How to Eat Healthier Without Giving Up Your Favorite Indulgences

Eating healthy. It’s much easier said than done, right? Every week there is a new fad diet telling you what not to eat. Don’t eat meat. Curb carbs. Say goodbye to gluten. Let go of lactose. The list goes on and on and in the end, you end up scratching your head wondering what on earth can I eat? That’s why it’s time to throw the don’t diets out the window and focus on one simple thing: moderation. You’ve heard it before, but what exactly does it mean? The definition of moderation is “the avoidance of excess or extremes, especially in one’s behavior.” To apply this to your eating habits, cut out excessive amounts of meat, sugar, carbs, gluten, and lactose. Eat as many plants, seeds, and vegetables as possible. However, moderation doesn’t mean to give up—it simply calls for avoidance. By practicing a few mindful eating tips, you can eat healthier without giving up your favorite indulgences. Here’s how it’s done.

Know what is moderate for you.

Everyone has a different body and a distinct diet, so start by figuring out what moderation means for you. My sister can’t make it through an afternoon without a piece of chocolate. She recognizes that this is an indulgence and treats it as one. She seeks out the best quality dark chocolate and limits herself to one small square per day. I love chocolate too, but don’t crave it everyday. However, sometimes when I come across a mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup or Milky Way in a bowl at the dry cleaner or in the back of an Uber, I’ll eat a piece of candy. This happens maybe once a month. We both consume moderate amounts of chocolate in different ways. She’s consuming larger quantities, so it’s important for her to seek out a type of pure chocolate that isn’t processed. I avoid processed food for the most part and don’t care if I have a piece of candy bar every couple of months. Find the ways that work for you and stick with them.

Practice a don’t diet during the day and eat whatever you want at dinner.

In 2007, New York Times food writer Mark Bittman was overweight and pre-diabetic. His doctors ordered him to eat a vegan diet or go on medication. He didn’t want to go on medication, however his professional life revolved around him cooking and eating everything. So he came up with a revolutionary idea. He eliminated processed foods and followed a strict vegan diet during the day until 6 p.m. After 6 p.m., he could eat whatever he wanted as long as it was a wholesome, all-natural, mostly home-cooked meal. He wrote a book about it, VB6, and it’s one of the best ways to practice a diet without going cold turkey. Give up meat and gluten during most of the day and after 6 p.m, indulge in that plate of spaghetti and meatballs!

Use the weekends to indulge.

This follows the same concept as being a vegan before 6 p.m. Instead of eating whatever you want after 6 p.m., you eat what you want on the weekends. It’s oatmeal and bananas, veggie-packed rice bowls, and salmon and lentils during the week, then huevos rancheros, grilled cheese sandwiches, and steak with roasted potatoes on the weekend.

Empty out your pantry and fridge.

Remove the trigger foods from your home. If your indulgences aren’t in your fridge or pantry, you won’t be able to eat them. I’m addicted to Lay’s Potato Chips. I could eat them everyday at every meal, but I know this isn’t healthy, so I don’t ever buy a large bag and bring it home with me. In fact, I avoid the chip aisle at the grocery store all together. Instead I stock my kitchen with other more nutritious snacks like seeded crackers or homemade whole wheat baked pita chips. When do I indulge in Lay’s? When I’m traveling. If I’m headed to the airport for a long journey, that’s when I’ll grab a small bag of my favorite salty snack. Soda, chips, ice cream, candy, cookies—don’t buy these items and you’ve instantly cut them out of your diet.

Eat smart.

If you’re a vegan before 6 p.m., but every night you order a Domino’s extra-large meat lover’s pizza with cheese-stuffed crust, you’re not eating smart. This will obviously counteract the work you have done! Make intelligent food choices. Use smaller plates. If you’ve made a large sausage lasagna for the weekend, be sure to wrap it up and freeze it on Monday morning, so you aren’t tempted to continue eating it for the rest of the week. Scoop ice cream into a bowl instead of eating it out of the pint. Be mindful of portion sizes. Seek out organic and local produce when you can. Use the best quality ingredients you can afford. Order the side salad instead of the fries. Ask for a cup of soup instead of a bowl.

Eat salad for lunch everyday.

If you’re trying to incorporate more plants into your diet, make a point of having a salad filled with leafy greens, roasted and raw veggies, and nuts and seeds at least once a day. Enjoy a homemade salad for lunch at work and you’ll save cash and eat more healthfully. Here’s a super-crazy way to cut back even on more calories and fat: opt to eat the salad without dressing. Add ingredients that have a natural wetness to them, like tomatoes, olives, or canned beans and you won’t end up with a dry salad.

Always have drinking water available—and drink it!

People often mistake hunger for thirst. To avoid eating something when you’re actually dehydrated, keep a glass or bottle of water with you at all times. When you wake up in the morning, start your day by drinking a glass of water. Staying hydrated will make you more productive and more awake, and it can give you a quick energy boost when you need it. Seriously, now that you’re done reading this, pour yourself a glass of water and drink the entire thing!