before, stick with me!).
Clean eating, in my opinion, is the perfect “starting point” for getting into the habit of eating healthy. It’s simple and really an attainable lifestyle change. The problem with trendy diets is they are almost impossible to keep up long-term (or they ask for too much, too fast). Who wants to count macros for the rest of their life, or net carbs, or be denied an apple? Who wants to feel guilt for eating a crusty piece of freshly baked sourdough bread? No one!
Clean eating allows you to enjoy the foods you love, with, I admit, a little more effort on the cooking front without feeling any sort of way. How great is that? When you’re trying to figure out how to start eating healthy as a beginner, there’s really not much to figure out. If it is processed, it comes in a box or package laced with preservatives and chemicals, look for an alternative, and you’re on your way.
Why We Crave Junk Food Over Healthy Food
Junk food is easily accessible and affordable. It’s easy to go through a drive-thru or pick up something unhealthy at the grocery store because it’s everywhere. The convenience factor is real. Compare that to trying to find some fresh fruits or vegetables, and you’ll see what I mean.
Not only is junk food more accessible, but it’s also engineered to be addictive. Foods like chips, cookies, and candy are designed to hit all the right buttons in our brains, they’re salty, sweet, crunchy, and creamy! Companies add in chemicals and other ingredients to keep you wanting more (i.e., lining their pockets!). When you eat junk food, your brain releases dopamine which is why we tend to crave it over healthier options.
Other factors, like candida (yeast), can take over your gut health, sending signals to your brain that then tells you to feed it sugar. Many people discount the idea of gut health and a candida overgrowth as nonsense, but it is one of the most controlling bacterias and may be to blame for your sugar cravings.
Many people scoff at the idea that your gut can control your emotions and even mental health. If you tend to suffer from depression, anxiety, or the like, it may all be linked back to the brain-gut axis. Many studies have begun to pop up in recent years, proving this to be true, even though it may be hard to stomach the idea (no pun intended!)
It can be tough to break bad habits and cravings, but it’s definitely not impossible. With a little bit of effort, you can retrain your brain and heal your gut to desire healthy foods over junky ones!
10 Healthy Eating Tips On How to start eating healthy for beginners
The first real step to eating healthy is realizing that it’s not about depriving yourself of all the foods you love. It’s about finding a balance between eating what you enjoy and leveling up some habits so that your diet becomes more balanced in a way that works for you.
You’ll see that many of these tips overlap and play off of each other! Play with those that resonate and leave the rest. Ultimately, healthy eating looks slightly different for everyone, and the key to finding a sustainable change is to find the approach that works for you, your body, and your lifestyle.
YOU CAN LISTEN TO ALL TEN HEALTHY EATING TIPS IN THIS VIDEO!
Healthy Eating Tip #1: BE easy, gentle, and curious with yourself
I know many of you want me to jump right into the action steps, and I get it, BUT we have to remember that in order for us to create positive change in our lives, we have to come from a positive emotional state. This is essential for beginners to really take in as it’s the foundation for your relationship with food moving forward. SO many of us have learned from the media and the diet industry that eating better or losing weight has to be hard, and we have to push and restrict and deprive our way to the finish line, BUT as we all know, that does not work.
When you are constantly pushing and criticizing yourself – you create a lot of negative emotion, and it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to create positive change from a negative emotional state. SO commit to a kinder way. Remind yourself that step one is to be, easy kind, and curious with yourself so you can make changes that will work for you and your lifestyle in a realistic and sustainable way.
Healthy Eating Tip #2 Focus on Real Whole Foods (aka Clean Eating)
The single most important shift anyone can make with their eating is to begin to focus on eating REAL, whole foods as close to their natural state as possible, most of the time. These are foods that come from the earth and or animals if you eat animal products.
These are the foods that your grandmother would eat – they are simple foods and they are delicious. Think veggies, fruits, healthy natural fats like avocados, nuts, seeds, quality proteins like fish, pastured meats, lentils, and good quality whole grains; like wild rice, oatmeal, and quinoa. While this is a simple shift, it is an important shift! I would argue that is the single most important shift you can make when it comes to healthy eating as a beginner.
