Developing and Maintaining Healthy Eating Habits with Ease

Achieving the body composition and health you desire doesn't have to be an uphill battle

By Michael Ormsbee, PhDFlorida State University
Edited by Kate Findley and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, The Great Courses Daily

If you’re like most people, you might begin your journey into healthy eating with enthusiasm—perhaps as part of a New Year’s Resolution—but lose steam after a bit. Professor Ormsbee suggests simple ways to get back on track.

Man chopping vegetables in kitchen
When establishing healthy eating habits, try to make better choices by paying attention to your level of hunger and type of nutritious foods. Photo By Alliance Images / Shutterstock

How Healthy Are Your Eating Habits?

As you start developing healthy habits, it’s normal to fall off course from time to time, but asking the right questions can get you back on track. One question you can ask yourself is, “Am I getting lazy with my eating habits?”

This could be a good opportunity to briefly track your calories. Try a spot-check every now and then for your calorie intake—even if you think you’re doing it all perfectly. 

Monitor your usual serving sizes. Are you putting more on your plate than usual? 

“One I see a lot is people who clean up dinner and decide to finish off the rest of what’s on your kid’s plate,” Professor Ormsbee said. “Those calories count, too.”

It is easy to eat things out of habit, even if you know that you can make better choices. Try to pay attention to your hunger and how you feel. 

Realize that you don’t need a huge post-workout meal every day. You might consider different food choices and sizes based on how hard you actually push yourself that day. 

For example, on days when you really push yourself at the gym or on the road or in the pool, then you probably would do best by eating a little more food that day. However, on your recovery and rest days, you probably don’t need as many calories. 

Resetting Your Set-Point

When developing healthy habits, think about your activity level and your food quality—these should be your guiding principles. Quality foods have an added bonus of being nutrient-dense and filling at the same time. 

This strategy is likely a key to resetting your set-point—the weight that your body tends to gravitate toward even when you exercise and cut calories. Once you can get your focus back for your eating habits and exercise plan, you’ll probably find that you can continue to move toward your goals. 

“But another thing that I practice and that I have all of my clients practice is to make sure to make small changes, instead of massively overhauling everything all at once,” Professor Ormsbee said. “Time and time again, I have seen people try to start exercising every day, eat completely new foods, drink more water, eat more vegetables and fruits, and skip every happy hour, all at once. This does not work.”

Dr. John Berardi, a leader in nutrition coaching, has always recommended doing one small thing every day. In his plan, he recommends making your changes a little too easy. 

The change you make should not be difficult. Choose one simple action to do such as drinking more water, and begin there. 

Starting Small

You’ll have to fight the urge to change it all and have immediate results. By starting small, though, the results will allow you to move your set-point rather than constantly yo-yo-ing with your weight and body composition.

“That’s the entire point,” Professor Ormsbee said. “Too many people lose and gain weight for decades. We have a wonderful physiological system that tries to take care of us by defending our appropriate and healthy body weight.”

However, we develop unhealthy diet and exercise habits that throw that system off and reestablish new baselines. This is why it is really difficult to make long-lasting changes to body composition.

You may be the person who has tried every diet out there but with no luck. However, even though our bodies defend our usual body weight, fortunately we can adjust this. You just need to decide that your transformation begins now and start something today.

As you strive to become more healthy, Professor Ormsbee recommends that you write down three habits that you feel you’ve become a little sloppy with in your daily routine. These could be habits related to either diet or exercise, such as eating extra helpings of dessert, relying too much on fast food to get you through busy days, cutting short your workouts, or not exercising at full intensity. 

“I’m sure you’ll identify some great places to focus on in order to reset your set-point,” Professor Ormsbee said.

This article was edited by Kate Findley, Writer for The Great Courses Daily, and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Proofreader and Copy Editor for The Great Courses Daily.
Dr. Ormsbee is an Associate Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food, and Exercise Sciences and Interim Director of the Institute of Sports Sciences and Medicine in the College of Human Sciences at Florida State University.

Michael Ormsbee is an Associate Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food, and Exercise Sciences and Interim Director of the Institute of Sports Sciences and Medicine in the College of Human Sciences at Florida State University. He received his MS in Exercise Physiology from South Dakota State University and his PhD in Bioenergetics from East Carolina University.

About Kate Findley 450 Articles
Kate is a writer, novelist, and blogger living in Los Angeles. She has been writing for The Great Courses since 2017. It incorporates her two favorite things: writing and learning.