Healthy eating

Healthy eating starts with healthy habits


We all have established eating habits. These patterns have been developed over many years of our life – often starting during our youth and adolescent years and now carried into adulthood. Whether they’re good habits (I drink water throughout the day) or bad ones (I have a sugary dessert after every meal), it’s never too late to start making improvements and adopting new approaches to nutrition.


So, why are habits so important?


According to our latest research published by Vitality and the London School of Economics, habits are one of the most important elements to better health and longevity. The research, called the Vitality Habit Index, looks at the role that habits play in our life.


From a dataset of half a million Vitality members – over 7 years – the Index suggests that habits hold the key to achieving positive health outcomes. This is because it’s only when an action moves from a once-off behaviour to a repeated-habit that your health and wellbeing truly benefit.


Challenge change


That said, no one likes change. This is because of a behavioural bias called the Status Quo bias: we prefer things to stay the same so that we don’t have to use extra energy on making new decisions or taking new actions. As humans, we tend to stick with what we’ve always done and have always known – our existing habits.


According to the Vitality Habit Index researchers, when it comes to a goal such as eating healthier food, making a sudden or radical change isn’t a good idea. This is because it’s unlikely you’ll be able to sustain this change, so it will stay a once-off behaviour. Instead, improving your eating habits requires a more thoughtful approach. One of the first things to do, the report suggests, is to identify your common triggers for a bad habit. In the context of nutrition, take the example of overeating.


Some triggers that result in overeating could include:

  • Coming home after work without a set plan for dinner.
  • Driving past a tempting fast-food drive-through on your way home.
  • Opening your fridge or pantry and only seeing unhealthy snacks.
  • Sitting at home after work or on weekends watching TV.
  • Browsing food delivery apps after a stressful meeting at work.

Next, ask yourself:

  • Is there anything I can do to avoid the trigger?
  • For things I can’t avoid, can I do something differently that would be healthier?


“The trick is to be patient with yourself,” says Katie Tryon, Director of Health Strategy at Vitality UK. “Good habits take some time to establish – just as bad ones take time to break down. Going ‘cold turkey’ or subscribing to extreme or fad diets won’t be sustainable for very long. The key part of a habit is that you repeat it often enough until it becomes easy – almost effortless – to consistently do”.


As part of the Vitality Habit Index, researchers suggest that we can make our habits stick – like habits for healthier eating – through a process called ‘habit laddering’:


✓ Set a goal or target: check where you are at currently with your eating patterns and understand the health benefits to changing your diet.

✓ Start small: choose an activity that is easy and practical to do, often, that brings you closer to achieving your goal.

✓ Repeat this, and then intensify: keep up the activity and only increase the intensity once the action has been repeated for between 4 and 6 weeks.

TOP TIP: Healthy eating can still be delicious, tasty eating. Try these Vitality dessert recipes and see for yourself: Roasted Pineapples with Ginger & Yoghurt or our Vitality Chocolate Tart with Nut Crust.

To find out more about building and sustaining healthier nutrition habits for a longer, healthier life, read the full Vitality Habit Index .


Happy (healthy) eating!

Related insights