Stop Wasting Your Time on These “Healthy Eating” Habits

Stop Wasting Your Time on These “Healthy Eating” Habits

When I was just starting out as a project manager, one of the most impactful things I learned—both to be more effective in my job and to reduce my own stress—was the distinction between high-leverage and low-leverage tasks.

A high-leverage task is one in which the input yields a disproportionately large output, a task with a “big bang for the buck,” as they say. (If you’ve heard of the 80/20 rule, the principle is the same — small input, large output.)

This idea tends to come up a lot in the workplace, where we are primed to focus on productivity, ROI, and maximization and efficiency.

But it can also be applied to healthy eating—if you’re trying to improve your eating habits, incorporating more veggies into your diet will get you much farther than finding, say, naturally-flavored alternatives to your favorite artificially-flavored candies.

In my opinion, some of the most high-leverage healthy eating-related efforts are:

  1. Learning to cook: take a class or watch a video (or just experiment on your own), and empower yourself to cook healthy meals for yourself and others for the rest of your life.
  2. Drinking water: sooo many health issues, from headaches to irritability to food cravings, are the result of dehydration.
  3. Minimizing consumption of processed food: there is virtually universal agreement that eating too much processed food negatively impacts health.
  4. Eating more fruits and vegetables: on the flip side, there is virtually universal agreement that eating fruits and veggies positively impacts health, whether you’re looking to lose weight, prevent disease, reduce pain, improve your mood, increase your energy, or the like.

This is in contrast to things like:

  1. Finding meals and snacks with the “optimal” ratio of carbohydrates / protein / fat: useful perhaps if you’re targeting 6% body fat, but otherwise unnecessary.
  2. Counting every calorie consumed: helpful as a short-term strategy for increasing awareness and monitoring eating habits, but generally a low-leverage burden in the long run.
  3. Keeping up with and deciphering food label wording: the fewer processed foods you eat, the less you have to deal with always-changing, purposefully misleading food labels.
  4. Spending hours reading nutrition research papers: the fundamentals (more unprocessed foods, especially fruits and veggies) aren’t going to change, so focus on that first.

Importantly, the “leverage” of a given effort is dependent on what your goals are and where you’re at in your journey; a low-leverage task for me might be high-leverage for someone else, and a low-leverage task for me today might be high-leverage in the future.

The key is to identify what initiatives are high-leverage for you, at this moment in time, according to your goals.

This isn’t to say that low-leverage tasks don’t have their place. Sometimes, we want to go “all in,” not just “most of the way.”

But with millions of things to tinker with in the healthy eating space, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and disillusioned. Identifying your high-leverage efforts can be a powerful way to step out of the overwhelm and avoid burnout, while ensuring you’re making measurable progress towards a happier, healthier you.

Have you been focusing on low-leverage healthy eating habits? What is one high-leverage effort you could invest in instead?