How to Action the Best Eating Habits for Your Longer Life

showing people eating food and grabbing for it

You know you need to change your eating habits.  You want to be healthier, to live longer, but you just hate going on a diet.    

Perhaps you made a New Year’s resolution to eat more healthily.  Did you find a diet, start off happily and then get bogged down in what you have to do on that diet?  Some of them are so difficult!  (I gave up on keto because I got such bad cramp.)

Or you were doing great until you went to that birthday party – and went completely mad, stuffing yourself with cake and desserts!  You felt so ashamed at your lack of resistance that you slunk off the diet for the next 5 days. 

Maybe you started again with a different diet.  But is it working?  Then you read a newspaper article that says it doesn’t work. So you gave up.

It’s a minefield, isn’t it? 

So what’s the solution?  How are you going to reach your goals?  Before you dive into yet another diet which probably won’t work, let’s dive into a different action plan.  Ditch the diet and get going on some dead easy changes to your eating habits to last you a longer lifetime. 

Start with a Bias Towards Action

When you first decide to do something, (like go on a diet), you want to do it NOW.  I get it – it’s a natural instinct. 

Fruit and vegetables are essential for longer life.  Most people don’t eat enough of them.  (You can see the science down below!)    So here’s an easy way to get the action going: 4 ideas you can implement today and each day for your first week.  Choose ONE action to start right now.

  • Stock up on 7 apples and 7 carrots. Eat one of each per day for 7 days.  Ring the changes, but make sure you keep eating at least one fruit and one vegetable per day, preferably raw.  Choosing raw food is a great eating habit which helps you to get used to an increase in your consumption of vegetables and fruit, improving your intake of fibre. It doesn’t mean you need to go all raw: it’s an addition to what you normally eat.
Man eating an apple is a good eating habit
  • Buy a big lettuce or a big packet of mixed salad leaves and some tomatoes. Before you eat lunch or dinner, eat a small salad of lettuce and tomatoes.  You can use a bit of dressing or just add some olive oil and vinegar.
  • Go for a big packet of spinach, the baby leaves are the easiest to deal with, and add a big handful to each lunch and dinner for the next 7 days. You can eat it raw like a salad or you can cook it as you prefer. Green leafy vegetables pack the biggest longevity punch.
  • Invest in a large packet of fresh or frozen berries and eat a couple of spoonfuls each day for breakfast. You can add them to cereal or eat them with yoghurt or just on their own.

If you can’t get to the shops, look at what veggies or fruit you have hanging around and use those for today.  Order in a load or go to the shops and stock up tomorrow. 

There!  You’ve taken your first action – you’re on your way to your new eating habits.

Develop Your Cunning Plan

So, what’s the next action?  A plan: a cunning action plan to outsmart all those risks threatening your mortality and boost your chances of greater longevity. 

Here are the steps of your plan to ditch diets forever and change your eating habits:

  • Start a journal of everything you eat, when you eat it and where you eat it. The idea is to look at your food habits and what you actually eat now so that you can sneak in a few more easy changes straight away.  Keep the journal for a week (or longer if it helps).
  • Dive in with some immediate changes that you can change easily – and give yourself a pat on the back! 
  • Keep investigating your eating habits and move into better ones. 
  • Live longer!

Starting a journal gives you lots of insights into what you really eat (as opposed to what you think you eat).  If you prefer, log everything you eat on an app such as cronometer.

Showing a magnifying glass and journal to collect eating habits

The point here is to NOTICE the way you behave with food and what you actually eat.

Then you can start thinking about ways you could improve your diet and eating habits.

(You don’t have to do this for ever – this is just a device to help you see what you could do better.  Even a couple of days could tell you a lot.)

Let’s start by looking at the detail that you’ve collected: how and what you’re eating.

Put the Magnifying Glass on your Eating Lifestyle

You’ve kept your journal.  Well done!   Now, come on then. Tell us where, what and how you eat!  

Do you:

  • eat out in restaurants a lot?
  • buy packaged food and heat it up at home?
  • go for takeaways or pick up food from a drive through fast food place on the way home and then eat it in the car as you’re driving home?
  • nibble and graze all day?
  • nibble on a salad for lunch and then eat sweets all afternoon?
  • snack late at night?
  • eat at your desk, looking at your computer or phone, or on the sofa, watching TV?

Take a look at what you actually put in your mouth.  When you’re on the sofa or in front of your desk, are you eating pizza or is it a homemade salad you brought in with you? Is your diet primarily fast food or mostly fried?

Write it all down!

3 Ways Your Journal Could Tell You How to Live Longer

Did your journal give you a picture of your current eating habits?  Great!

Now you can get going on how to live longer.

