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It’s been four weeks since you made your New Year’s resolution – are you still on track? If you’re struggling a bit with the reality of the changes you’ve decided to make, read and re-read our previous blogs to remind you of how to set and stick to your goals. Revisiting and revising is part of the journey. Don’t stress if something isn’t going as smoothly as you hoped or working out quite right yet. Just keep going as you figure out what works best for you!
So far we’ve discussed how to set goals that you can actually keep, how to lose weight, and how to workout more. You may have chosen just one of these goals, but often all of these health and fitness resolutions go hand-in-hand. That’s why we’ll finish our series by talking about how to eat healthier to round out the picture. Because as you may already know, what you eat is crucial to getting results.
But what does “eating healthier” really mean?
Thousands of people make resolutions each year to “eat better”, but often have no real definition or understanding of what “healthy” means.
For instance, do you pat yourself on the back when you eat a blueberry breakfast bar from the grocery store? It’s fruit, right? And whole grains? Well, if you look closely at the label, you’ll also see high amounts of sugar, white flour, and preservatives that are damaging to your health. Blueberries in this highly processed, miniscule quantity don’t exactly constitute one serving of fruit for the day. You know what does? Blueberries.
Similarly, fat-free cookies are not a health food; flavored yogurt packed with sugar is not a top choice; salad doused in oily dressing and croutons has lost most it’s nutritional value, and only eating one meal per day is a poor strategy for getting lean.
If this information is surprising to you, then be sure to keep reading to reframe your view of what healthy food truly is so you can make the best choices for a healthy, fit and happy life!
In addition to confusion about what’s healthy and what’s not, these days it’s even more unclear because everyone seems to have a different definition of healthy eating: gluten-free, Paleo diet, vegan, vegetarian, IIFYM, ketogenic, glycemic index, and so on.
To some extent, any of these diets can be good for an individual and their specific health concerns and goals. There is no one perfect way to eat for everyone, because we’re all made differently and have different needs at various stages in life. However, there are general guidelines to get you started on the path to a healthier way of eating, whatever your goal.
Use the following 10 tips to truly eat healthier this year and see your body and life change as a result!
At its most basic level, a healthy diet is one that is nourishing to the body by providing all of the macro and micronutrients that you need: protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, minerals and water. The exact amounts of these nutrients will vary by individual, but you should not omit any of them on a regular basis.
Again, these options may not fit every person’s lifestyle, but a combination of these will supply you with the vitamins and minerals you need (especially from fruits and vegetables), and the major building blocks for your body’s well-being. The most important thing to note is that these options come from natural sources. They do not come from boxes and are not full of various, unrecognizable ingredients. These are the types of foods you want to build your diet around.
One quick and easy change you can make and succeed at immediately is taking a daily multivitamin. Ideally, should get all of your nutrients from food alone, particularly fruits (approximately three servings daily) and vegetables (approximately four servings daily). But if you’re falling (as most of us do), then a multivitamin can supply the missing pieces.
Yes, you want to get in all of the nutrients we’ve discussed so far, but that doesn’t mean eat as much as you want. Even healthy foods need to be eaten in moderate portions. Many people make the mistake of thinking they’re free to eat as much as they want because it’s healthy. But healthy food still has calories and your body only needs a certain amount of them. Always stay mindful when you eat, and stop when you feel satisfied, not when you’re full.
Common portion sizes are:
Protein – about the size of your palm (depending on gender, weight, and fitness goals)
Carbs – about the size of your cupped hand
Fat – about the size of your thumb
Vegetables – about the size of your fist
You’ll notice that sugar is not on the list of nutrients. Refined sugar is a WAY over-consumed food in our society that is a main cause for weight gain (not eating fat, as once thought). There’s no benefit to eating refined sugar, and it is the cause of so many health problems and diseases, weight gain, energy crashes, skin conditions - and it is addictive!
