6 Unhealthy food habits to break right now

Dec 13, 2010 at 6:07 p.m. ET

It’s a new year, which means it’s time to put a stop to some of the bad behavior you’ve been holding on to for the past year. For many of us, this means making New Year's diet resolutions to eat better. But rather than going from cheeseburgers and fries to carrot sticks and brown rice overnight, we’ve come up with simple diet strategies for breaking the following six unhealthy food habits.

Sad woman eating ice creamUnhealthy food habit #1

Not drinking enough water

Thirst can masquerade as hunger. The next time you feel like reaching for a snack, ask yourself if you've had any water lately. If the answer is no, sip a glass before you snack.

It's a good idea to drink water throughout the day so you never get dehydrated. Dehydration also causes fatigue and can wreak havoc on your mood. Keep a full glass or bottle at your desk for easy access -- to drink to your health as well as put a stop to food cravings.

Unhealthy food habit #2

Skipping meals

We've all been there: Deadlines are looming, you skip lunch to get a project finished and all of a sudden you're starving. When you let yourself get famished, chances are you're going to choose the quickest option (e.g., burger and fries or vending-machine junk) rather than healthier food options. So don't skip meals – it will just lead to overeating later. Have a drawer full of healthy snacks, such as nuts and dried fruit, or take five minutes to eat a healthy lunch at your desk.

Unhealthy food habit #3

Emotional eating

If you find yourself eating when you're bored, tired, depressed or angry, there's a good chance you're not actually hungry when you're eating. This can be a hard food habit to break because it's so easy to turn to food as a comfort or time-filler. But the more you do it, the less you'll be able to distinguish genuine hunger from mood-based eating.

When you reach for the cookies, ask yourself if it's really you who needs the Oreos – or whether it's your bad mood that "needs" them. Substitute your emotional eating with a walk, hobby or even a nap – being tired can turn the best of moods sour.

Unhealthy food habit #4

Relying on packaged foods

Between work, laundry, family commitments and social events, it can be hard to find time to eat healthy. But frozen dinners, canned soups and anything that comes in a box can be sneaky sources of unhealthy fats, sugar, sodium, and extra calories. Limit your consumption of packaged and processed food in place of quick and healthy meals.

Rather than a processed dinner, cook up some whole-wheat pasta, toss with olive oil, lemon juice and sea salt, and mix in some wilted greens (Swiss chard, spinach or other leafies) and halved cherry tomatoes for a fast and fresh dinner. You can also make batches of healthy meals and keep them in your freezer for easy access.

Unhealthy food habit #5

Eating on the run

Eating while you're on the go is always tempting, especially when you're short on time, but it can often lead to unhealthy food choices, such as the nearest drive-through fare.

Find time to actually sit down and eat your meals at the table. That way you're focused on the food you're putting in your mouth, rather than speed-eating a slice of pizza while you race to pick up the kids at soccer practice. The more you focus on the meals you eat, the less likely you are to choose unhealthy foods and overeat.

Unhealthy food habit #6

Relying on snacks instead of eating real meals

Having healthy snacks on hand is a great idea to ensure you don't go too long between meals. But snacking all day in place of real meals can lead to consuming more calories. It's much easier to keep track of what you eat in a day when it's on a plate in front of you, whereas a full day of grazing (a muffin here, a handful of chips there) can get you into trouble where calories are concerned. Make time for meals – your health and waistline will thank you.

Here's to a New Year of healthier food habits!

More New Year's resolutions that work

Happy new you