Six Surprising Habits That Stop You From Healthy Eating

by | Oct 12, 2016


Moving to an entirely new city is the ultimate test in building habits. If you had asked me in San Francisco what the core Home Court Habits are that keep me healthy, I would have smiled smugly and cited eating breakfast, cooking, working out, walking my dog, and meditation. I got this healthstyle thing down, ya know?

But those are just the surface level, obvious habits that give me the results I want. What’s easy to forget is that there are also several Supporting Habits that are necessary for my Home Court Habits to remain functional. For example, it’s really hard to cook dinner at night if you don’t have any food in your fridge or pantry. That makes grocery shopping an essential Supporting Habit.

If you’re struggling to form a new habit, it can be helpful to take a closer look at the actions surrounding that habit. Pay attention to the exact moment you decide to not take the action you had intended and ask what you could have done earlier to make your new habit easier. Sometimes a simple new Supporting Habit can be the secret to creating a successful new Home Court Habit.

Here are some essential Supporting Habits that often get neglected, but keep in mind that everyone has different needs and resources so you have to figure out yours yourself.

Avoiding the grocery store

It may seem obvious, but you aren’t going to cook at home if you don’t have anything to make. This is why efficient grocery shopping is one of the first things you learn in Foodist Kitchen.

Getting groceries is a huge pain point for many people, and so they tend to avoid it. But sometimes to build the habit all you need to do is shift your schedule slightly so you can go when it’s less crowded, or find a new store that offers a more pleasant experience.

Since grocery shopping is essential for you to be a healthy person, it’s worth investing some effort into making sure it’s something you will actually do.

Not sleeping enough

If you ever feel too tired at the end of the day to cook dinner or get some exercise, there’s an excellent chance you aren’t getting enough sleep. Sleep is one of those habits that affects your energy levels, so having solid sleeping habits that ensure you get at least 7-8 hours per night is essential.

Do you find it difficult to shut down at night? Maybe you need to build stronger habits around sleep hygiene, like turning off screens after 9pm and leaving yourself some time to unwind before bed.

There’s certainly something you can do to get to bed earlier. Figure out what that is and do it.

Not keeping a stocked pantry

While keeping a stocked pantry is related to grocery shopping, it serves a slightly different purpose so it’s worth mentioning separately. If you have a pantry full of soup stocks, dried grains, beans and lentils, canned tomatoes, dried herbs, coconut milk, tuna and sardines, and even pasta, there is way less pressure on you to have a perfectly full fridge.

Why is this important? Because you have one less excuse to give in and order take out.

If the only fresh item you have is an onion, a stocked pantry is enough to get dinner on the table. Chances are though that you also have a zucchini, an aging crown of broccoli and a few eggs. It doesn’t take much to turn those things into a delicious meal.

Extend this logic to your freezer and keep a supply of frozen veggies and meat, and it’s even easier.

Buying out of season veggies

When people ask me what is the single most important thing for being healthier I say, “Eat more vegetables.” Cooking is actually a Supporting Habit to make eating Real Food easier.

Usually this is when people decide I’m crazy and tune out my advice. The reason? Most people have only ever tasted mushy, flavorless, out of season vegetables that even Thomas Keller couldn’t save.

This was my experience growing up in the suburbs of Southern California. Vegetables, and most fruits, from our local chain grocer were pretty gross and all around uninspiring. I now know that this is because they were out of season and grown on industrial farms that optimize for appearance and transportability, not taste.

Discovering seasonal vegetables literally changed my life. It got me to start cooking, helped me stop dieting, and inspired me to start a website called Summer Tomato.

Now that I’m in New York it’s a lot harder to find delicious veggies than it was in SF, but I’m doing it. Because without them I don’t want to cook and the pizza around the corner is amazing. That’s a bad combo.

It’s worth spending extra time and money to find good produce if you want to have any chance of actually eating it.

Ignoring your dirty kitchen

It’s not easy to admit, but how many times have you decided not to cook just because the kitchen was a mess? For me it’s more than I can count, and certainly more than I care to think about.

Mustering up the desire to cook after a long day is hard enough without having another huge, unpleasant task in front of you that needs to be taken care of first. And chances are nobody in your household is any more excited to do it than you are.

If you aren’t careful, a messy kitchen can become the unconscious reason for days and days of unhealthy food choices.

