Stay on Track: How to make healthy choices even when it is difficult

Photo of Shem-shem Pablo

By Liz Scala

I received a question from a nurse; which I love because then I can really write articles answer pertinent questions.  He wrote how as a busy nurse with a high stress job he finds it hard to stay on track with eating healthy.  He shared with me “When I am tired or stressed I am most likely to reach for an unhealthy food item, especially if it is right there in front of me.  There is this “I deserve it” mentality because I worked overtime, on my on-call, and had a hard day with few breaks so I deserve this pint of ice cream”.  Then he continued on writing how he knew healthier choices are still necessary “Even if we don’t see an instant result of the ice cream or cookies, or no exercise, or poor sleep we still need to think of the longer term outcomes of these choices. But how?”

Great question!  In the past, I have battled with this very issue.  I have seen countless nurses struggle with the same problem.  It is challenging, but achievable!  It is not about will-power or “being strong” or “fighting the urge” to make unhealthy choices.  If we approach this predicament with mind over matter; we are not going to win.  You cannot rely on your mind to make healthy choices, especially when they are based on feelings.

However, choosing healthy options is doable, if you really want it.  That is the key.  You have to want the healthy lifestyle.  No one can make you do it.  No one can tell you what you have to do.  And you cannot come from a place of “Well I should be or I know I have to…”  You must want to choose health. 

Here are my tips for making the healthy choice even when it is difficult:

  • Change Your Habits:  You can actually change a craving. If you get into a routine of eating healthy your taste buds change.  Your body will less often crave bad things and start to desire fresh vegetables or fruit.  I know from experience.  I can honestly say when dinner rolls around I am craving tomatoes, spinach, or squash.  The more you eat healthy the more your body tells you it wants healthy foods.


  • Feelings Are Not Thoughts (And Do Not Have to Become Actions):  Just because you feel you had a bad day or you feel like having a whole pint of ice cream does not mean you have to act on it.  Realize this feeling of stress.  Acknowledge this thought of ice cream desire.  Take a deep breath.  Let it go.  And move on.


  • Consequences Matter:  What we do today will haunt us in our future.  No matter how small, each bad food choice ads up over time.  So if you constantly reach for salty snacks to relieve stress you may develop blood pressure issues down the line. 


  • Decrease Choices:  Do not have bad snacks around!  I repeat, do not have bad snacks in the home!  If you cannot find them; you are less likely to give in.  And if you know where they are stored at work; avoid that area like the plague!


  • Get a Buddy:  It is helpful to have a healthy resource.  If you know another co-worker is mindful of how they eat; share with them your experiences.  Talk about how bad days and stress lead to negative eating.  Let someone know so they can help you when you are feeling weak and vulnerable.


  • Drink more water!:  This is my answer to everything.  But really, staying hydrated will keep you focused and less stressed throughout your day.  Keeping your water intake high can make you feel more full which will crowd out the need for unhealthy snacks.


  • Moderation:  O.K., so the whole article is about how to avoid bad snacks, but if you must eat them (and you will) do so in moderation.  If you pass a candy jar and feel you’ve been doing well it is alright to take one piece; I do!  Just take a portioned amount and stick to it.  Do not let one piece turn into one piece every hour.  Set a goal for how much you allow yourself to have and stick to it.


Editor’s Note: Liz Scala writes about Health and Wellness twice a month for AMSDaily. You can visit her newly designed blog at Living Sublime Wellness to read more on these topics.  Subscribe to her website to get your free daily meditation audio and a journal gift!