Healthy Eating Tip #3: Avoid Highly Processed Foods
Coming off of the heels of focusing on real whole foods, we really want to avoid or minimize highly processed foods. Highly processed foods are food-like substances that are made in factories and created to excite your tastebuds but not to nourish your body. Cutting out processed foods is, without a doubt, one of the hardest things to do when you’re starting out on your healthy eating journey.
There are different types of processed foods. For example, oatmeal is a lightly processed food, as is sprouted bread or frozen veggie veggies. BUT these are not the processed foods I would worry about. The processed foods I am referring to are the HIGHLY processed foods, they aren’t actually food at all and somehow manage to fill the majority of the shelves at the grocery store.
These are food-like substances that are nutritionally void, meaning they offer no nutritional value and are very unsatisfying when it comes to feeling nourished and satisfied by your meal. These are foods that come in packages and last on shelves for years.
Some could argue that these food-like products taste good (because they are loaded with salt, sugar, and low-quality oils and are designed to excite your taste buds), but beyond flavor – they bring nothing to the table and are notorious for messing with hormones, blood sugar, and gut health. So simply looking for less processed to more whole food options can take your healthy eating game to a whole new level. If you can’t read or understand ingredients on a label, shelf it!
Healthy Eating Tip #4 Connect To Your Hunger
Often times when we are trying to eat better, we look to external information to tell us what and when to eat. This is what ends up deterring and ultimately leading to the demise of most beginners’ attempts at starting and maintaining healthy eating habits. The problem with this is that it creates the false belief that you are unable to trust your body and automatically disconnects us from our natural hunger signals. So the simple practice here is to drop out of your mind, leave the food rules and mental agendas on the table, and drop back into your body.
A great way to practice dropping back into the body and out of the brain is to ask yourself two simple questions. Before eating – ask yourself, “Am I hungry?” And when halfway through your meal, pause and ask your body, “Have I had enough?”.
This can take some practice if you have been eating according to the clock or the external food rules – BUT – anytime we learn something new, we need to grace ourselves the space to practice. So let it feel bumpy as you begin to reconnect to your body and trust that your body is wise enough to know.
Healthy Eating Tip #5: Experiment with your Macronutrient Balance
We all hear a lot about macronutrients these days, and while I am not suggesting that you count and calculate your macronutrients, I do think it’s important to consider the balance of carbs, proteins, and fats you have with each meal.
If you tend to have a carbohydrate-heavy diet, simply adding in proteins and healthy fats with your meals can really help you feel satisfied and satiated after you’re done eating, which can also determine when and what you want to eat next.
Does this mean you can never eat a plate of pancakes or a bowl of pasta? Not necessarily – BUT if you are someone who struggles with weight, overeating, or you simply find that you aren’t satisfied after a meal, or that you are hungry shortly after eating a meal – playing with your macronutrient balance can be a really great place to experiment.
Try starting your day with a meal rich in protein and healthy fats, and just notice to see how this feels for you and your body. This could be a veggie omelet with some cheese, a bowl of organic full-fat greek yogurt with nuts seeds and berries, or some almond flour pancakes. The name of the game is to play and observe! See what feels best for you and your body.
Healthy Eating Tip #6: Quality Over Calories
Some people teach that a calorie is a calorie, and it doesn’t matter what you eat as long as you don’t eat more calories than you need. I personally think this is a shallow and grossly oversimplified approach to food and nutrition, which often leads beginners in the wrong direction. While a calorie is a calorie, what those calories are made of and how your body responds to different calories is a gigantic part of the equation and super important when it comes to eating well.
For example, let’s look at 400 calories from a store-bought low-fat blueberry muffin versus 400 calories from a plate of salmon, vegetables, and brown rice. The muffin is made up of mostly carbohydrates, it has no fiber, no protein, and it’s made mostly of white flour, refined sugar, and low-quality refined fats.