First, take a look at each of the habits you noted in your journal.   Think about whether that eating habit actively helps you to live longer.  When you’ve sussed that out, you can tweak the habit to improve your diet, your digestion and maybe your life too. 

Here are a few common eating habits you could work on if they apply to you:

Old Habit 1     Scarfing down your meals without thinking

Illustrates eating habit of eating whilst still working

Eating whilst you’re concentrating on something else means you’re more likely to eat more without noticing, you won’t enjoy it so much or digest your food as well.

My husband and I are guilty, guilty, guilty of watching television whilst we eat!

   

Illustrating bad eating habits - eating junk food in your car

Do you eat on the run? You’ll eat all the wrong foods. It’s the quick route to indigestion and ulcers. Definitely not the way to a longer life! Plus, you’ll eat too much as well.

New Habit 1:          Make eating a relaxed occupation 

Relax as you eat.  How about moving to a different place to eat?  Eg eat in the park or in your dining room with your family.  Try the kitchen at work or go to a coffee shop and eat.  Moving somewhere different from where you’ve spent your day so far is good for you mentally and physically. Try walking around the block before you eat.  It stretches your limbs and gives your mind a break too.

Switch off from work/TV when you’re eating.   And don’t eat on the go either.

Concentrate on what you’re eating.  Eat mindfully:  that means savouring the flavours of what you’re eating.  Feel the texture and enjoy the sensations.

Eating becomes more fun.  Your digestion will work better.  You’ll start noticing which foods make you feel better and which foods don’t. 

Old Habit 2   Only Giving your Food a Few Quick Chews 

Closely linked to a lack of appreciation for the food you’re eating, failing to chew your food properly means you’re missing the opportunity to start a proper digestion process.  It’s tougher on your digestive system, so could lead to indigestion, heartburn or worse.

New Habit 2:         Chew your food for longer  

Try taking smaller bites and chewing each mouthful at least 30 times.  Eating more slowly is better for your digestion as it mixes your saliva into the food and starts the digestive process right in your mouth. As you do more chewing, you’ll eat less too.  After 20 minutes, your stomach sends the signal to your brain that you’re full.  If you don’t eat so quickly, you just don’t want to eat as much as when you scoff it down.

Old Habit 3      Eating on your own

We all have times when we eat on our own.  But actually, it’s not the best way to eat.  That’s because you’re much more likely to eat standing up, to eat quickly, without thinking and to make poor food choices, such as going for fast food. 

New Habit 3:          Eating with friends or family 

Eating with friends or family helps keep up important social connections and is very important for living longer. Isolation and loneliness are killers.  If you live alone, you could invite people round or arrange to meet for a meal regularly – even a virtual dinner party helps!

So now you’ve got three more easy eating habits to help you live longer as well as the initial action encouraging you to eat more fruit and veg.   Wonderful!  Let’s move on to what you put into your mouth.

A Sneaky Visual Journaling Tip

Does journaling feel like too much work?  A really sneaky way to keep a food journal is just to take a photo of everything you put in your mouth Photo your food before you eat and if you like, photograph the plate after you’ve finished!   Make it into an album and there’s your food journal.  It’s quick and easy and very, very visual!

a collage of photos in a visual journal helps you analyse your diet and improve it

You can really SEE what you’ve been eating.   Take a look at what you eat and then connect it with how you feel.  Does it make you feel good looking at all that stuff?  Do you feel guilty because it’s all junk food? 

You might get some clues as to how you could improve your eating habits by looking at the patterns of eating that the photos show.  Have you eaten loads of snacks and very small meals?   Perhaps you could try bigger meals and less snacks?  Or more protein and less carbs?

Examine the Entrails and Divine a Fun Future

Go back to your journal.  What does it tell you about what you’ve been eating?  

Maybe you have good intentions.  

Do you eat a small salad and then end up with the munchies a bit later and scoff a lot of biscuits, cake or snack bars? 

You wouldn’t be the only one.  Confession time: I definitely do that!

But let’s not dwell on what you shouldn’t be eating.     

There’s a quick and easy mind trick to improve your diet and improve your chances of living a long, healthy life.

All you have to do is to think positive.   Rather than trying to persuade yourself you really ought to cut something out, think about all the marvellous foods you can eat.  And you can eat as much of them as you want!  Isn’t that a better picture?  

Think strawberries.  I love nectarines and ADORE yellow peppers.  Dipping them into a bit of hummus is a wonderful snack.

Think positively of all the wonderful foods you can eat

The Positive: Eat loads more real food

It’s just so much easier and far more psychologically encouraging to tell yourself to do MORE of something rather than to stop doing things.    So bring on the positives in life and have more fun with your food!

