“It’s not a short term diet. It’s a long term lifestyle change”
In my last post, Eating to Live, Not Living to Eat, I challenged you to think about your current relationship with food, to start keeping a food journal, and to recognize your eating patterns and habits, both the good and the bad. Reading back through a food journal can give you a pretty good idea of changes you can make in order to improve your diet. Maybe you need to cut out junk foods and replace them with healthy, nutrient dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Maybe you need to eliminate sodas (regular or diet) and replace them with water. Maybe it’s your meal timing or portion sizes that you need to work on, or maybe it’s a combination of all of the above. Whatever changes you need to make, now is the time to recognize them and muster up the confidence that you can successfully make these long term changes. It’s time to think positive thoughts, make positive changes, and prepare for positive outcomes that will lead you to a healthier, happier body.
Okay, let’s talk about the word diet for a minute. I really dislike that word these days, or more specifically, I dislike the fact that the word has evolved to have a negative connotation associated with it. When we hear the word diet, we often hear statements such as, “I can’t have that, I’m on a diet” or “I have gained weight, I need to go on a diet”. The word itself has many negative feelings and emotions attached to it now. Dread…deprivation…struggle…confusion…pressure. Most of us have been on a diet at some point in our lives and we know just how many different kinds there are to choose from these days. How many have you tried? How long did they last? How many worked for you long term? Eventually, the diets usually become overwhelming and the yo-yo effect wears you down and discourages you. Sure, you can certainly lose weight on many different diet plans out there, however, you can also get your metabolism and hormones off balance and deprive your body of essential nutrients it needs in order to function properly. In turn, this can lead your body down a path of low energy, discouragement, and gaining weight (possibly even more) back over time. Starving your body is not the answer. Depriving your body of the fuel it needs will not work long term. What keeps weight down and creates a healthy body for life is simply eating well; ingraining healthy eating habits into your life so that you enjoy the foods you eat, and benefit from the way you feel when you feed the body correctly. After all, the word diet shouldn’t have negative emotions attached to it. Simply put, your diet is what you eat; it is what you feed your body on a regular basis. It’s time to start feeding it well. Instead of dreading what you are eating and craving what you can’t eat while on a diet, let’s change our way of thinking and embrace healthy eating, for life.
Okay I know what you are thinking now. It sounds so simple, but in practice it’s not so easy to completely change your eating habits. It’s not so easy to stop eating those sweet and salty foods you enjoy so much and add foods you might not have an acquired taste for (yet). I know. Trust me, I know, I have been there too. But what I also know is that making the decision to eat healthy and providing your body with its needs (not its wants) is worth it, you will feel so much better and energetic, and best of all…it does get easier! I briefly mentioned my previous (bad) eating habits and my poor food choices in my post One Choice, Forever Changed. I too, was at that point not so long ago. I had to evaluate my diet and admit that big changes needed to be made. I had to completely change what I ate on a daily basis and pay close attention to the timing and sizing of my snacks and meals. I know it isn’t easy, but I will repeat myself again and again….it is so worth it to make these changes. Below are some strategies to help get you started!
Know What Your Body Needs
First, you need to know what your own individual body needs on a daily basis. In addition to consulting with your physician about changes to your diet, you can use an online calorie counter such as the Body Weight Planner. This tool uses the information you provide which is specific to your body and calculates a guideline for the amount of calories your body needs in order to maintain, lose, or gain weight. It is important to realize that everyone’s body is different, everyone’s metabolism varies, and everyone’s results will differ. The numbers provided on these online tools are standardized guidelines that simply give you the best idea possible of how many calories you should be consuming each day. Once you have your calculations set, you now know the guidelines that you need to stay within on a daily basis and you should continue logging what you are eating each day in an application such as MyFitnessPal.
