Let’s be honest: It takes a lot of time and thought to eat healthy — especially for those of us who are just starting or figuring out our way through high school. Athletics and academics dominate most of our time, and the last thing I ever wanted to worry about was what I was eating for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It is so much easier to grab anything, disregarding ingredients or nutrient density.

As teenagers, now is probably one of the first times we are able to have some sort of responsibility with our diets. And if you don’t know what you should eat, it’s difficult to know where to start. In fact, two-thirds of adolescents don’t have the knowledge they need to make the proper food choices. And it's OK if you're one of them. I used to struggle, too.

One of the hardest challenges about eating healthier comes down to access. Think about how easy it is to get unhealthy foods. You go to any convenience store, and it’s not like it has rows and rows of fruits and vegetables. No, it’s just junk food. And the same goes for any fast food restaurant. It’s no wonder why more than half of people say the biggest obstacle for eating healthy is the foods that are readily available to them.

Fortunately, with the right mindset, resources, and support, you can take control of your eating habits and find out how a healthier diet can help your life as a teenager be less stressful and more fun.

Running on Empty

For me, the choice to change my diet came from athletics. I wanted to take my running to the next level. Nutrition is a key part of being a successful athlete, as it directly affects your ability and performance.

Eating healthy also doesn’t come with that “crash and burn” that's common with junk food. When you eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, you’re giving your body its preferred sources of fuel, so you’re able to sustain your energy levels for longer. Even if you’re not an athlete, it doesn’t hurt to have a little more energy throughout the day to tackle other projects — and to just feel good.

When you maintain a healthy diet, you’re less likely to skip meals. Studies have found that students who eat the most important meal of the day (breakfast) improve their concentration and problem-solving abilities, which can go a long way toward doing better on an upcoming algebra test.

To help me create a healthy diet, my parents hired a nutritionist who created a set of meal options with specific intakes for my athletic needs. I get it — not everyone will want or be able to hire a nutritionist, but you can still use nutrition-based practices in your own way. According to one Stanford study, having healthy food "rules" can improve the chances that adolescents will make better food choices on their own. With the help of my nutritionist, I was able to put those rules in place, and it helped eating feel like an accomplishment each day.

Another approach to healthier eating is with a service called Instacart, which delivers groceries to your house in about an hour or two. Do some online research about what foods you should eat, fill your cart on the app, and have healthy food delivered right to your door. Also, several nutrition apps can be customized to give reminders and incentives to motivate you to eat better.

3 Ways My Life Has Improved From Healthy Eating Habits

How you go about changing your diet will depend on you, and the results will vary. But there are three areas of my life where I’ve seen improvements because of my healthy diet:

1. Athletics

I originally started eating healthier in order to improve my athletic performance. My goal is to break the 14-year-old national record for the half marathon. And by eating healthier, it’s gotten much easier to get my dietary needs for protein, fiber, carbs, and vegetables. I’m also able to consume just the right amount of calories to fuel my training and get the best results. Although I haven’t broken the record yet, I’ve definitely seen improvements during training and races, so hopefully I’ll achieve my goal come November.

2. Energy

While I knew eating healthier would provide the energy I’d need for training, I didn’t expect it to increase my overall energy level. Before changing my diet, I felt tired from sunrise to sunset and often had trouble focusing. Now, I have more energy than I used to throughout the entire day, helping me concentrate during class, while doing homework, and while taking tests. It’s like I’ve got this boost of energy — and not from coffee. Believe me — I’ve tried the whole coffee thing, and it didn’t work. Nutrition is where it’s at.

3. Attitude

When I was eating unhealthy (you know, lots of sugar, fat, and carbs), I’d actually feel kind of “guilty” after meals, which didn’t give me a positive attitude. But once I started to pay attention to what I was eating, all of that changed. I knew what I was supposed to eat, and when I ate right, that guilt went away. As another benefit, the risk of depression is 25 to 35 percent lower when eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, grains, and fish. And it's worth noting that a better attitude can help you out in all areas of life.

The hardest thing about most journeys is the first step, and that first step toward healthier eating habits could be approaching a school coach, nurse, or health teacher and asking for advice on a healthy eating plan. Or maybe your first step is learning about the Healthy Eating Plate from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. You can also check out the school’s guide: “What Should I Eat?” Any one of these resources can be a great starting point to change your diet for the better. Being a teenager is tough for many reasons, but eating healthy can help you feel more energized and have a better attitude and life.

Author's Bio: 

Kenan Pala is the 14-year-old founder of Kids4Community, a nonprofit that helps kids and their families give back to their communities in meaningful ways. Kenan also founded Kids Tri Hard, a clothing line that provides more affordable clothing options for youth triathletes.

As a result of his passion for entrepreneurship and philanthropy, Kenan was recognized as one of the top 10 youth volunteers in the U.S. by the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. In his free time, Kenan enjoys playing guitar, competing in triathletes, traveling, playing trumpet, and practicing martial arts.