Eating a balanced diet and staying in good shape has become such a problem in our society, but if you follow some easy, healthy eating guidelines, it doesn’t have to be a complicated chore.

Fast food, sugary drinks, and salty snacks are some of the worst offenders of healthy eating in our culture. They’re convenient, tasty, and easy to consume. But they also fail to fill you up and provide you with the proper nutrition your body needs.

I’ve long had a problem with eating enough vegetables in my diet. And even though I enjoy fruit, I can’t ever seem to incorporate enough into my daily meals. But healthy eating goes beyond just having enough fruits and vegetables. A balanced diet is something they taught you in grade school, back when life was much simpler than when you became an adult and the real world grabbed a hold of you. Now, our society is constantly rushing and we pay little attention to what we put in our bodies.

So, what healthy eating guidelines can we follow to keep us in good health?

  1. Drink more water
    Drinking water is one of the easiest, most basic guidelines you can follow for good health, and yet it’s one of our biggest problems. Whether we fill our bodies with coffee, soda, juice or other sugary drinks, or we just neglect to keep some water with us throughout the day, we’re not consuming enough water. I like to keep a 24-ounce water bottle with me and make sure I refill it four times a day. Also, try drinking a full glass of water before you eat. It’ll fill you up and help stop you from overeating.
  2. Power of protein
    When I feel my belt getting a little tighter around the waist, the first idea that comes to mind is focusing on the power of protein. Protein is a good source for building muscle, but it also fills you up much quicker than fats and carbs. Whereas too many carbs can make you feel sluggish, eating the right amount of protein can leave you feeling satisfied and still have energy, all the while stopping you from stuffing yourself. Eat a protein bar for a mid-afternoon snack and you’ll notice its effects for a few hours.
  3. Cut down carbs
    One of the most popular methods of dieting and improving your overall health is to limit your carbohydrate intake. Too many carbs in your diet leave your body overwhelmed and unable to burn them off, and then your body stores it as fat. You don’t have to go all gung-ho and completely cut out carbs — in fact, you’re destined to fail that way as you likely will be left cranky and looking for the first candy bar you can get your hands on. But simply switching out a few carb-heavy foods in your diet for some lighter ones will certainly help.
  4. Stop the snacking
    Snacking is one of the biggest problems we face because most of us don’t snack on healthy foods. What happens is we think we feel hungry and want some kind of comfort food to fill our bellies, but then we wind up eating way more of that snack than we should and we “spoil our appetite.” Sometimes when we snack, we take in as many — if not more — calories as a normal meal, and yet we still fully eat our next meal. If you get hungry in between meals, try drinking a glass of water instead. Or, if you absolutely must have a snack, grab one of those 100-calorie packs and eat it very slowly.
  5. Pay attention to portion sizes
    Ask any expert why America has an obesity problem, and portion sizes would be one of the top responses you get. We probably eat one and a half to two times the portion sizes we should at any given meal. Our bodies cannot handle the extra food and it doesn’t burn it off, especially if we live a sedentary lifestyle. You’ve probably heard this tip before, but you should really heed its advice: eat off smaller plates and don’t go back for seconds.
  6. Be in tune with your body
    Much of our eating problems could be solved by paying more attention to our bodies. We eat out of boredom, we eat when we’re sad or depressed, and we eat because it tastes good. All of these are bad ideas. Food should not be a hobby; instead, it should be treated like gasoline for our cars. We mostly fill up our cars when we’re on empty, right? And if we do happen to fill up before we’re empty, we don’t pour a full tank in, right? Because adding a full tank’s worth when we already have half a tank would cause an overflow. Similarly, eating too much when we’re not really “on empty” causes storage of fat. Often when we think we have hunger pangs, it’s really just our mind playing tricks on us.
  7. Eat slower and chew more thoroughly
    Eating too fast has always been one of my biggest problems in the food arena. I see food on my plate and I just want to scarf it down and leave the dinner table. But when you eat too fast, not only are you susceptible to overeating, but your body doesn’t have time to digest or process it all. And swallowing food that hasn’t been thoroughly chewed can lead to digestive disorders. Eat slower and I promise you that you will feel fuller and likely will eat less.
  8. Make breakfast the most important meal of the day
    Everybody knows the common expression that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Do you know why they say that? Because it’s true. Not only will a hearty breakfast give your brain a burst to start the day right, but it’s also been said that our metabolism slows down during the day. Translation: we should eat our biggest meal in the morning and our smallest in the evening, but we often do the opposite of that and save the big meal for dinner. Then we overeat and go to bed with full stomachs that we cannot digest.
  9. Have a later lunch
    This one is a personal favorite of mine. I probably eat lunch later than most people do. If you eat a big enough breakfast, you can probably make it until one or two o’clock in the afternoon for lunch. And by eating a late lunch, you’re not as hungry for dinner, thus are less likely to overeat at dinner.
  10. Don’t eat within three hours of bedtime
    As previously mentioned, if our metabolism does indeed slow down as the day wears on, eating something late and going to bed with a full belly is just asking for trouble. Digestion becomes a difficult task and you’ll wake up feeling sluggish and in worse shape than the night before. Conversely, not eating three hours before bedtime will leave you feeling hungry, yet slimmer in the morning. Try eating your last bit of food three hours before bedtime, and make sure it’s enough food that will eliminate any temptation for a late-night snack.
  11. Eat socially
    As I noted earlier, eating slower is a crucial guideline to healthy eating. One way to slow down is to eat with others, rather than by yourself. If you eat alone, there’s no incentive to stop shoveling food in your mouth. But when others are around, not only will you want to exhibit good manners and not look like a pig, but you’ll also stop to talk in between bites. (Just don’t talk with your mouth full … please.)
  12. Keep track of your foods
    For the more diligent out there, getting in the habit of recording what you eat will help you realize just how many calories you are consuming and you can better plan and budget your food intake throughout the day. In the old days, you had to put pen to paper and record a journal, which obviously was a tedious chore and not very convenient. But we live in a digital world and you can download an app to your smartphone to help you keep track of what you eat. I use MyFitnessPal, which has an easy scanning device to scan barcodes and it gives you the nutritional facts of different foods, making it easy to log your running total.