The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Foodists

by | May 12, 2014

Photo by 55Laney69

Have you ever searched all over your house for your phone or your keys then realized they were in your pocket (or worse, your hand) the entire time?

Sometimes we are so focused on solving a difficult problem that the simple, obvious solution eludes us. This is how I felt when I discovered the solution to my life-long battle with food and body weight.

Since food caused me so much stress I assumed it was the primary cause of my problems. It took me nearly two decades to realize that since I couldn’t fight it, my only choice was to embrace it.

Now that I’ve spent over six years as a foodist the way I eat and deal with food seems so obviously correct that it feels like commonsense. Still millions of people struggle with these issues daily, searching desperately for a fix that’s right under our noses.

A foodist knows that food is the answer to, not the cause of our health and weight issues. Eating is essential to our survival and our innate drive to do it is too strong to override for long. The solution lies in constructing habits that work with us, not against us, balancing our needs for both health and happiness through food.

While there are many different paths a foodist can take to optimize our healthstyle, the most successful rely on seven core habits that have the biggest impact on our long-term success.

You might notice that none of these depend upon a specific food or nutrient.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Foodists

1. Never diet

Restrictive dieting sabotages your weight loss efforts for several reasons. This is worse than simply not being effective; dieting makes achieving your weight loss goal even harder than it needs to be. To be a successful foodist you need to stop pretending that dieting will ever do you any good and give it up forever.

2. Regular grocery shopping

Bad food decisions (those that aren’t good for you and aren’t worth it) tend to arise from unpreparedness, not from lack of willpower. The sooner you get in the habit of regular grocery shopping so that you always having a better option, the sooner you’ll start seeing progress.

3. Cook at home

I’d never say that getting healthy is impossible if you eat most meals outside the home, but it is certainly more difficult. You don’t need to be a fabulous chef to take control of your food destiny. Successful foodists develop a handful of home court recipes that they can count on to be easy, healthy, and tasty, and use these as the foundation of our healthstyle.

4. 10,000 steps

It’s way too easy to be sedentary in the 21st century, but it’s also pretty darn easy to be active. Even if you can’t always make it to the gym, making an effort to hit 10,000 steps each day is one of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to keep your health and weight in check.

5. Chew thoroughly

As fun as it is to wolf down a massive plate of food without actually tasting anything, slowing down and chewing makes your eating experience even better. Effective foodists cultivate mindfulness when they eat, which ultimately results in eating less and enjoying it more.

6. Value-based decisions

Have you ever wondered why vegetarians never cheat on their diets or why people can fast for weeks in observation of a religious holiday, but you can’t stop eating the stale chips in the office lunch room? Research has shown that people who make value-based food decisions are far more effective at sticking to their goals than people motivated by health alone.

7. Monitor your progress

It’s nearly impossible to solve a problem if you don’t know that the problem exists. When you build habits your brain starts shifting many of your actions to autopilot. This is wonderful, because it makes your healthstyle feel effortless. However, it also leaves you vulnerable to mindless shifts in your habits that have the power to undo weeks or months of progress. Combat this by keeping tabs on yourself and making self-monitoring a regular habit. Use a digital scale, a pedometer and mobile apps to make sure you have all the information you need to make good decisions.

For more tips on how to build a successful healthstyle check out my book Foodist.

Originally published July 8, 2013.

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43 Responses to “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Foodists”

  1. Kate says:

    Just wanted to say thanks. “Discovered” you via your cover story on Experience Life magazine, started reading this site and bought your book.

    Nine pounds gone!

  2. Carla says:

    Great post Darya! I love how you summed up the core concepts to managing one’s Food Life so precisely. I especially like the Regular Grocery Shopping and Value Based Decisions points. These especially work very well for me living a low-fat, high fruit lifestyle. Thank you for a great post!

  3. Alice says:

    A great list, and a number of them are things I practice. I totally agree about cooking at home and regular grocery shopping. I also menu-plan weekly so that I know I have something to make for dinner every night of the week. Sometimes I go off-plan for last minute decisions, but if I know I have a week’s worth of healthy things we can have for dinner, I’m rarely tempted to get take-out. I also try to cook enough for dinner that my hubby & I can have the leftovers for lunch the next day. We love leftovers!

  4. Diana says:

    What would you suggest as value-based decisions for your everyday, non-vegetarian, non-holiday eater?

    • CreLa says:

      “Value based decisions” for food struck me as a fantastic mantra, and I realize that it is the major reason I maintain a healthy diet.

      For me at least, reading up on the tactics of the food industry in relation to public health has given me a firm vendetta against processed foods. Also, reading about the environmental impacts of monoculture crops and pesticide use solidifies my support of local sources and seeking variety in my diet (yay farmers markets).

      • Kathleen says:

        When thinking of a meat based dish, considering the source helps me make a value-based decision, too. The inhumane treatment of animals, filth and unsustainabilty of industrial meat doesn’t work for me.

  5. Joe says:

    I absolutely love your practical tips. Out of curiosity, which way expends more energy (calories), chewing well or breaking down partially chewed food?