This is the type of food that requires very little work from the body to break down. It enters your body quickly and will cause a spike in blood sugar levels and a spike in insulin. Now, when your blood sugar spikes quickly, it also comes down quickly, and this often will leave you feeling very unsatisfied, not satiated, and that feeling that we like to call hangry; when you’re hungry, and you’re starting to get a little annoyed at the same time, hungry and angry.
Now, when our blood sugar levels fall quickly, we often end up craving more sugar because our body knows that this is an easy way to bring those blood sugar levels back up. And then a result of that is that we are craving more flour and more sugar and our hunger signals get thrown off.
If you were to take that same 400 calories in the form of salmon, vegetables, and rice, this meal is made up of lots of quality protein, healthy fats, and good quality carbohydrates. So, this is the type of meal that’s going to take some time for your body to process and break down. It’s going to slowly elevate blood sugar levels, which means that they are also going to come down at a slower rate.
And the result of that is that you get to feel more satiated and more satisfied from the meal. This is exactly the kind of meal that keeps your hormones balanced and happy, which means that you get to feel good. And feeling good is the name of the game here.
So, while both meals have 400 calories, I want you to notice how those calories react in your body and then how those reactions drive other behaviors, like what we want to eat next, right, because it’s a very different story.
One of these meals will keep you feeling very satisfied and energized, while the other may have you feeling hungry in a very short period of time with cravings for more sugar and more processed carbohydrates. And, you know, doing this every once in a while, that’s not a big deal.
But if it’s done consistently, now you end up with a negative spin cycle with your food. And this is when we start to feel like we’re out of control.
Healthy Eating Tip #7: Move In The Direction of a Plant-Based Diet
The number one dietary question I get from people about diet is whether or not they should be vegan, and my answer is always the same. I believe we should all strive to have a plant-based diet – meaning the base of our diets should be rooted in plant-based foods, with a variety of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and quality grains (when they work) BUT does this mean you should or need to be vegan? Nope. Unless of course, you want to be!
There are many different dietary approaches out in the world and different things will work for different people – but if you step back and look at ANY of these approaches from paleo to vegan – at the base, they all encourage lots of plant-based foods. I like to think about it like this – ultimately, food is energy, and the more vitality and life energy in the food you eat, the more vitality and life energy you revive from that.
Healthy Eating Tip #8: Cook as often as you can and more than you don’t
Cooking is one of the easiest ways to start eating better! As a beginner to healthy eating, cooking helps to put you in charge of all of your ingredients, so you know exactly what you are working with. It gives you a sense of connection to your food which is also very nourishing. And here’s the deal, that doesn’t mean you have to cook every single thing you eat. You just want to get into the practice of cooking more often than you don’t, and technically speaking, that is just 51% of the time.
Healthy Eating Tip #9: Practice Mindful Eating
In order to receive full nourishment from our meals, we need to be present so we can receive all of the pleasure and nourishment that meal has to offer – that means tasting your food, noticing the textures, the smells, etc.
If you eat in a hurry, on the go, while watching tv, or simply without your own awareness, you will often feel unsatisfied because your brain will not have registered that you ate – and the brain is going to scream hungry. Then, you are left thinking you have an overeating/willpower issue when really you simply have an awareness issue.
So try to choose one meal a day – and eat it with your full attention. Enjoy the meal, the flavors, the textures, the smells, and connect to your body. Truly have a full circle eating experience and just notice how that affects your relationship with food, appetite, and satisfaction.
Healthy Eating Tip #10: Make It Easy, Fun, and Don’t Get Fanatic!
The reason we want to eat better is so we can feel better. If your journey of healthy eating feels hard, complicated, and overwhelming, you’ve missed the boat! And don’t worry – you’re not to blame – this is how healthy eating tends to be presented to us.
I promise you can not underestimate the power of one small change at a time. Make small changes that feel doable and attainable – let little changes matter, let them be enough. Some small changes I have focused on in the past and made habits in my life: include drinking X amount of water per day, committing to 4 workouts a week, sitting down and eating at least one meal a day with full awareness, enjoying one veggie-based meal per day (for me this usually means a big salad or veggie-based soup per day) just to name a few!
Now You’re Ready To Start Eating Healthy!
