Confused about how to develop healthy eating habits? Feel like you know what nutritious foods are but lack the discipline to consistently eat well? You’re not alone. While nutritious eating seems overwhelming, it’s actually quite simple. Make choices that move you forward in the direction of your goals, whether that’s to shed a few pounds, feel better, or get a good night’s sleep.
Years ago, I carelessly suggested to a slim and fit friend that it must be sooo nice to eat anything and never gain an ounce. I remember the sharp tone in her voice when she firmly corrected me: It “wasn’t easy” she nearly roared. Her figure and fitness were the by-product of making good choices. Every day.
In the face of tasty, nutrient-negative French fries, she chose a nutrient-dense baked potato with a bit of butter. Instead of a burger, she ordered grilled chicken with a side of pesto aioli. She traded an apple for a chocolate candy-bar and ordered oatmeal with crunchy almond butter for breakfast over a raspberry scone. She put a ton of thought into what she ate or didn’t eat; ensuring her daily diet was wholesome, had variety, and matched her energy needs. She almost never wavered and when she did cheat, she savored her diet departure guilt-free before returning to her normal and nutritious eating plan.
Here are five simple strategies I’m fairly certain my friend followed everyday:
Eat breakfast. Here’s the thing, breakfast is important. Aside from breaking your fast from the night before, a solid, nutritious breakfast revs your metabolism helping you burn more calories through the day. Like stoking a fire, breakfast sets you up for digestive efficiency.
Be mindful and enjoy what you eat. What? This is hippy, crazy-talk: Contemplate my food and enjoy what I eat you say? Yes, drawing awareness to the food you are about to shovel into your mouth may help you slow down (less shoveling, more placing), eat less, and enjoy what you’re chewing. In fact, treating each meal as celebration in honor of being good to yourself is an important ingredient to a nutritious diet.
Notice how you feel after you eat. Foods trigger all kinds of feelings in the body, from glorious satiety to a happy energy that lasts for hours, to a belly bloated the size of a grapefruit or gas so smelly it can clear a room. If you think about it, it’s almost as simple as good versus bad: Good foods should make you feel good and bad foods probably make your feel, well, bad.
While this isn’t the easiest strategy, it’s perhaps the most telling. It may take some practice but taking note of how your feel after a meal will help pinpoint foods that are likely not-in-your-nutritious-favor.
For example, are you so tired at 2:00 p.m. every day it takes all you have to pour that afternoon coffee into your mug? If so, your lunch could be the culprit. Do you have a headache the size of a fist at the end of the day? You might rethink your mid-afternoon, fancy-coffee treat. That sugary-habit is likely to blame. If you remember how you felt the last time you consumed a third slice of greasy pepperoni and sausage pizza you will most likely stop at one-slice of that same pizza and replace the other two with a salad (because you know a bunch of greens on your plate guarantees you will feel amazing!).
Avoid fast food and processed food. (Pssst…to all you editor types, I purposely choose to use food twice in the title.) I know you know this, but while fast food is almost always processed, not all processed food is fast.
First, avoid eating fast food. Period.
Then, steer clear of commercially processed foods. Why? Because they are purposefully processed to make feasting easy. Wait, what? Commercially prepared foods, such as ready-to-eat frozen dinners (including the ones with healthy in the packaging title) or cheesy crackers or potato chips or sweets, including reduced-fat cookies, make it easy to feast. And by feast, I mean overeat.
Yes, it is hard to make every meal from scratch, using only wholesome ingredients. But it gets easier with experience. Consider making up meals ahead of time: Crock pots of organic chicken, root vegetables, and spices that simmer for hours and last for days (or are easily frozen for future meals) are great. So is a stir-fry of ground turkey and mushrooms and tomatoes and potatoes served on a bed of fresh spinach, topped with avocado and shredded whole-milk cheddar.
Up your vegetable and fruit intake. The minimum recommended intake of vegetables and fruit are three servings of veggies and two servings of fruit each day. It doesn’t sound like a lot does it? And, I’ll bet you think you got this one, but think again.
To meet this recommendation, you need to eat a lot of veggies and fruits (which becomes super, easy-peasy when you follow number four above). Here are a few examples of what you need to consume to reach the recommended daily goal:
- Fruit: One large banana or eight strawberries and 32 seedless grapes or one cup 100% orange juice. Whoa!
- Veggies: Two cups raw spinach or 12 baby carrots and one medium baked sweet potato or 20 cherry tomatoes and ½ a small yellow squash or one cup chopped red bell pepper. Holy hell!
The good news: Meet the recommended values and you’ll have little room for anything that isn’t packed full of nutrients.
Thanks for reading and check back next week; I plan to discuss why muscle matters.