I hear the comment often, “I don’t know how to eat healthy”. Packed between those words after exploration are fears of being overwhelmed with the idea of EATING HEALTHY as if that means suddenly having to transform into a Jedi Knight with the Force giving strength and determination to conquer the late night munchies, the afternoon nibbles, the morning Stars and Dunks. Making changes in how you eat does not have to require this monumental overhaul. There are steps you can take to make it easy but first there are some preliminary things to consider to help you have success at eating healthier.
Eat Healthy For The Right Reason
Knowing why you want to eat healthy is the first question. Is it your desire to eat healthier to lose weight or for better health? Are you doing it to look better or to be healthier? If the desire is more about appearance, then the barometer for success is only the scale, not the improved blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, energy level and improved relationships as you gain confidence from your effort. Furthermore, losing weight only for appearance tends to lead to expectations for rapid weight loss, usually from a fad diet. And losing weight this way can lead to complications and regaining of weight once the diet is stopped.
Not that appearance can’t be part of the reason for eating healthier, but isn’t it more compelling to eat healthy in order to feel better and be healthier? Having lab numbers, waist size, blood pressure and energy level become the barometer for success, not just the scale, sound a lot more convincing?
Make sure you have realistic expectations. I don’t know of anyone who has said to themselves that today he/she was going to start eating three balanced meals with lots of veggies, lean protein, no refined carbs, no sweets and start exercising for 60 minutes every day. Maybe I should qualify that, I’ve known a few who have attempted it, but they did not sustain it for long and it only added to their stress. Eating healthier is not the same as going on a diet. “Prescription” diets like the Blood Type, Cabbage Soup, and Master Cleanse are designed to lose weight quickly. Even the Adkins diet and the Paleo diet will help you lose weight but can you eat that way for the rest of your life? Once people quit eating the structured meal plan, weight is most often regained. Furthermore many fad diets are lacking in key nutrients for health.
Knowing you are in this for the long haul will help you to have success. Learning how to live a healthier lifestyle should be a gradual series of small changes.
Make Your Environment Safe
Where you live and work can be toxic. The prefrontal cortex controls our inhibitory decision-making. Parts of the prefrontal cortex are stimulated when people exhibit control over food urges. Research in this area has shown that some people have better self-regulation because of more stimulation in this part of the brain. If you find that you are someone who can be easily tempted by unhealthy foods, then make your environment safe. Clear tempting foods out of your house. Take different routes home from work. Get your coworkers on board with keeping healthier foods around so that you can reduce temptation. It’s better to go out and splurge on a single serving than it is to buy a larger amount (hate those 2 for 1 chip sales!) and bring it home.
Know Your Causes For Unhealthy Eating Or Overeating
Are you not making good food choices or overeating because you are stressed, bored, eating out of habit or need to decompress, or just eating mindlessly? If any of these reasons sound familiar then you need to start here first. Food fuels our body, but it can also alleve stress, anxiety, boredom and become an unhealthy habit. Addressing the stress in one’s life, through time management, conversation, delegation, planning, exercise and even counselling may need to happen first.
Food cravings can happen from big swings in blood sugars. Look at your style and pattern of eating. Are you eating too many refined carbs at lunch from white rice with the Chinese meal, white flour from the pizza or white flour and sugar from cakes, cookies and chips and notice you get hungry and have food cravings in the mid-afternoon? That sugar spike from all those “white” refined carbs will hit you like a ton of bricks a couple of hours later making you reach for any candy lying around or that leftover donut or slice of pizza to make that feeling go away. Looking at your hunger level and how it fluctuates during the day will convince you to try eating differently or reinforce what you are already doing well. It may also convince you to reach for a cup of tea or go for a walk instead.
How To Start Eating Healthy
Where to begin all depends on what you are currently doing.
