In a perfect world, it would be easy to lead a healthy lifestyle.
You’d have time to lovingly craft grilled salmon burgers and zucchini-spiral pasta for lunch every day. You could linger over a homemade breakfast of strawberry buckwheat waffles every morning and go to Pilates every evening. You’d have time to meander through stalls of organic farmers’ markets on a daily basis, hunting for the juiciest organic tomatoes and the plumpest local peaches.
But this is the real world, where you’re often so busy that you skip lunch entirely and so stressed out that you scarf down fistfuls of Hot Cheetos from the vending machine.
When life gets hectic, eating healthy can be challenging for the best of us. Packed schedules can have a major impact on our dietary habits and health. And it’s not just being too busy to cook healthy foods—research has found that stress can cause the body to release cortisol, a hormone linked to increased appetite and cravings for unhealthy foods.
If you’re struggling to eat healthy because of your demanding job and tumultuous life, this guide is for you. There are small, easy steps you can make to take back your healthy lifestyle while continuing to be a rockstar at work, school, and home. Be your healthiest self even during your busiest days with the help of these simple, but powerful, tactics:
1. Dedicate a chunk of your Sunday to meal prep.
Meal prep, meal prep, meal prep: this refrain may have been hammered into your head by every nutritionist, trainer, and fitness blog by now. But preparing your meals ahead of time is one of the most effective strategies for sticking to a healthy eating plan. Set aside a chunk of your Sunday afternoon for chopping up veggies, stirring up sauces, pre-cooking proteins, and simmering whole grains to store in your fridge and freezer. Throughout the week, you’ll have healthy ingredients ready to assemble into yummy, wholesome meals—and no excuses to order takeout.
2. Make your breakfast the night before.
If you’ve hit the snooze button a few too many times before work, you might barely have time to brush your teeth—let alone eat a wholesome breakfast. While recent studies have indicated that breakfast is not necessarily the most important meal of the day as was once believed, your morning meal is important. Starting your day on an empty stomach can lead to low energy, moodiness, and unhealthy food choices during your workday.
Of course, a chocolate chip muffin and a frappuccino for breakfast aren’t going to do you any favors, either. Ready yourself for a healthy morning by whipping up a tasty breakfast the night before. Reliable options you can make and store overnight include rolled oats, veggie frittatas, and whole wheat waffles.
3. Make your own smoothie freezer packs.
A well-made smoothie can deliver a bounty of nutrients in a single cup. To make refreshing, nutrition-packed smoothie goodness even more accessible, DIY your own ready-to-blend smoothie packs.
Here’s how: during your Sunday meal prep sesh, slice up enough produce to make smoothies for the week. Place pre-portioned ingredients into individual ziplock bags to store in the freezer. Whenever you’re thirsting for a smoothie, simply toss these ingredients into your blender and add in almond milk, yogurt, or whatever your liquid of choice may be.
4. Keep healthy work snacks close at hand.
When hunger strikes in the middle of the workday, you may find yourself trying to decide between going hungry or grabbing a chocolate-sprinkle donut from the box sitting in the break room. Thwart midday junk food cravings by keeping healthy work snacks within reach at all times. Store nuts or turkey jerky in the glove compartment of your car for eating on the go. Tuck whole-food treats like Snack Bites into your desk drawer for a natural energy boost during work. Stock your office fridge with carrot sticks and hummus, yogurt, and fruit to nibble on.
5. Take your lunch break.
Forgetting to take a lunch break or scarfing down a “sad desk lunch” is detrimental to both your productivity and health. Studies have found that staying inside in one place throughout the workday seriously hinders creativity. Taking a break from lunch gives your brain some time to re-energize and your eyes a break from staring at a screen.
From a healthy eating perspective, pausing work and dropping everything else to eat lunch encourages mindful eating. By focusing on what you’re eating instead of your spreadsheets and Slack conversations, you’re able to really savor your food and feel more satisfied when you’re done. When you pay attention to what you’re eating, you are more likely to eat less.
6. Dine out strategically.
Particularly if your job requires you to travel a lot or take clients to lunch, eating at restaurants is an inevitability. But dining out doesn’t have to derail your healthy diet. Before eating at a restaurant, look up the menu online to identify healthy options and avoid last-minute temptations. Fill up on wholesome fibers by starting out with a salad (just be sure to skip the creamy dressings) or asking your server to triple your serving of veggies. Don’t be afraid to request modifications, like no cheese or butter and sauces on the side, or communicate any food allergies to your waiter or waitress—after all, you’re paying a lot for the meal and (presumably) tipping generously.
7. Don’t keep junk food in the house.
It’s (kind of) a scientific fact—if you have junk food in your house, you will eventually give in and eat it. You may feel like you can resist the siren song of M&Ms and Pringles on days when things are going smoothly. But what about the times when you come home stressed out, depressed, or just plain ravenous? Under these circumstances, even the strongest among us may cave to the temptation of sugars, starches, and junk food. Instead of testing the limits of your discipline, make it easy on yourself by keeping unhealthy foods out of your house.
Eating healthy isn’t only good for your waistline. Filling up on real, whole foods also gives your body and brain the fuel it needs to be productive, creative, and happy. If you’re looking for easy-to-grab, food-allergy-friendly eating on the go, our superfood-packed Snack Bites are a good place to start.