That means that cleaning the kitchen is one of those things that you need to make yourself (or someone) do before it’s time to cook again. For me this has meant learning to clean as I cook, so that by the time the meal is over there are only a few remaining dishes to clear and the task isn’t so daunting. It gets done the same night, and the next day I’m rested and ready to start again.


The mantra “eat less and move more” is touted as the end-all-be-all for getting healthy and losing weight. I believed it for years, because after all a calorie is a calorie, right?

It doesn’t matter, because it doesn’t work.

While both exercise and good food choices are important for being healthy, they aren’t individual choices that you can simply decide to act on. There are dozens of subconscious reasons you have for making the food choices you do (see the five points above). One we haven’t mentioned yet is being really hungry, which is what happens when your body needs fuel.

The most shocking experience I had after running my first marathon was the fact that it caused me to gain 5 lbs. Why? Because I was running 30-40 miles per week and was always hungry. I would eat massive portions of calorie-dense food just to feel satiated. I was in pretty good shape, but not nearly as healthy as I am now.

Unless you’re training to compete at a serious level, there’s no good reason to push yourself to the extremes in exercise. Being active (not sedentary) is enough for good health. And if you’re doing it for pleasure instead of punishment, you won’t use it as an excuse to “reward” yourself with a super burrito.

What Supporting Habits are you missing that are keeping you from being healthy?

Originally published August 11, 2015.

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38 Responses to “Six Surprising Habits That Stop You From Healthy Eating”

  1. rutabeagle says:

    Having kids is LESS challenging to your healthstyle than moving to a new city? That’s ludicrous.

    • Darya Rose says:

      My thinking was that at least you know where the good grocery stores are already. Getting enough sleep is a different story ;p

      • That’s the problem with starting article with controversial stmt. Perfectly good set of points may get sidetracked …

        BTW, from personal experience, sometimes having a kid makes it easier to form healthy habits. Of course not in the first few months when you’re barely trying to not go crazy.

    • Carol says:

      I am the mother of four boys, and honestly, my healthstyle has never been better. I can think of two reasons for this. First, I know that how and what and where we eat is forming my boys’ first set of habits, and I want them to be good ones! To me, good parenting includes being a good example in my food choices, and teaching them to eat and cook mindfully. Second, I am much more motivated to cook at home, and to learn to make dinners that are tasty and appealing. Eating at home is always a win because it is so much cheaper and healthier. So, I guess my vote is that moving to a new city would be way worse on my habits! Great article, Darya!

      • Anna says:

        Absolutely true for me as well. I am so careful about what the kids eat, and I need to set that example as well.

      • Jessica says:

        I completely agree! When the little one went to spend the summer with his mom our cooking/eating habits went right out the window! It was like we were on vacation too. I am kind of glad school is starting and we can get back to our stable schedule.

    • Remember, that first sentence referred to “building habits”, and many people already have their eating/grocery buying habits in place when they begin their families. Of course, these may then evolve over time. Having moved several times, I know how much the availability of foods and the quality of the stores affected the choices we made. For example, while living in North Carolina, the ease of finding fresh seafood was wonderful and now sorely missed in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

      I have a new blog where I muse on my writing and quest for publication, along with topics related to gardening, cooking and the like. Please check it out and enter the contest for an Amazon gift card while you’re there that could help you out in purchasing the book, “Foodist”! Join me at [link removed]

      • Sorry about that! I should have said that my blog is called “Platform Number 4” and can be accessed by clicking on my name.

      • Caitlyn says:

        Are you kidding? I MISS the fish from Michigan! We moved to Arizona, and can GET the kind of fish (my dad is always asking me if I can get lake perch anywhere) here that you can get in MI. I know it’s cold up there, but you’re in a place where there is a LOT of options when it comes to fish and game! I can only eat so much pre-packaged chicken, salmon and sable. *laugh*

        Here’s a question for everyone: How to you conquer the issue of having HAD good healthstyle, and cooking nightly, then suddenly you’re waylaid with and illness, and just making a bowl of oatmeal (Instant, not the good stuff) kicks your butt! How are you supposed to deal with that? I’m tired of fast food! Heck, I’m tired of restaurants.

        Desperate in the desert.

    • Kali21 says:

      I absolutely agree with rutabeagle…
      Avoiding the grocery (i.e. being too busy or exhausted to shop) and not getting enough sleep are the side effects of having a new baby, or young children. Actually most of the things on the list, except over exercising (and similar to exercise – breastfeeding & needing a bit more fuel), get put on the back burner when you’re focusing on a new baby and/or young children. That doesn’t mean a person WILL neglect nutrition!

