Do These 5 Non-Food Things to Improve Your Diet

Family dinner is good for your diet.
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Almost all of the nutrition and diet tips you hear or read about focus just on foods -- what to eat, how much to eat, which ones not to eat, or which ones to eat much less often. That's all important stuff, and it makes up the bulk of this site or any other nutrition and diet-related website. 

But eating a healthy diet isn't all about the foods. Things like your mood, your environment, your schedule are all important as well.

So, I want to take a break from telling you what to eat and give you five tips that will help your diet. And none of them are food.

#1 Eat with Friends and Family More Often

According to a study published in 2014 in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, sharing meals or eating meals as a family is associated with better nutritional outcomes -- especially for kids and teens. 

It's not totally clear why, of course. Perhaps families who take the time to eat together are also more likely to purchase and cook healthy foods because they can afford it, or for whatever reasons it matters to them. 

But, I don't think it takes a lot of science to understand that sharing meals is a useful thing. We celebrate together, and we commiserate together. It's not all about the food; it's those ties that keep us together. And it doesn't have to be relatives -- sharing meals with friends counts too.

#2 Set the Mood 

The ambiance of your dining area is important.

A little background music, a lovely dining room, beautiful place settings -- or at least a clean table -- make dining into a more pleasurable experience. I know sometimes you just want to grab your food and eat it while you're staring at the TV, but that's not the best way to enjoy a meal. 

You know those beautiful formal dishes you've got squirreled away in a cabinet?

What are you waiting for? Bring them out and enjoy them. 

Maybe it seems silly, but it's not. A study published in 2014 in the journal Appetite found that serving the same foods in two different patterns affected diners' perceptions of the quality of their meals. The prettier version seemed more flavorful and was accepted better by the people enrolled in the study.

#3 Know Your Body's Cues

Sometimes we're not hungry, but we believe that we are. Or we eat to console ourselves, or because we're bored, or just because the food is sitting right there tempting us. 

You can lose touch with your body's hunger cues. A study published in 2014 in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests 'intuitive eating' might be one way to make peace with cravings and inappropriate eating.

Intuitive eating, the authors say, promotes a dietary intake based on internal cues of hunger and fullness, body acceptance, and making behavior choices based on health, but also allows you to enjoy your meals.


#4 Slow Down

Have you ever sat down at the table and gulped down your meal in a matter of moments? A lot of us have -- especially if we're in a hurry. But it's not a good idea. Eating fast often leads to eating too much, or at least takes away some of the joy of partaking in a delicious meal.

Slow down -- enjoy every bite. Set your fork down on the table between each one of those bites. Take the time to make conversation with those around you. 

#5 Don't Give Up -- and Get Healthy

Making significant dietary changes is difficult. And maintaining the changes requires a fair amount of commitment and perseverance. 

But it's okay to take a little time to get there. The old saying goes that 'Rome wasn't built in a day,' and I think that can apply to diets as well. You may have years and years of unhealthy eating patterns to untangle and rearrange into healthful patterns, so you're bound to have some setbacks. And that's okay... it takes practice to become a healthy eater.

And, on that note, I think it's good to focus on your health rather than on your dress or shirt size. Your healthy weight may mean your thighs are a little plumper than you'd like -- but if your BMI is good and you're eating healthy foods, then you're on the right track.


Fulkerson JA, Larson N, Horning M, Neumark-Sztainer D. "A review of associations between family or shared meal frequency and dietary and weight status outcomes across the lifespan." J Nutr Educ Behav. 2014 Jan;46(1):2-19. Accessed April 14, 2016.

Schaefer JT, Magnuson AB. "A review of interventions that promote eating by internal cues." J Acad Nutr Diet. 2014 May;114(5):734-60. Accessed April 14, 2016.

Zellner DA, Loss CR, Zearfoss J, Remolina S. "It tastes as good as it looks! The effect of food presentation on liking for the flavor of food." Appetite. 2014 Jun;77:31-5. Accessed April 14, 2016.

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