When it comes to how you feel, how you look, and how your body functions, what you eat matters. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, improve energy levels, think more clearly, improve your skin, sleep better, or improve your health in any way, one of the best places to start is by looking at what you put into your body.
If you do want to improve your eating habits, you may be wondering where to start. With the amount of information out there: on the internet, in book stores, magazine racks, television, and even from your circle of friends, knowing where to start can quickly become overwhelming. Some sources will say not to snack at night, some say a snack is ok. Some diet plans recommend eating fruit by itself, some say to avoid fruit altogether. Is coffee ok? Depends on the source and the latest research study.
Here are four simple ways to improve your diet that have withstood the test of time.
1. Eat More Vegetables, especially non-starchy vegetables. Yes, your mom was right. Vegetables are a fantastic source of fiber and nutrients, they are low in calories, and have a minimal impact on your blood sugar level. Lettuce, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, spinach, mushrooms, onions, peppers and tomatoes. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips and winter squash are examples of starchy veggies. Ideally, aim to eat 5-10 servings of veggies each day of different colors (orange, green, red, etc.). 1 cup of leafy veggies or ½ cup of other veggies counts as a serving. Tips to sneak in the veggies: Start each meal with a salad or vegetable soup. 2. Add extra veggies to your chili, spaghetti sauce or casserole. 3. Swap rice for cauliflower rice, mashed potatoes for mashed cauliflower, or spaghetti for spaghetti squash 4. Add greens to your morning smoothie. 5. Slice up raw veggies and store in them containers so you can easily grab a portion to go. I prepare a few containers worth on Sunday night so they’re ready to go for the rest of the week. It takes just as much time to make 4 or 5 containers as it does to make one!
2. Eat protein at each meal and snack. I’m a big fan of adding to your diet before taking away. In fact, when you focus on adding more healthy food, the less-healthy options naturally get crowded out. Protein is the building block! Protein plays a role in almost every cellular function in the human body. It is necessary for building and repairing muscle, red blood cells, and hormones. There are many benefits of eating protein. Protein keeps you feeling full for longer. People who eat more protein end up losing more weight simply because they stay full for longer and don’t require as much food. In fact, it takes more energy to digest protein than it does to digest carbohydrates- so you burn more calories when you eat protein! When people lose weight, they will often lose muscle mass and body fat. However, adequate protein consumption can help to maintain muscle mass while losing body fat (especially in combination with a strength training routine!). Finally, protein has very little effect on blood sugar levels- which means that your energy levels stay up the whole day, and you can avoid that midafternoon crash! One serving of protein has 120-150 calories and 10-25 grams of protein. A serving of meat protein is about the size of deck of cards. Optimal sources of protein include beans, nuts, unsweetened dairy (especially Greek yogurt and cottage cheese), chicken breast, eggs, lean meat, and fish. Avoid processed meats such as hot dogs and deli meats, as they are very high in sodium and preservatives.
Here are some tips to help you increase your protein intake: 1. Add protein powder to your morning smoothie or oatmeal, or start your day with eggs. 2. Swap your regular yogurt for Greek yogurt (preferably unsweetened 2% yogurt) 3. Add beans to your salad. 4. Have hummus and veggies as an afternoon snack. 5. Remember plant- based protein including quinoa, lentils, nuts, seeds, beans, edamame and tempeh. 6. Eat ‘dinner’ for any meal of the day. In other words, there’s no reason you can’t start your day with last night’s leftovers! 7. Carry a portion of nuts with you for emergencies. It’s better than the vending machine!
3. Eat Sitting Down & Eat From a Plate. Do you find yourself licking the spoon of jam when cleaning up the kitchen, snacking straight from the fridge when you’re bored at night, sampling at the grocery store, consuming an entire bag of popcorn while watching a movie (and not really realizing that you ate any!) or taking bites of your kids’ leftovers after they’re done eating? If so, you’re not alone. Mindless eating is a waste of food: we get very little satisfaction from mindless eating, it’s difficult to take stock of how much food you’re eating, and it eventually shows up as stored body fat. By paying attention to the food you eat, you will enjoy your food more, and naturally eat less. You’ll also spend more time chewing your food, which is good for digestion. By following these two simple rules: eat sitting down and eat from a plate, you’ll take out most mindless snacking. If you truly want to eat something, even if it’s ice cream, serve yourself a portion into a bowl or plate, sit down, and enjoy it.
4. Be Kind To Yourself. Perhaps the biggest reason most diets fail is the diet mindset. You’re either 100% on track, or completely off the healthy eating wagon. Don’t expect to follow a diet plan 100% of the time; it’s not realistic. Health and fitness is a journey, not a quick sprint. You’ll have great days, and not-so-good days, and that’s okay. Pick one or two changes that you would like to make, are realistic for the long term, and focus on those. Once you’ve mastered those changes, add another habit to work on. The goal is progression, not perfection.