      On the flip side, if it’s not exhaustion, and you have lousy cleaning habits, chances are more likely eating habits aren’t that great either.

      We have 4 children, and I hate talking about a “stocked pantry”. I have to know exactly what I have, and plan meals. SO many people try to have a “well stocked pantry”, and in turn having too much on hand is a problem. They never know exactly what they have. Planning a nutritious meal rotation, and having what you need to prepare for a week (or two – if you’re really organized) is great, but some people don’t go through what they already have, and end up tossing food. That’s just wasteful, and wearing because of the money down the drain.

      During the months when people can buy local fruits and vegetables – great! But not everyone lives in a locale where fresH things are available year round. And don’t even tell me the ideal is growing my own! Yeah, right – and baking fresh bread, sewing all of our clothes, hanging our laundry outside to dry, taking care of our 4 children, and … Oh yeah, I’m supposed to be a working mom too!

      It’s a FACT that flash frozen vegetables are more nutritious than store bought. We’ve come a long way baby! When you buy store bought, non-local, between the time picked, transit time, local delivery to various stores, you have vegetables that have lost a LOT of their nutritional value. Flash frozen vegetables are frozen the day they’re picked, or the day after, and lose no nutrient value.

  2. Kerstin says:

    One of your posts on making cooking your no. 1 habit got me started on looking at my habits within the context of needing to lose weight (lots, I carry around 80+ extra ponds). So this is another very timely post, thank you!

    I moved to different cities and continents on an almost yearly basis for the last ten years so perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised that any previous weight loss efforts never quite got off the ground. Our last relocation (from the UK to the Pacific Northwest) happened in January and it is only now that I am beginning to feel somewhat settled again and re-focus on my health goals.

    All the points you make in this post are close to home. I hate grocery shopping but found a lovely locally owned “Wholefoods” style store nearby, it is beautiful and calming, not so big and offers lots of local and seasonal produce. I love shopping there and that’s made a big difference.

    The other one that resonates is the clean kitchen. I’ve gotten into the habit of making sure it’s all cleaned up at night and even unload the dishwasher before going to bed so that I have a fresh kitchen to start with in the morning. It really helps.

    Sleep – oh well, not so easy when you’re dealing with sleep apnea and menopause but I finally gave in and got a c-pap and eating better is also helping. Can’t do much about the hot flashes but my husband just commented that they should help me burn calories as they expend energy! Sounds good to me 🙂

    I really like your blog, you always have good tips and make excellent points. Thank you!

  3. Meagan says:

    So true! I’ve always been obsessed with a clean kitchen, so I remember picking up a lot of slack when I had roommates.

    I am also a big advocate for a well-stocked pantry. I get that from my mother. I like it for three reasons: (1) I always think that even in the worst case scenario I can make a hearty soup, pasta dish, or hummus. (2) It also helps with my creativity in the kitchen – I have lots of random stuff on hand (spice blends, beans) so I can always be innovative. (3) Recipes I find are less intimidating! It is hard for me to read a recipe and decide ‘yes I want to make that’ if I notice I don’t have more than half of the ingredients. Usually I’m missing a couple (no biggie), but missing lots just make the recipe sound more expensive and tedious than delicious. For this reason, the bulk store is my best friend.

  4. Robert Nason says:

    As someone still trying to learn how to eat healthy, your website is invaluable. I learned about it through, and I’ll be returning to your blog more and more in the months ahead. You not only have a fascinating mind, but you study the mind as well. Most impressive!

    • Darya Rose says:

      Hey thanks! Please let me know how else I can help you.

      • Robert Nason says:

        Thanks! I’m trying to square the nutritional circle by developing a diet that accomodates the fact that I’m lactose intolerant and now beings told by my doctor to give up coffee, tea, wine, citrus fruits, onions, chocolate, tomato sauce, fried and fatty foods. At the same time, my best friend sweats by the Atkins Diet and tells me to avoid carbs. And my fath
        er keeps urging me to stop putting salt in my food and lay off sugar. Meanwhile vegan friends on Facebook insist I give up meat and all food derived from animals. I feel like shouting, “What do you want me to eat — SEAWEED?” (I’ve had it. Not a fan.)