Doing Things that Don’t Come Naturally

There are very few blue foods (blueberries are the exception).  When food like potato is coloured blue, it really puts people off eating it, even if it’s a food they love! 

So using blue plates can mean you don’t eat so much. Blue is a calming colour and so it may be that it encourages people to eat more slowly.  Other research shows that eating off plates of a contrasting colour, for example, red or black, encourages people to eat much less too.

Apparently, you can achieve similar results with blue lights in the room where you eat.  (Don’t eat late though as the combination of blue light and eating late is a quick way to destroy your sleep patterns and you might end up an insomniac!)

Make Your Eyes Bigger Than Your Stomach

Yes, you can fool your stomach with your eyes.  It’s another really simple trick!  Serve your food on a small plate

There is a big psychological difference between eating from a small plate that is completely laden with food and eating from a large plate with not much on it. 

To illustrate how the eating habit of filling up a small blue plate leads to eating less in total

Your brain sees abundance on the small plate. So heap up your small plate, allow your eyes to tell your brain you’ve got lots of food and feel happy.  You actually eat less and feel satisfied sooner. 

It works in reverse. So a large plate with the same amount on it makes you think you haven’t had enough to eat. So don’t use big plates.

And don’t buy big boxes of popcorn when you go to the cinema either.  Research has found the bigger the box it is served in, the more people eat even if it’s stale!

(PS – you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.  There are studies showing people have big differences in reactions to plate size.  But it may help you to cut down on portion sizes without really noticing if that could be a better eating habit for you.)

Fight for a Good Cause: Real Food vs Processed

When you reach for an unhealthy snack, for example, a chocolate candy bar, think of the power of the food processing industry, all its advertising and all the profit it makes. 

Think of how processed food promotes obesity.  Remember all the illness that obese people suffer and how wrong it is that industries make such huge profits they can afford to advertise heavily and encourage people to make themselves sick.   Choose better eating habits to protect yourself: and save on medical bills. 

Eat real food, live a longer life and spread the word on better eating habits.

The Science Behind Why Your Diet Matters for Longer Life 

I promised you the science on how a healthy diet helps you to live longer.  From the overwhelming mass of papers, I’ve picked out a few studies you can look at for scientific proof.  (Just to show you, I didn’t make this all up!)

This study, by Imperial College, London, tells you how eating more fruit and vegetables may prevent millions of premature deaths.

From Harvard’s School of Public Health, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, this study shows which changes to diet improve your chances of living longer.   I found this article particularly interesting because it indicates that even if you make small improvements in your diet, you will benefit from a longer life. 

A whopping study on the Global Burden of Disease funded by Bill and Melissa Gates and covering 188 countries showed poor diet to be a leading cause of death and disability.  (Thank goodness – you can read this summary of the study by Conor Kerley.  Much easier and tells you what you want to know!)

Take Action on Your Eating Habits and Live Longer

So imagine that you take action on your eating habits.   Think how you’ll feel when you look back in, say, a year’s time: amazingly proud of yourself!

You put a few ideas into action straight away.  Ditching diets was a good start! You found the journaling helpful at identifying where you should go next.  It kept you on track.  You learned a lot, lost a bit of weight and yes, you do feel better for your healthier eating habits.  Best of all: 

YOU  DON’T FEEL GUILTY.

Those routine blood tests you had the other week had you doing a victory dance at the doctor’s.  

You know you can stick with these eating habits – just as you know there’s still lots of room for improvement.  But it’s easier to change things in small steps.  

And that means more fun when you’re retired, more playing with the grandkids and more fun with friends and family, more fun right now. 

With a bit of luck, you’ll enjoy an amazing old age in your longer life.

So start on improving your eating habits NOW to reap benefits soon and even more benefits later.

PS: If you want more ideas on improving your eating habits, sign up for an extra 20 Eating Habits for Your Longer Life – just fill in the form below.

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21 thoughts on “How to Action the Best Eating Habits for Your Longer Life”

  1. Oh Rosemary…..
    Guilty as charged on so many counts!
    I was doing OK on my 5-2 diet and then we got lockdown 🙁 The first couple of weeks I just comfort-ate and cooked. Not because I was unhappy…. I don’t even know why. Scarcity mentality maybe, or desire to show I really can cook if I have to.
    I did ‘take myself in hand’ after a couple of weeks and have been improving my habits, and finding ways to exercise online etc.
    But my worst eating habit is the munchies late at night. Sometimes I do knitting to keep my hands busy, which helps, but just finished a bit project, so need to start another one.
    Great tips though, thanks.
    Joy Healey – Blogging After Dark

    1. It’s pretty normal to comfort eat when there’s a global pandemic! So threatening, and we need all the comfort we can get. It’s that pesky Ghrelin that tells you to eat more carbs. (See my article on sleep which tells you about the wicked ways of Ghrelin.) A double whammy, ‘cos ghrelin stops you sleeping as well as giving you the munchies. They say that knitting is as good as meditation, and it’s a really good de-stressor. Keep knitting! (I need a new knitting project, just finished one.)

