Canada’s food guide

Improving your eating habits

It’s not easy to change a habit. Eating habits are no exception. There are many different factors that make changing your eating habits difficult. But over time and with small steps you can be well on your way.

Identifying your barriers

A barrier is anything that keeps you from reaching your goal. Can you identify some of the barriers you have faced before when trying to change your eating habits? Or what can possibly hold you back in the future? Knowing what these barriers are will help you find ways to overcome them. Don’t hesitate to get support from family, friends or a health care provider.

Here are some common barriers and ways to help you overcome them.

It costs too much to eat well

Healthy eating doesn’t have to cost more. You can choose many different healthy foods when eating on a budget. Here are some strategies to help you stay within your budget and change your eating habits:

  • Choose the generic brands. At the grocery store, save money by buying the store brand instead of name brands.
  • Buy in season. You can save money by buying fresh vegetables and fruits that are in season. Enjoy them fresh or freeze them to enjoy later in the year.
  • Fresh is not the only option. Choose frozen or low sodium canned vegetables.
  • Plan your meals and make a grocery list. Planning your meals and making a grocery list will help you save money at the grocery store. It will also help you save money by making it less likely you will eat out unplanned.

I find it hard to eat well when I eat out

It may seem hard to change your eating habits if you’re eating out a lot. Here are some ideas you can try to help you reach your healthy eating goals:

  • Choose water instead of sugary drinks.
  • Don’t feel the need to finish everything on your plate. Ask to take any leftovers home.
  • Order small or appetizer portions or share a meal with a friend when eating out.
  • Limit cream sauces, gravy, deep-fried or battered foods, cakes, cookies and pastries.
  • Check to see if the restaurant provides nutrition information about their menu items so you can find healthier choices.

I don’t have enough time to prepare healthy meals

Preparing meals can take a long time but it doesn’t have to. Here are some ideas to help you save time when it comes to preparing healthy meals:

  • Plan ahead. Plan your meals and make a shopping list. This will make sure you have all the ingredients you need in your kitchen to pull together meals quickly.
  • Get everyone involved. Ask family members to help prepare and cook meals.
  • Look for healthier food items that can also save you time. For example, try frozen vegetables, bagged salad greens or low sodium canned beans.
  • Cook ahead. Prepare some foods in advance and keep them in the freezer. Try it with soups, stews, cooked lean meat, poultry or fish.

I doubt I will ever be able to change my eating habits

Don’t be afraid. Often times fear is a big barrier when it comes to changing your eating habits. Here are some strategies to follow:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ask family and friends about ways they save time and fit healthy eating into their lives.
  • Take time to define what you want to change. Have a goal and make sure it is realistic. Don’t set yourself up for failure.
  • Take it one step at a time. You do not need to make too many changes at once. Start with one new healthy eating habit at a time.
  • Once you have identified your goal, find small actions you can take to help you reach your goal. Try setting SMART objectives.
  • Take small steps and build confidence. Small changes over time will make it easier to track your success and feel good about meeting your goals. You’ll be motivated by your success to:
    • make even more changes
    • take on more difficult changes
  • Short term goals can lead to great successes. Don’t forget it is important to celebrate the achievement of all your goals.
  • Expect that you may have setbacks. Some goals will be harder to achieve than others. The key is to get back to it and try again. You may have to adjust your timeline, but it will still be worth it.

Setting your goals

Setting goals is an excellent way to motivate you to make healthy lifestyle changes. SMART goal setting is creating an action plan that can help you change your eating habits. SMART goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time bound

Specific: What do you want to do?

You should describe exactly what you would like to achieve. Being precise in your goal will allow you to focus on it and bring you closer to achieving it.

Measurable: How much will you do and how often will you do it?

You will indicate a quantity, duration and frequency for the goal. This way, you can mark down on a calendar or in a journal when you’ve worked on your goal. This gives you proof of your progress and helps motivate you to continue.

Achievable: Can you do it?

You should figure out ways you can reach your goal. Your attitudes, abilities, skills and supports should be well-matched to the goal you are trying to achieve. Your goals should be challenging, but not so hard that you will not be able to achieve them.

For example, eating spinach every day would not be a good goal if you really dislike spinach. However, eating one green vegetable every day is a more achievable goal.

Relevant: Is it helpful for you?

Your goal should be something that is meaningful to you that you are willing and able to work towards.

Time bound: When will you do it?

You will specify a time period when you will work towards this goal. You will decide when you want to start working on it and when you would like to have achieved it.

Healthy eating SMART goal example:

  • Specific: What do you want to do? You would like to eat more vegetables and fruits.
  • Measurable: How much and how often will you do it? You will make half of what you eat vegetables and fruits at all three meals.
  • Achievable: Can you do it? You will:
    • add 1 fruit to your breakfast
    • be sure to eat 2 vegetables at lunch and dinner
  • Relevant: Is it helpful for you? Yes. You will choose vegetables and fruits that you enjoy eating.
  • Time bound: When will you do it? You will:
    • add 1 fruit with breakfast this first week
    • add 2 vegetables with lunch and pack 1 fruit the second week
    • add 2 vegetables with dinner the third week

Setting and achieving goals may not be a straightforward process. Revisit goals often and make changes as necessary to help you achieve them.