    • Darya Rose says:

      In that case you will probably LOVE my book Foodist. It explains exactly why all those people are full of it and you have to figure out your own path. This article will give you an idea of what I mean:

      • Robert Nason says:

        Thanks for being honest enough to say the three words most experts never dare to utter: “We don’t know.” As you wrote, science is still in its infancy when it comes to nutrition (and much else), but there are millions of people who demand simple, authoritative answers NOW. And naturally one size doesn’t fit all in nutrition, any more than in an individual’s clothing, emotional and intellectual needs, and choice of career, mate, and residence. I’m still trying to develop a diet that suits my own individual needs, beyond just taste and convenience, which have ruled my appetite up till now. I look gorward to reading Foodist.

  5. Sue says:

    Thanks for this blog. The question at the end got me thinking and I can definitely say that an unstocked pantry and buying food as I need it instead of having it in the fridge makes my eating habits suspect.

    What Supporting Habits are you missing that are keeping you from being healthy? What other insight can I glean from this powerful question: I no longer have an enthusiasm for food. I lost it somewhere in the last three years. I used to be a passionate salad maker and vegetable cook, but it all went out the window with trying to get on the banting bandwagon and the gluten free band wagon and now I am just tired of food and bored of motivating my choices in conversation with others (alllllll the time). So I now eat everything and that’s my position. And I enthusiastically celebrate chocolate and coffee but have forgotten how to enjoy fresh raw salad and veg. Here’s hoping that with my move to a beachside village and summer on the way (in Cape Town, South Africa) I will be inspired to shop organic, eat organic and fall in love with (real)food again.

    • Hi Sue, I was going to comment, then saw yours. It’s amazing how obsessed people get with the diet labels like vegan, gluten free, paleo??? I’m sorry to hear that you’ve lost your passion for fresh fruits & veg, but perhaps take a trip to a farmers market? That really gets me excited. I live in New Orleans and it is excruciatingly hot right now, and very few plants even grow. Even though I’m (mostly) vegan, I hesitate to use the label, because I don’t want to feel guilty if I eat cake that has an egg in it. And I use honey. Best of luck with your move!

    • Mark says:

      Hey Sue, knew you were from SA with the “banting” comment 😉

      Sad to read your comment though and that food has become such a mission for you. What if you stopped thinking about what others wanted, and rather about your needs and desires? How could you rekindle the joy you had of summer salads and vegetable cooking? (If of course you wanted that again?)

      I KNOW food can help you regain your health and lust for life if you eat what works for YOU. 🙂

      I hope you find your way…

      From a fellow Capetonian 😉

  6. Hi Darya,

    Great article. I like the point about over-exercising. It definitely can make us more likely to overindulge. I’ve also found that when I get over-zealous with yoga and doing hard postures, my body wants to bulk up. I think this is an effect of stress and wear and tear on the body.

  7. I love this article because when i first found Summer Tomato I embraced all the concepts heartily, but did get frustrated sometimes,because as a Floridian and New Yorker, I didn’t have the access to some of the great California fresh fruit and veggie items because of climate and growing season challenges in my area. However, with a little work and creativity, I did my best with what was available and found that sometimes the right grocer could also provide good options, even if they weren’t ALL grown locally.
    I love the honestly that Darya expresses, noting that it can be daunting sometimes, but also that it can be done! Even our healthstyle Guru doesn’t say its always easy and I love that about her! We all have times in our life where we need to adjust and find ways to stick with the path, even with little swerves that can be thrown at us. They key is not to give up before we figure it out, even with trial and error, and sometimes little by little!

  8. Varun Arora says:

    Great Article when i first time saw your website i thought its all about Tomato. But i was wrong you write all kind of article related to health’s. Ant these 6 tips are very helpful we should have to keep in mind all these tips without skipping any step.

  9. There are some very valid points in this article. I definitely make better choices when I have a stocked kitchen. I appreciate the ideas.

  10. Wheels says:

    PLEASE help! Recently (well, relative term, that word: Recent) I’ve gone from being a competitive Irish Dance to being very ill. Even cooking simple food like a can of green beans sometimes waylays me.

    How can I eat healthily when just trying to write out a menu for a week means I need a nap? *laugh* Not all the time, but some days are better than others. My husband HATES to cook.