- If you eat most of your meals out: Begin by making better choices at those restaurants or switch to restaurants that will give you healthier choices. Getting a turkey sandwich with lots of veggies and little mayo on a whole grain roll at Subway would be a much better choice than going to Burger King and getting a Whopper value meal. The next step might be to decrease the frequency of eating fast food and stopping instead at the grocery store to buy a rotisserie chicken and hitting the salad bar (put the dressing on the side and skip the cheese and mayonnaise-packed salads)
- For the breakfast skipper: Begin two days a week and try eating something small like:
- a hard-boiled egg with a piece of fruit
- a peanut butter sandwich on whole grain bread
- a low fat Greek yogurt topped with walnuts
- a half cup of low fat cottage cheese with diced fruit
- a package of old fashioned oatmeal topped with walnuts
Notice that each of these meals includes some protein, fiber and some fat. These are key nutrients for fullness. Dietary fat should come from the heart-healthy fats like nuts, canola and olive oil, avocado and fish, rather than from animal fats like red meat, whole fat dairy and palm oil. Take notice of how you feel on those days you eat breakfast. Do you have more energy? Do you eat less the second half of the day? Do you think better at work? Do you have fewer cravings? Listen to how your body talks to you.
- For the person who does not like to plan meals: Plan just two healthy meals for the week with enough for leftovers for two other meals. Write down the list of ingredients and take with you when you go shopping. Include on the list some quick things you can take for lunch like Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, whole grain crackers and pre-cut fresh veggies. The next step might be to make foods on the weekend or days off that you can eat during the work week. Use this cooking strategy to save you time and stress.
- For the person who does not like to cook: Try grilling chicken or fish for several meals and eat with lots of fresh produce around will keep it simple. Soups and crock-pots also reduce food preparation time and can contain a whole balanced meal. check out some of the soup recipes like my chili or chicken soup on this website for ideas.
- For the person who does not have time to prepare meals: If you can’t get help from family members then buy prepared veggies or frozen veggies. Buy a rotisserie chicken or meats that are already cut up. Buy canned beans or grains that are already cooked. When you do cook grains, make extra and freeze. Brown rice and other grains like bulgar and barley freeze well. Pre-prep some of your meals on your day off. Use a crock pot so you can get up a bit early in the morning or prepare the night before so the meal can cook while you are at work.
- For the night snacker: Start by eating breakfast. Research shows that when people eat a breakfast with focus on healthy protein they remain fuller during the day and eat less at night. Then make sure you are eating a dinner with a good amount of protein, some healthy fat, lots of non-starchy veggies and a fiber-rich starch. Here are some ideas;
- 4-5 oz of chicken, 1 cup of brown rice, 2 cups of broccoli or salad, and healthy fat from canola oil or olive oil on the veggies or maybe some nuts stirred into the rice or sunflower seeds topped on the salad.
- 4-5 oz of salmon grilled or baked in the oven (salmon and other oily fish contain a lot of the heart healthy fat which will also help with fullness), 1 medium baked sweet potato, 12 asparagus and one piece of fruit
- 3 egg omelette with 1 cup of spinach, onions and mushrooms, 2 pieces of whole grain toast(the first word under ingredients should be “whole” or 100% whole) and topped with 1 tsp each of whipped butter, and a side salad. Try using salad spritzer dressings instead of pouring a high fat dressing on the salad.
Night snacking goes hand and hand with watching TV. Try turning off the TV, play a game, read, go for a walk. Even try brushing your teeth after dinner. If you really must have a little “something something” start first with a cup of tea, seltzer water or just water and see if that hits the spot. If you still need something then keep it to a serving by putting the food on a plate. Do not eat out of the box!
- For the person who does not like veggies: Hide your veggies.
- put them in a blender and add to soups
- make mashed potatoes with half steamed cauliflower
- double up on what you do like
- puree them into tomato sauces
- mix spaghetti squash with your pasta
- make zucchini pasta
- try new ways of eating them like roasting potatoes with onions and peppers in the oven
- try seasoning them or dipping them in yogurt dips
- try making dips out of them like salsa or a kale, berry and olive oil dip made in a blender
- try them in a smoothie
Forming New Healthy Eating Habits
Gradually incorporate some of these ideas into your routine. If the changes seem unnatural then you are making changes too fast. In general, it takes about three weeks for a new habit to feel natural. Start with the above suggestions that you feel more confident about. If you are telling yourself that you “should” do something, then you’re probably not ready to take that next step. Focus on what you don’t mind doing and branch out from there. Over several weeks and months you will begin to notice that some things are easier to do and don’t require as much thought. This means you are ready to tackle more. And as you take on new habits, continue to notice how your body feels. Not only will you start to have more energy, but if you are overweight, you will lose weight as well, naturally. No pills, no cleanses, no diets. Just learning how to nourish and fuel your body like a Jedi. Before you know it, these changes will become less forced and you will have the Force with you as you become that Jedi Knight on the way to conquering the world!