  2. Great blog! I really like the 7 apples and carrots idea, starting off with something simple is much less intimidating that trying to instantly implement wholesale changes and I’m sure more likely to support success. I feel like I have been doing some comfort eating in this lockdown and have started to ask myself after I’ve eaten something (more snacks than for meals) did that satisfy me and make me feel better and the answer is usually no! Checking how each bit of food makes me feel is hopefully going to help me make good choices.

  3. Hi Rosemary,
    what a lot of great tips right from the start. with those 4 ways to get more healthy food into you. All easily followable 😊
    I thought the idea of snapping a pic of what you eat was great, so easy to do, and eating lots of what you like that’s healthy. Definitely better than thinking about what you can’t eat!!
    I think everyone should pay attention to their eating habits 😊
    ~ Jacs

  4. Hi Rosemary,
    I like your emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables. And nuts in a salad is delicious too.

    That plate of blueberries on what looks like a tart or some kind of pastry on a blue plate looks scrumptious. (However, to make it healthy, one can simply substitute a light cake like a ladyfinger.)

  5. Hi Rosemary,
    I like your emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables. And nuts in a salad is delicious too.

    That plate of blueberries on what looks like a tart or some kind of pastry on a blue plate looks scrumptious. (However, to make it healthy, one can simply substitute a light cake like a ladyfinger.)

    I agree that it’s beneficial to focus while eating and not multitask. But I disagree in that I would say it’s perfectly all right to watch TV while eating, just like it’s fine to converse with someone while eating if one isn’t eating alone. But I think if one pays attention while eating rather than having mind on five or ten different things, LOL, one feels more satisfaction and will be less likely to overeat.

    1. Some people watch TV and don’t think about the food they’re eating. They are far more likely to overeat because their attention isn’t on the food but on the TV. My view is that it’s ok from time to time, but perhaps not during every meal. The other reason not to watch TV is because it stops people actually talking to each other. If you are chatting, your eating is slowed down so you are less likely to overeat. And you get the benefit of social interaction, which is better for your health. Thanks so much for your comments!

      1. Great article, Rosemary! I love the idea of a visual food journal! You are absolutely spot on about what we think we eat vs what we really eat. Your advice in so many areas about an endpoint is so helpful. Eating an apple and carrot a day for 7 days is so doable. It gets us started! Thank you!! 🙂

        1. Thanks, D’Anne. I think diets are so often SO complicated that it becomes all too hard to keep going. So I’ve been looking for the easiest ways to get into better eating habits so that it’s just fun to eat more healthily. Really glad you liked the article.

  6. I literally do ALL of those bad habits…YIKES!
    Another one that gets me is whenever I’m in a situation where I make my own plate (buffet, party, etc) for some reason I feel the need to take full advantage and stuff myself until not another bite fits. I need to work on that!

    1. It can be a good idea to eat until you’re really full from time to time – just not all day, every day. And often it’s a question of what you choose to stuff yourself with. Something deliciously healthy like avocado or fruit can be good. One of my favourites for stuffing myself is grilled peppers – I just love them.

  7. This was really informative Rosemary! Thanks for writing this.

    “Put the Magnifying Glass on your Eating Lifestyle” got me good! I need to make several improvements on that front.

  8. One of the weirdest things for me about the lockdown during COVID is that it put a magnifying glass on just how much we were eating out when suddenly we couldn’t. I love it that you focused on the awareness piece. No forward motion until we do that, right?

    1. It’s easy to fall into habits without even recognising that you are. We’ve definitely saved money by not eating out or going out for a drink as well as eating better. We appreciate it all the more now that we can do it, but I think we’ll be more conscious of what we eat when we do go out. Keep well, Cathy.

  9. Hi Rosemary,
    Great post. The best eating. During the pandemic we have been ordering out once a week. I have a Facebook page for my local area and lately it has all been about take out food. Eating at home all the rest of the time. I liked the idea of writing a food journal. Just to really be aware of what it is we are eating. Thanks for all the tips.

    1. We went to a restaurant the other day for our wedding anniversary. First time for over 3 months – it was a great treat! I hope you’ve enjoyed your weekly treat. Plus it’s great to support local businesses when they have received such a dreadful down-turn.

  10. Great article, Rosemary! Definitely some gentle helpful and specific nudges in the right direction. Thank you!

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