How to Change Bad Eating Habits

Three Parts:Identifying Bad HabitsSwitching Your HabitsMaking Good Food Choices a Habit

People around the world are discovering that their waistlines are expanding because of bad and often mindless eating habits.[1] Eliminating bad habits and switching to a healthy diet promotes your overall health and can protect you against medical problems like heart disease or cancer.[2] By identifying on your bad habits and eating patterns, replacing them with healthy choices, and then maintaining them most days of the week, you can change your bad eating habits and enjoy good health.[3]

Part 1
Identifying Bad Habits

  1. 1
    Inform yourself about healthy habits. Getting rid of bad habits for healthy ones may seem simple, but it requires will power and knowing what to eliminate and how to replace it. Informing yourself about eating habits can help you more effectively change your bad habits for good ones.[4]
    • Read about nutrition and eating habits either in magazines or online. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and United States Department of Agriculture provide extensive information on health, nutrition and effecting change in your eating habits.[5]
  2. Image titled Change Bad Eating Habits Step 1
    Keep a food diary. You can’t change bad habits without identifying your current eating patterns. Keeping a detailed food diary can help you figure out you’re your bad and good habits and put you on the path to making changes.[6]
    • Write down everything you eat for two week to a month to help give you an overview and make it easier to identify bad habits and patterns.
    • Include snacks or foods you eat without realizing it or in passing.
    • Note the source of your food. For example, write if you are eating canned fruit versus fresh fruit.
    • Consider writing down how you feel before and after meals, which may help you identify bad habits and triggers for them.
    • Make sure to also note good habits in your food diary. For example, “I eat a lot of fresh vegetable and quality lean protein.”
  3. 3
    Highlight bad and good eating habits. After a few weeks, you should be able to identify specific habits and patterns of eating. Highlighting bad and good habits can help you formulate a plan to begin making changes.[7] Some bad and good habits you might want to note are:
    • Eating meals too quickly
    • Eating everything on your plate
    • Taking multiple helpings of meals
    • Eating or snacking when you’re not hungry
    • Eating while standing up, which can make you eat mindlessly or too quickly
    • Always having appetizers and/ or desserts
    • Skipping meals, especially breakfast.[8]
    • Eating healthy choices such as fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins
    • Having a healthy breakfast every day
  4. 4
    Develop a plan to gradually change bad habits. When you’ve figured out what your bad habits are, start making a plan to gradually replace them and continue your healthy habits. Include things in your plan like replacing bad foods for healthy alternatives, exercise, and rest.[9]
    • Make sure your plan is gradual so that it is easier to replace bad habits and reinforce good ones.[10] For example, don’t get rid of all snacks in favor of eating nothing. Limit yourself to a couple of healthy snacks a week, like air-popped popcorn.[11]
    • Incorporate your good eating habits to your plan.
    • Create your plan around three healthy and nutritious meals and two wholesome snacks a day.[12]
    • Aim to have foods that include food that meet nutritional needs.[13] For example, eat lean protein, vitamins, and fiber with foods such as lean meats or nuts, and fruits and vegetables instead of things like burgers and fries.[14]
    • Be aware of situations that encourage bad habits like mindless snacking and write into your plan how you can avoid them. For example, keep like apples or sliced carrots at your desk.[15]
    • Build in one “cheat day” or “cheat meal.” Allowing yourself a little conscious cheating may help you avoid bad habits on other days.[16]
  5. 5
    Seek medical advice. If you are unsure of what your bad habits are or have difficulty figuring out good ones, talk to your doctor or a dietician about your plan to change your diet. They may be able to identify other problem areas and suggest tricks to change and make alternatives to your diet.
    • Find a registered dietician through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics online search tool.[17]
    • Tell your doctor or dietician about your plans and ask any questions that you may have.
    • Consider seeing a mental health professional, you can help you understanding why you have bad eating habits.

