I try to eat healthy foods 90% of the time. I've been known to polish off a pint of ice cream, or gobble down a slice of chocolate cake ...

It Pays Off

I try to eat healthy foods 90% of the time. I've been known to polish off a pint of ice cream, or gobble down a slice of chocolate cake by myself, but the vast majority of what I eat is healthy: fruits, veggies, nuts, grains, legumes, dairy, eggs, etc.

Here are a few of my tips for staying healthy:
1. It pays off to have willpower on the front end. Yes, it is incredibly tempting to throw Oreos, ice cream or chocolate bars into the grocery cart. But willpower just once at the store means you don't have to have willpower over and over again at home, when those desserts are calling your name from the cupboard.

2. Use a cart. Counterintuitive? Yes, until you think about it. A cart gives you more leisure to pick your fruits and vegetables carefully, and to actually read the nutrition facts on the items you purchase.

3. Along those same lines, I have criteria for packaged goods, and I read all of the nutrition facts to make sure those packaged goods meet my criteria. A sample:
- no trans fats or partially hydrogenated oil
- approximately equal grams of fat and protein (sorry, ice cream!)--only applies to packaged foods
- less than 20% sugar by weight, with great preference given to those items which are less than 10% sugar by weight (this mostly applies to cold cereals)
- 100% whole grain, wherever possible (a few notable exceptions: pasta and baguettes)
There are other softer criteria, as well, such as short ingredient lists. Looking for these factors has become so ingrained in my shopping behavior that I can glance at most items and tell if they pass.

4. Treat nuts as a treat. You know what tastes almost exactly like Nutella? Chewing three or four hazelnuts with one or two chocolate chips. Equally satisfying, a lot healthier. When I get hungry for something decadent and naughty, I usually reach for nuts first. Their fat content is very satisfying. Plus, because they are used in desserts a lot, they often remind me of dessert. Walnuts? Remind me of brownies. Almonds? Marzipan, or almond brittle.

5. Make silly rules. This is similar to number three, but these rules are set day by day to help stay on track. For example: today, I won't eat anything packaged with an 'm' in the name. Or I will only eat vegan foods, unless I make them myself. Or I will not use a knife today. All of these rules make you think twice before you eat anything, and sometimes that is enough to influence your choices for the better.

A little bit of effort of the front end makes a huge difference in what goes into your body. As a child, you can't choose what goes into the shopping cart, nor are you equipped with the knowledge to make good choices. However, in college and after, that choice is given to you.

It is a responsibility I'm still adjusting to, but the more I grocery shop, the better I get at it. In particular, every smart choice I make makes it easier to make the next smart choice. Sometimes all it takes is one change: buy the reduced fat crackers next time, or the whole wheat bread. Just leave the candy bar on the shelf, and your whole life could change.

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