Only you will know what the first right move will be. Whatever it is, commit to it and practice it until it becomes a habit. Once you have created a new healthy habit, you can then move on to something new. Small changes over time are what create long-lasting results, especially when it comes to healthy eating!
Eating Healthy For Beginners FAQs
Can I eat frozen fruits and vegetables, or do they have to be fresh?
Yes! While I encourage you to buy fresh produce when possible, frozen fruits and vegetables are a great, affordable option that still retains their nutrients. You’ll want to avoid any frozen vegetables that have sauce or seasonings. Check the ingredients and make sure you’re getting just the veggies.
Can I eat canned beans or vegetables when trying to eat clean?
Yes, to both! Canned beans and veggies are another great, affordable option that can save you time. Make sure to rinse and drain them well before using them in any recipes – this will help remove some of the sodium content found in canned foods.
Make sure to read the label of any canned food you purchase. Ideally, you want the label to contain just the veggie you’re purchasing and go for the low or no sodium option.
If you can get your staples like green beans, carrots, and peas fresh or frozen, it’s definitely preferred. But for items like diced tomatoes, and beans they are always good to have on hand.
What if I don’t have time to cook?
It may seem like a daunting task to cook and prep raw vegetables when you’re just starting out, but it’s worth taking the time to practice. Like any new habit, it always feels a little harder at the beginning, but with time, it gets easier. I like to keep some staples in my fridge, freezer, and pantry to make it feel easier.
If you work crazy hours during the week, meal prep is going to be your best friend when it comes to clean eating. You’ll want to pick a weekend day that you can dedicate a few hours to prepping some of your meals for the week. Your future self will be so thankful once the week gets started.
What about snacking? Can I snack while eating clean?
At the risk of sounding cliche (again), remember clean eating is not a diet, but a lifestyle, so of course, you can snack! Healthy eating for beginners doesn’t have to mean giving up snacks altogether. In fact, I would encourage you to snack make healthy snacks that will fuel your body and not sabotage your hard work.
Some great options include carrots and hummus, whole-grain crackers (look for one with ingredients you can actually read!) with organic nut butter, organic fruit and a handful of nuts, or half a sweet potato with chili powder or cinnamon.
What about protein?
One thing that is super important when it comes to healthy eating for beginners (and everyone, really) is getting enough protein. Protein is the building block of our muscles, and it helps keep us feeling full longer, so we don’t give in to cravings too soon after a meal.
It’s recommended that women get 46 grams per day while men need 56 (at a minimum – I actually prefer more than this!).
Some great sources of plant-based protein include lentils, black beans, chickpeas, tofu, quinoa, nuts, and seeds.
If you’re an omnivore, some good sources of animal protein include chicken, turkey, salmon, beef, pork, lamb, and eggs.
I hope these healthy eating tips for beginners were helpful! I would love to hear what has helped you in the past…
So there you have it! My top ten tips for starting to eat clean. I hope they are helpful and encourage you to make small changes in your daily habit that can help support your health, wellness, and weight loss goals.
Sarah Thimmesch says
Once again you make so much sense Dani. I love the way that you talk. You always seem like you know what we think and you know how to address us with the respect we seek.
Your tips for the new year are a wonderful reminder. AND I love your recipe, thank you so much.
Hope your New Year is great.
Thanks, Sarah! I’m so glad this article/video was helpful. Happy New Year!
Very well said! I always love to learn from you and hear about your ideas and recipes! Thank you for what you do!
It’s my pleasure! I’m so glad this was helpful.
Mena Cashback says
Hi Dani, it’s always been a pleasure reading your article whenever I read your article I got more knowledge and information. Unfortunately, people are ignoring healthy food and didn’t get the proper benefits of it. I hope people will understand and make healthy food a proper part of their life. Thanks for sharing the article.
How do you feel about cheese and yogurt? I feel like I need the Greek yogurt in order to get enough protein and I just really like cheese. I mostly eat spinach salads, lentils and black beans but these do not add up to enough daily protein. What about drinks like Boost or Ensure with protein. I will be 77 this month.