Five Simple Strategies for Healthy Eating

pexels-photo-674574.jpegConfused 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 vegetablespexels-photo-57556.jpeg 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.

 

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Five Easy Strategies for Better Sleep

pexels-photo-57686Last week I talked about the relationship between sleep and weight, but sleep doesn’t just impact weight. Sleep affects our thinking, our efforts to perform, our health, our memory, and even our ability to be happy. Studies suggest that adults should strive to spend seven to nine hours between the sheets each night.

The simple take-away? Sleep is important. Unfortunately, sleep is, at times, elusive; even when we have the best intentions. Here are five easy strategies for better sleep you can implement tonight.

Routine. Sounds boring, but going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, even on weekends, has benefit. It gets us back in touch with our circadian rhythm, or our natural body clock. If we are used to going to bed at 10:00 p.m. our body will let us know when it is 10:00 p.m., and if we stay up late one night, our body will account for that lost sleep with a well-placed yawn or two at 9:00 p.m. the next night.

Relax. Chilling out an hour or two before bedtime helps encourage a restful night. But how? It’s actually quite easy: limit your screen time and spend the first few minutes in bed actively relaxing the body and mind. For the later, meditation and deep-breathing promote rest. Give it a try: simply close your eyes, relax the jaw and draw attention to your breath – both the inhale and the exhale. Take a slow, deep, smooth breath in and let it go with an exhale that is equally long and slow. Repeat this five to 10 times.

Exercise. Vigorous exercise during the day helps in the fight against sleepless nights. Because working out raises body temperature, revs up metabolism and stimulates the release of hormones (such as our feel-good hormones Endorphins and Dopamine), we feel tired. But the key is scheduling your work out far enough in advance of bedtime so these benefits aren’t disruptive.

Light. Get outside and into the light. Why? Exposure to sunlight boosts natural Melatonin production, the hormone that regulates sleep. Consider enjoying your morning cup o‘Joe on the front porch or taking a walk at lunch or incorporating a mid-day stroll around the office building to replace that trip to the candy machine.

Cool & Dark. Ensure your bedroom is cool and dark. Cooler because as body temperature drops it becomes easier to dose off and dark because Melatonin secretion, which is sensitive to light, is not interrupted. In fact, light (even the low light emitted from cell phones, digital clocks and TVs) can stunt production of Melatonin and signal the body to wake up. Whereas darkness increases the release of Melatonin, which urges the body to rest.

The Relationship between Sleep and Weight

Sleep imageHave you ever heard that sleep affects weight? It’s true; studies show lack of sleep can lead to weight gain. But how?

While not getting enough sleep may cause us to feel too tired to exercise or inspire high-calorie, pick-me-up snacking, like lattes, potato chips and candy, there is another reason why being groggy causes weight gain. It’s our hormones.

In simple terms, lack of adequate sleep influences how hormones perform, like leptin, the hormone responsible for signaling fullness. When we don’t get enough sleep, leptin levels fall; this cues our brain to send out messages to eat more even if we just finished eating a large meal. We can feel forever hungry when we are sleep deprived and that false hunger will likely cause us to fill that void by reaching for high-calorie, nutrient-deficient foods.

To make matters worse, too little sleep spikes the level of cortisol, a stress hormone, and interferes with how the body responds to insulin. Higher levels of cortisol cause the body to conserve energy, which tricks it into hanging on to fat. Similarly, insulin–the hormone that transforms certain foods into energy–doesn’t work properly; prompting more of it than is necessary. This results in the body choosing to store more fat. Not good news when we consider we tend to eat more when we are sleep deprived.

The bottom line: Lack of sufficient sleep can derail an otherwise perfect diet and exercise program. Next week I’ll share simple strategies to make getting seven to nine hours of sleep a night a priority and easy to attain.