Part 2
Switching Your Habits

  1. 1
    Avoid “cues” for bad habits. Many people have triggers or cues for bad eating habits, such as sitting in front of the TV or getting a breadbasket at a restaurant. Avoiding these “cues” or triggers can help you gradually forget and replace your bad habits.[18]
    • Figure out ways to avoid cues and triggers. For example, drive home a different route to avoid stopping for coffee or fast food.[19]
    • Find an alternative if you can’t avoid triggers. For example, keep healthy snacks in your car or chew gum for when you drive past fast food restaurants.[20]
  2. 2
    Replace bad habits with healthy ones. Your food diet will cue you to bad eating behaviors. Replace these with new healthy habits.[21]
    • Come up with sensible alternatives to bad habits. For example, if you feed the need to clean your plate, take smaller amounts of food so that you can finish without feeling guilty or overstuffed.[22]
    • Try eating structured meals at a table, which can keep you from mindlessly eating bad foods.
    • Eat only when you’re hungry.
  3. 3
    Make changes gradually. You’re probably excited to get rid of your bad habits and improve your health, it’s important to make gradual changes This will help incorporate many different good habits and stick to them for life.[23]
    • Try and include more healthy habits than not at every meal. For example, if you watch TV while eating, sit down with your family. If you skip breakfast, try having a piece of toast with almond butter.
    • Follow the same principle when replacing unhealthy foods with healthier choices. Consider having steamed broccoli with garlic salt instead of broccoli covered in cheese sauce.
  4. 4
    Plan your meals. Planning your meals in advance can minimize the risk of returning to bad habits and reinforce your good habits. It may also ensure that you’re getting enough nutrients.[24]
    • Try and prepare as many of your own meals as possible to avoid cues and triggers.
    • Plan a healthy breakfast to start your day with healthy habits. Pack a lunch or scope out the menu at restaurants so that you don’t feel tempted to have something bad.[25]
  5. 5
    Be patient with yourself. Nobody is perfect and sometimes you’ll have a day where you go back to a bad habit. Give yourself a break and let yourself occasionally indulge in a bad habit.
    • There is some evidence that giving yourself a chance to cheat occasionally can help you stay with healthy habits.[26]
    • Focus on the positive, like that you ate healthy most of the day or haven’t reverted to unhealthy habits in a while.[27]

Part 3
Making Good Food Choices a Habit

  1. 1
    Learn about healthy eating. Learn about the basics of good eating and nutrition. This may make it easier to gradually switch out your bad habits and food choices for good ones.
    • Choose foods from the five food groups at each meal and make sure to vary choices from meal to meal so that you get plenty of nutrients. The five food groups are: fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy.[28]
    • Eat 1-1.5 cups of fruit daily. Fruits like raspberries, blueberries, or cherries are good choices.[29]
    • Eat 2.5-3 cups of vegetables daily. Broccoli, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes are good choices.[30]
    • Eat 5-8 ounces of grains daily. Half of this amount should be whole grains from foods like brown rice, quinoa, or whole wheat bread.[31]
    • Eat 5-6.5 ounces of protein daily.[32] Lean meats like pork or chicken, cooked beans, eggs, or nuts are good choices.[33]
    • Get 2-3 cups of dairy daily.[34] Cheese, yogurt, milk, and even ice cream are good choices.[35]
  2. 2
    Clean your pantry. Remove any foods from your pantry that influence bad eating habits. This can reinforce the gradual changes you are making.
    • Choose foods that are cues or triggers for you, such as chips, candy, or processed meals.
    • Donate unused food to a local food bank.
  3. 3
    Stock your pantry with healthy choices. Buy a selection of healthy choices to restock your pantry. Having mostly or only healthy options can reinforce good habits and help you avoid cues and triggers.
    • Avoid going overboard with buying food, which can cause some people to revert to overeating. This might require that you shop more often, but may also keep you on track with healthy habits.
    • Get options like whole wheat pasta, oatmeal, or brown rice so that you can avoid bad eating habits when you’re in a pinch.
    • Keep herbs and spices to jazz up meals and give you flavor that might make you crave bad foods.
  4. 4
    Enjoy restaurants. Eating out can cue bad habits for many people. But learning to make conscious choices can help you enjoy restaurants and visiting with friends or family without going back to bad habits.
    • Keep your cues and triggers in mind. For example, if fried appetizers are your downfall, simply skip that part of the menu.[36]
    • Stay away from buffets, which may encourage you to revert to many different bad eating habits like overeating and making unhealthy choices.[37]


  • Talk to your doctor before beginning a new diet plan.

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Categories: Nutrition and Lifestyle Eating