Avoid adding sugar (or artificial sweeteners) to your drinks and foods. Even that “healthy” honey you add to your tea every day could be adding in hundreds of calories that prevent weight loss and spiking your insulin levels, which causes fat storage. Avoid foods containing sugar, saving them for occasional treats. You may already be aware that eating cookies or donuts every day is not good for you, but be sure to look for sugar in unexpected places as well, such as:
With all of these hidden sugars, you probably want to choose sugar-free options instead, right? Not so fast. Just because something is labeled “sugar free” doesn’t mean it’s good for you. What that usually means is artificial sweeteners made from chemicals which your body wasn’t intended to process and can cause a host of issues to your health. Similarly, fat-free-labeled food doesn’t mean healthy. Fat is often replaced with sugar and sodium to improve the flavor, and again is filled with processed carbohydrates and preservatives that are just as bad for you. Instead, choose healthy fats and foods that naturally have low or no sugar.
What is the best way to find out if something has hidden sugar, high calories or chemicals? Read every label! If it doesn’t have a label, there’s a good chance it’s okay to eat, but you can always do a Google search to find out the nutrition information.
Make sure to check portion sizes on labels, as the calorie content can be misleading if you assume it’s for a whole package. Many items like juice drinks, milk, coffee drinks, sodas, etc., can have 1-3 servings in them. There is a good chance if you don’t pay attention to portions, you’re overeating items like pasta, rice, and cereal. If you see ingredients you can’t pronounce or have no idea what they are, you should probably avoid it.
Tips: Look for words like “whole grain”, not “wheat”; avoid items with partially-hydrogenated oil or anything that lists sugar or corn syrup as one of the first ingredients; look for items with less than five ingredients; avoid items like packaged sausage or lunch meats with high amounts of sodium and nitrates.
Sound complicated? It is. Appearances can be deceiving when it comes to food, and marketers have gotten wise about how to make products sound good for you when they are not. So your safest bet, which is also a guaranteed way to eat a healthier diet, is to shop the perimeter of a grocery store, where you’ll find fresh vegetables, meat, fruit, and dairy. The aisles of the store are where the packaged food is and are best to avoid. Of course they’re not off limits – this is where you will find almonds, nut butters, tuna, frozen vegetables and meat, seasonings, etc. Just walk the aisles with caution. Steering clear of potato chips, soda, candy, white bread and frozen dinners will play a HUGE role in reaching your health and fitness goals.
Condiments, dressings, and sauces can be a great way to add flavor to dishes, because no one wants to eat grilled chicken and plain broccoli day after day. However, some flavorings can also pack a calorie punch and high amounts of sugar, fat, and preservatives.
Use condiments sparingly, and read those labels! Here are some healthy options to try:
One of the best ways to guarantee healthier eating is to plan out your meals ahead of time and prepare all of your food once or twice per week. Many unhealthy choices come from being “starving” and eating whatever you can get your hands on. This makes fast food and packaged items appealing because you can have it now. You can easily prevent this, and the weight gain that follows, by preparing your own food in large enough quantities so that you always have something available to eat.
The weekend is a good time for most people to think through what food they’ll need for the week. Try cooking a few pounds of chicken breast, ground turkey and/or fish, along with several sweet potatoes, brown rice/quinoa or another healthy carb, and a few pounds of green veggies. You can weigh and measure the correct portions and put them in Tupperware accordingly, or prepare various meals throughout the week as you need them. Use a variety of spices, combinations, and toppings to keep things interesting. A crock pot is also a great way to cook one-pot meals and soups to make meal prep incredibly simple and quick.
Don’t forget snacks! Those mid-day hunger strikes are often the culprit for unwanted pounds because many people turn to junk to fill their stomach and get an energy boost. Pack servings of nuts, fruit, cottage cheese, protein bars, hard boiled eggs, nut butter, rice cakes, energy bites, etc., to have on hand when you’re away from home.
Don’t forget what we mentioned at the start. Everyone’s body, needs, and preferences are different, so as important as these rules are, you must also pay attention to and know your own body. What works great for some people may not work well for you at all. Don’t listen to what other people tell you, find what makes you look and feel your best. For example, if you can’t digest dairy or wheat, don’t eat it, even if it’s recommended as a generally healthy food. If your body responds well to a higher carbohydrate diet, then don’t worry about jumping on the low-carb craze. Being mindful of how food affects you and responding accordingly will go a long way in improving your health.
For more specific advice, contact a certified nutritionist for the best healthy eating plan for you.
Thanks for joining us on this 4-week journey to reaching your fitness goals! Leave a comment and let us know how it’s going for you!