Whether you want to admit it or not, in order to reach your fitness goals, you may need to make alterations to the way you eat. That’s because nutrition is so important when it comes to fueling your body for exercise. Nourishing yourself with foods that will keep you full and energize you is a great way to set yourself up for success. 

Let’s be real, though. America’s eating habits, in general, aren’t the best. There are probably some habits you’ll need to unlearn, and that’s okay! Unlearning habits through practice and repetition are part of the fitness process. Here are five ways to improve your eating habits

1. Talk To A Personalized Nutritionist

It can be difficult to know exactly where to start, especially if you’re new to nutrition. Plus, there are a ton of misconceptions out there when it comes to healthy and unhealthy eating habits. A personalized nutrition plan can set you up for long-term success, because they design a plan that fits around your level of activity, type of exercise, goals and personal taste. It takes a lot of guesswork out of your eating habits and demystifies the fitness process. A personalized nutritionist will help you build your positive eating habits in a way that’s not only encouraging, but maybe even exciting! Let’s get pumped about eating well! 

2. Meal Prep Ahead Of Time

Do you find yourself pulling into a fast food restaurant whenever you realize you haven’t made food ahead of time because you just need to get something in your stomach? It’s a logical choice, but not the healthiest way forward. When you cook your own food, it’s easier to track the nutritional value of your meal. You know exactly how much protein, carbs and fat are involved in your dish. All it takes to shift from eating out to eating in is a little pre-planning. Pick a day when you have some downtime—and if you think you don’t have downtime, make time—to meal prep for the week. Prep enough for the whole family if the food is something everyone will eat. Portion what you make into microwavable storage containers. Once the food is made, it’s quick and easy. 

3. Limit Processed Foods

Yes, processed foods are delicious, but the reason you enjoy processed food so much is that it has unhealthy levels of added sugar, sodium and fat to make it taste better. These added ingredients can ultimately cause high blood pressure, diabetes and possibly increase your risk of cancer. Processed foods, also known as calorically rich foods, also don’t hold a lot of nutritional value and are designed to have an addictive nature. You don’t have to completely cut processed foods from your life, but your body will thank you for limiting your intake. 

4. Update Your Food Portion Knowledge

If you were taught nutrition using the food pyramid in school, nutritional information has actually gotten an update since then. MyPlate is the food pyramid replacement, and can help you better understand portioning to create a well balanced diet. Not sure how many of the grains you intake should be whole grains? MyPlate says half of the grains you have daily should be whole. What’s the current stance on dairy? The U.S. Department of Agriculture actually recommends shifting to low fat options or fat-free options. MyPlate might actually blow your mind in terms of helping you change your eating habits. These are great conversations to have with your coach!

5. If You Want To Treat Yourself, Plan Ahead!

If you’re improving your eating habits, you’re no longer “dieting,” you’re eating with intention. Thank goodness, right? Changing your eating habits is a shift in understanding and practice. Denying yourself “cheats” only makes it more difficult to actually stick to healthy eating. Instead, be intentional about your food choices and have a conversation with your coach. Can you satiate a craving in a healthier way? It’s okay if not, as long as your intentional and thoughtful in your plan. How does your “cheat” fit into your overall plan for the week? A small, occasional exception to your eating plan isn’t going to derail your process. 

Eating better is a lifestyle change, not a fad. You’ll find that improving your eating habits should result in having a better energy level through the day and feeling better overall. Not to mention, it’ll be easier to reach your fitness goals if you improve your eating and drinking habits. Be patient with yourself. Habits don’t change overnight.