    • Darya Rose says:

      It depends on the food. Sometimes chewing increases your absorption of calories (and nutrients), but slowing down, eating less and feeling more satisfied with what you eat is more significant.

  6. Jamie says:

    Great article! I just wanted to tell you that I just finsihed reading your book and I loved it. I’m hoping to convince a couple of my family members to read the book so maybe they will give up their unhealthy “diet” foods.

  7. julie says:

    I need to figure out a value based decision thing to help me avoid the free pretzels and candy bowl of the guy in the next cube, yet still allow me to eat the occasional dark chocolate coconut chew. The others I have a handle on, though I’m still bummed about the cook at home thing. Seems with all this good healthy food in Bay Area, I wouldn’t need to do that, yet I do.

    • Kate says:

      Julie, I recently broke up with the office candy bowl myself.

      One way of thinking that helped me was that I decided to only eat snacks or treats that were truly special and delicious, which meant they were, by definition, not free stuff sitting around in my office, and probably not generic, mass-produced candy at all. (This is exactly in line with Darya’s principles!)

      I also told myself that every time I resisted the siren call of the candy bowl (now I’m kind of over it and don’t get tempted very often), I was leaving candy for colleagues who seemed to want it more than I do.

      I don’t know if any of that helps you, but good luck!

  8. Lindsey says:

    I’ve been a reader of your site for a while and have pretty easily been able to subscribe to most things and have great results. My question is about the 10,000 steps. I do walk a fair bit, but my main mode of transportation is my bicycle. If I’m biking 12+ miles/day on average, would you say that’s comparable to the 10,000 steps?

  9. Paul Risse says:

    Love it 🙂
    Simple and profound.
    Next time I am at a bookstore I will check out your book.
    Have a great day!!

  10. 10,000 steps! It truly works! And eating at home…. Such simple yet effective tips! 🙂

  11. RickD88 says:

    Are you sure that 10,000 steps is reasonable?
    The word “mile” comes to us from Latin “mille” meaning “thousand”. The Roman Legions tracked their distance marched by counting: 1000 double steps was a “mille” and that is still very close to a mile.
    10,000 steps is therefore five miles, which for most people would be 75 to 100 minutes of steady walking.
    That seems like a lot.
    I understand that everyone has a lot of miscellaneous little walks in their day, but I’d be surprised if those added up to even one mile.

    • Darya Rose says:

      Yep, it’s about 4.5 miles and takes a bit over an hour. It takes slightly more effort to get there, but it doesn’t feel difficult at all. I average 12-15K.

      • julie says:

        Also, included is walking around the house, from car or bus, etc. I get 8000K steps just in the 8-9 hours I’m at work, as I walk from my desk to the bathroom, to the lab, from one lab to another, around the building, to the kitchen, and it adds up.

  12. Cassie T says:

    I finally got around to watching ‘Food, Inc.’ and I highly recommend it for anyone struggling with habit #7 (value-based decisions)! After learning about the lives of chicken farmers, the manipulation of soybean growers and the subsidies paid to over produce corn, it will be much easier turning down foods I already know I shouldn’t eat! My beloved soymilk will be the hardest to give up, but I’ve already found it easier to turn down junk food knowing the effects of purchasing (and thus supporting) soy and corn based products. Vote with your fork!

  13. caro says:

    It is NOT easy to get in 10,000 steps a day.

    This weekend, I walked to the grocery store, worked out, walked to a nearby neighborhood for a mile-long home tour and put things away in my house in the most inefficient way possible — and never made it over 6,000 steps a day.

    • Vicky says:

      Late to the party but the single best thing I can advise for getting your steps up is getting a dog, walking a dog twice a day come rain or shine has changed my life. I’m at 2800 steps and I’ve only been up 3 hours.

  14. Olivia says:

    Hi Darya,
    I clicked the tinyletter subscribe link and it sent me an email saying I was subscribed — I never entered any payment info and didn’t realize it was a paid service. I clicked unsubscribe in the body of the email — is that enough? Am I getting charged somehow? I never signed up through paypal either… confused!!


  15. Rebecca says:

    Hi Darya,
    As always your healthy habit insight is quite inspiring. Can you talk more about “value-based” decisions? Do you mean informed decisions? That is, because someone knows the nutritional content of the foods they are surrounded by they can make better meal and snack decisions?
    I would love to talk more about this!

    • Darya Rose says:

      Great question. No, intellectual information almost never sways habits. On the other hand, emotional charge certainly does.

      I recommend thinking about foods in terms of your core values and thinking about how a particular food choice aligns with them. For instance, I want to be healthy, but also enjoy food and life. So for me, eating a really special, somewhat unhealthy meal is worth it. Whereas eating take out just because I don’t feel like cooking isn’t. Similarly, it’s easy for me to not eat industrial meat, because of everything I know about how it affects health, the environment and the rights of animals.

      Make sense?

