Even with our best intentions, healthy eating tends to fall to the wayside when life gets crazy. You know how it goes. Potato chips for lunch due to back-to-back meetings, extra dessert with wine after a long day, too much caffeine to power through hectic errands. It’s easy to believe you don’t have time to eat healthy. However, most experts agree it’s actually pretty easy to make small nutritional changes that help you maintain weight, boost your metabolism, increase energy levels, and stay motivated to exercise. Here are four ways to fit healthy eating into a busy day.
Be prepared for the week.
“Fitting eating healthy on a busy day is a constant struggle for many of us,” says Aaptiv trainer Jaime McFaden. “My days get slammed with clients, classes, travel, and my baby. So, I know all too well how hectic it can get when you realize you’re starving. I built good habits by preparing food and snacks ahead of time.”
Candice Cunningham, another Aaptiv trainer, also swears by food prep. “I always have something with me, either a shake or a bar or a meal—something I prepped over the weekend or had a meal delivery service send. If I don’t have something with me, I’ll grab whatever I can get my hands on. I don’t want to starve all day and be hangry and unpleasant for clients. And if I don’t eat, I end up stuffing my face or being more apt to do so later in the day when I finally do get to eat.”
We know what you’re thinking. Meal-planning sounds like, well, a lot of extra work. Registered dietitian nutritionist Taylor Wolfram says it doesn’t have to be. “For me, that doesn’t mean having elaborate recipes prepped and perfectly portioned, but it does mean having a rough plan of what my food options are going to be for the week. It means shopping and doing any necessary prep work, so that I have grab-and-go items for lunch or quick throw-together options for dinner.”
Always keep a quick snack on hand.
“I try to be prepared and bring food with me when I leave the house in the morning,” notes Aaptiv trainer Jennifer Giamo. “I am always on the go from one client to the next, so convenience is super important. If I don’t plan ahead, I end up starving at the end the of day!”
Giamo’s favorite snacks include protein bars, small bags of trail mix or almonds, pre-made protein shakes, or whole fruit. Cunningham recommends granola bars and hard-boiled eggs. And Wolfram also recommends veggies and hummus or yogurt and granola if you have access to refrigeration or cold packs.
If you aren’t able to bring along a healthy snack, try to remember most stores offer smart options. “I try to pack quick and easy snacks for the road like overnight oats, an apple and peanut butter, carrots, nuts, or cucumbers—the more colors and less packages, the better,” says McFaden. “However, there are usually health options anywhere these days. You can even usually find a banana and yogurt at a gas station.”
Don’t sabotage your workouts.
Real talk: no matter how much you exercise, a sub-par approach to healthy eating will eventually get in the way of your fitness goals. If you practice yoga every morning, but eat junk food all day long, you’re probably not going to have the kind of energy you’d like to build strong, toned muscles.
You’re also more likely to stick to your exercise routine if you’re already eating in a way that makes you feel good. You probably know that when you’re off track nutritionally, you’re more prone to skip workouts. Instead, use healthy eating as a bridge to motivation for eating right and moving your body consistently.
View healthy eating as a lifestyle, not a diet.
“Eating healthfully doesn’t have to be hard and nutritious meals don’t have to be Instagram-worthy,” says Wolfram. “Buying a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes will give you the building blocks for satisfying meals. Learn basic cooking skills and how to throw together quick and easy meals. It can go a long way.”
Listening to your body is key, says Wolfram. “When we tune in, we learn what helps us feel our best. So, we’re able to plan ahead and prioritize those things, like eating well, sleeping enough, staying hydrated,” she explains. “I’m not a fan of using food as a reward as it assigns certain values to different foods. Anyone can have chocolate whenever they want without having to ‘earn’ it. At the end of the day, self-care should include a variety of strategies, a healthy relationship with food being one of them.”
“It’s easy to eat crap, but it’s actually pretty easy to eat well if you can change your mind about it,” says McFaden. “If you dine out, eat protein, veggies, and fruit first. Carbs aren’t bad—vegetables are carbs! When you think about your waistline, remember it is your lifeline as well. Find reasons why you want to eat healthy and the rest will be easy.”