    Also, I love a good ol’ fashion simple meal of chicken and some veggies, I will go mad if I have to eat it every day. However, he doesn’t eat fish. I love fish. We try to keep beef to once a week. Lately he’s been doing fast food a lot. I’m getting worried.

    These are issues that seem simple, but aren’t. I don’t want to cause him any more stress! He works full time, then takes me to doctor after doctor, or maybe a Farmer’s Market for my day out. 😀 (Then the veggies go bad if I’m too tired to cook them, and he hates to cook. See the problem?)

    How can I overcome these problems? I really want to eat healthily, but lately I’m just not eating (partially due to nausea because of new meds) rather than cause my husband more stress.

    Any suggestions? I can’t do the whole “Prepare it all on Sunday” because I’d be good for about 30 minutes, which, due to my being in a wheelchair, is a lot slower than most. I can’t just chop veggies like everyone else. I have to do them in my lap, because my counters in my new house are too high.

    The worst part is this: I’m NOT complainer. I’ve used the last couple or so years as a test for this, and I’ve been trying it all. ANYTHING that anyone can suggest would be GREAT!

    THANK YOU!!!
    Wheels Up

    • Darya Rose says:

      Is it unreasonable to hire some help until you’re feeling better? Seems like a worthy investment.

      • Lisa M says:

        Or ask some friends. People want to help, they just don’t know how. Ask a friend to be your “prepare it all on Sunday” (or whatever day s/he is free) person.

    • Judith says:

      Would it be helpful to subscribe to one of the food delivery services like Blue Apron? I don’t know much about them other than online reviews, but one of them must have simple enough recipes that even your husband could prepare. Or if the ingredients are precut, maybe you could manage?

      What about using online ordering from a local grocery to get a veggie platter and some portioned chicken breasts every few days? I know the effort involved in figuring that out may be too much for you right now, but perhaps a friend could help do the research and even place orders for you?

      I feel your pain – having been there for a much shorter time than you have though. Healthy food has to be part of your healing process, and any way to get that done is fair game. Would your husband go pick up meds for you? Then maybe he could pick up partially prepped meals at a high quality grocery store and heat them up? Hang in there!

  11. cynthia says:

    i happened onto this from a friends facebook page. everyone talks about making things a “habit” and how long it takes to make a habit, but not everyone explains “how” to make a habit. i think your idea about Supporting Habits and Home Core Habits is brilliant : )) and can be applied to many so many areas of our lives.

  12. Dee says:

    What a great list of supporting habits Darya! There is so many habits we should have, I thought this was going to add to my problem! Instead I realised I’m pretty good with most of the habits you mentioned except getting enough sleep. I definitely have to work on that one!

  13. Marion G says:

    There are some things which I have inculcated in my life to prevent eating unhealthily. I always make sure to have a grocery list before I head to the grocery store. Before that, I used to add a lot of junk food in my cart….so planning ahead is the key. I usually use the notepad app on my Smartphone for this purpose.

  14. Wendy Laubach says:

    People hate to go to the grocery store? I don’t understand that: I love going and would go twice a day happily, especially if we had a great one here with wonderful produce. One of my favorite things to do when we drive into a nearby big city is to hit a specialty grocery store.

  15. Cool.

    Never thought of the obvious things like today. I love to cook occasionally. However I won’t be bothered to do that if I don’t have the supplies.

    Nice reminder Darya. Loved it. Stay Awesome.

  16. A says:

    These articles are all well written & informative however will there ever be new content published? It seems the same articles are being recycled again & again & there hasn’t been anything new for a long time. Since I have already read through the website before I would like to see new articles please.

  17. Ethel Huizar says:

    That is one interesting way of looking at things!! You’re right, I think all of us have made at least one of these mistakes. I would have never thought of them like this, but there is definitely truth in your words.

  18. Mark says:

    Not sleeping enough is definitely why I was so stressed out and not eating regularly couple months back. I remember I was eating after 10 p.m. I am in a much better place now, I have dropped it down to 5 p.m. hopefully I can push it to 4 p.m. next.

    I am so busy so that’s the reason why I tend to eat late at times 🙂

  19. Rachel Carr says:

    It’s a good suggestion to analyze where we’re falling short from our goals and change specific supporting habits accordingly! Everyone has their own particular habits that can sabotage success, and looking at our patterns objectively is a great exercise! Thanks!
    Oh, and I found your website via ZTL! Food it’s looks like a great program and your copy is really well written!

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