  16. Judith says:

    Caro – there are online or smart phone apps that will help you convert your activities into step equivalents. I wear a Fitbit and can get more steps from a leisurely dog walk than an intensive hour long cardio class. But the Fitbit app and My Fitness Pal app allow me to add in other activities. In fact I have converted from the 10k steps goal to 30 or more active minutes daily. Then I know I am not sauntering through those steps, although I continue to track them.

  17. Jen G says:

    Hi Darya, it’s over 6 months since you wrote this article but I’ve only just found it (and your blog :-). After reading your article about your dad one big thing struck me that’s related to point 7. Monitor your progress. The link between how you feel after eating something and realising it’s because of what you eat is a major breakthrough to changing behaviour. When you understand and accept that how you feel is due to what you eat, that’s the beginning of the journey. Once you’ve reached that point then your article ‘Eating 1/2 a donut’ also takes that to conciously eating something and already knowing what you will feel like afterwards. Having that in my mind will be a powerful guide to the choices that I make with what and how much I eat. Many thanks, Jen G.

    • Darya Rose says:

      Exactly. Great insight!

      • Jen G says:

        Thanks for your compliment. I’ve a question regarding portion control. How do you deal with the issue of food portioning when you go out to eat? Say I go for a hamburger but only want to eat half or even a quarter of it. I know this sounds weird but it’s also kind of embarrassing. There is some shame attached to this behaviour that has made me just eat it all. There’s something about an empty plate that shows you’ve done your job, accomplished the task-that you are grateful for what you were given. People also say stuff like: “Don’t waste the food, it’s cost a lot of money so eat it.” In other words ‘eat it now! I know you won’t eat it later.’ And what if I don’t want to eat all of the leftovers? Feeling a bit crazy on this one…thanks, Jen G

    • Darya Rose says:

      I definitely know that feeling. For me the most effective strategy has been to just chew a lot so I’m eating really, really slowly. I actually do this out of habit now, without thinking about it.

      As long as people see you eating and enjoying your food, they’re not likely to get on your case about not finishing. You can always take what’s left to go and give it away later. You don’t need to defend yourself, just say it was great and you’re full if someone asks. Your confidence will disarm them.

      • Jessica says:

        I met a lady that had the same advice and had lost an incredible amount of weight with this and her food choice changes. She had a fun little device to help her chew slowly and well. She said to get in the habit silently sing your ABCs or Twinkle Twinkle for each bite before swallowing with a “chew” for each letter or syllable. Found it interesting!

  18. C. Wall says:

    Very happy to run across your website while desperately surfing the Internet for help with weight loss.

  19. Nayetta says:

    I think I’m finally starting to get this idea of healthy habits over dieting. At first, it sounded nice but still felt like a diet because every time I tried to think of a habit I could stick with, I defaulted back to restrictive eating and using willpower. I didn’t see how I could develop a healthy life style w/o using willpower to control my diet. Then I realized that I’ve already developed the habit of drinking only water through out the day. I keep water at my desk at work and I always order water with my meal if I go out to eat with friends. I never struggle with drinking soda or juice b/c it’s automatic for me to order water, even if other people order soda. I don’t have to use any willpower to do it! Ding ding! I actually think it was the scene in your foodist video where you went back and forth to the cabinet every morning to eat muesli for breakfast that got through to me. A light finally went off and I think I’m at least starting to wrap my mind around creating healthy habits over using willpower to follow a restrictive diet. I’m still struggling with figuring out what my “muesli” will be but I think I’m at least going in the right direction.

  20. Carolyn Aleven says:

    Marvelous site. I have looked around but have not seen this problem discussed. I am doing well on a daily basis, hurrah! But, whenever we are playing cards or visiting friends, snacks are set out. Pushed them away from me only to pull it back a few minutes later. I also suggested forgoing the snacks. The others like them. I don’t even like M & M’s but I ate mine, my husbands and was eying my fiends. I know it nervousness but I have not been able to get a handle on this. Aaaarg!

  21. Darya,
    This is a very comprehensive and helpful list. If I can add just one more tip to this list it will be “PAIR YOUR HABITS” – if you really want to stick to a new habit, but don’t really look forward to it, pair it with a habit you totally love.
    For example – I committed to run 3 miles every single day. It was great in the summer days, but horrible in the late fall. I dreaded getting up early and running 3 miles in the rainy mornings. So I only allowed myself to listen to my favorite audio books while I run. Simply making that minor change, made a world of a difference and my habit stuck!

  22. Great post Darya!I love the way you writes and sums up it. I am here for the first time and loved your article. Everyone is writing on weight loss methods, I found no one writing about how to gain weight! Can you please write an article on that. that would be helpful.

  23. Erica says:


    I really like the point you make about value-based decisions. I hadn’t thought of it that way. I think developing my own values on how I want to eat and live will be very helpful to me. But I’m having a hard time thinking of what value I can associate it with. I don’t have the same exact beliefs as many vegetarians. And I’m not wanting to do this for religious reasons. So what kind of value other than simply being healthier should I be apply to my life.

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