Take it Slow
My biggest piece of advice is not to make too many changes to your diet at once. In any aspect of your life, when you take on too many things at one time what usually happens? Many times you find yourself frustrated, overwhelmed, burnt out, and you eventually lose the energy and momentum to continue. Changing too many things all at the same time will make you more likely to experience these things and give up. Make changes gradually. Naturally, we would all like to see the results of our better choices instantly, or at least very quickly, but what is most important is having the long term success. It is worth the wait to see and feel the results and be able to sustain your lifestyle change. Going from the way you currently eat (food choices, meal prep, portion sizes, timing of your meals, etc.) and drastically changing it all in one day is a recipe for failure. You have to do this one step and one bite at a time. Make that your motto. My suggestion is to incorporate one, maybe two changes per week. Concentrate on maintaining those changes and if you are successful for the entirety of the week, add another change or two the following week. Eventually, over the course of several months, you will have incorporated a dozen or more positive changes into your life, you will start seeing and feeling the difference you are making, and you will find it easier to maintain your new lifestyle of eating healthy. Every person will have their own specific changes they need to make, whether it be eliminating something unhealthy from your diet, or incorporating new, healthier foods. Make changes specific to you and your body. Here are a few examples of changes you might be able to make, one week at a time:
- If you currently drink three sodas per day and almost no water, try replacing two of them with water but keep your one soda for a week or more so you don’t feel completely deprived. Eventually, you should be able to take the one soda per day away completely, and only enjoy it on occasion.
- If you currently indulge in a candy bar or a bag of chips every day, try replacing it with a healthy snack instead, such as a piece of fruit.
- If you currently eat out three days a week, try cutting down to only one day and cook at home or pack your lunch with healthier, more controlled portions.
Whatever you do, don’t completely cut out the foods you love all at once, just take it slow and cut back on them until they are phased out and eventually replaced by healthier options. You will find that one day, you will only want them on occasion, or possibly never again.
Always be Prepared
This is another important piece of advice. Always be prepared, otherwise, you can easily end up sabotaging your own eating habits. Here are some useful tips I live by:
- During the work week, plan your snacks and lunches the evening before. Cut, clean, and package any fruits, veggies, or other healthy foods you plan to take with you and have them ready to grab the next morning. If you are running late for work, it’s easy to skip the meal prep and pick up something on the go (which usually isn’t so healthy). While we all like convenience, it doesn’t always end up being the best choice for our bodies. Take the extra time to plan and prepare your foods for the day, you will be thankful you did!
- Have healthy snacks at your reach at all times for those moments you need something small to snack on. This will keep from grabbing a bag of something unhealthy from the vending machine at work or stopping at the convenience station while on the road.
- Plan for eating out. Any time I am going out to eat and I am not sure what I will be able to order that is nutritious and won’t leave me feeling yucky and bloated, I do my research ahead of time. Many restaurants have online menus and some even list the nutritional information for their dishes. In addition, you can always call the restaurant ahead of time and ask if they will prepare a specific dish for you, or if they honor special food preparation requests such as holding the butter, etc. Also when eating out, you might prefer to bring a pre-portioned salad dressing that you enjoy, bring a packet of water enhancer for your glass of water, or even bring something small & sweet to enjoy afterwards instead of ordering dessert (such as sugar free hard candy). I have actually brought my own baked tortilla chips to a Mexican restaurant with my family before rather than eating the deep fried chips they serve. I am not ashamed, it’s called being prepared!
Stick to a Schedule
Eating around the same time each day is a wonderful healthy habit to incorporate into your life. In most things we do, schedules can be extremely helpful and create structure that help us get through the day. It is certainly not ideal to confuse your body by eating at drastically different times each day. The more you stick to your eating schedule, the more you will notice that your body becomes accustomed to it, and you feel more satisfied throughout the entire day.
Make Smart Changes
If you usually crave something sweet and reach for candy throughout the day, replace it with fruit or some yogurt drizzled with a little honey in order to satisfy your sweet tooth. If you crave salty foods and find yourself reaching for chips throughout the day, replace it with almonds or carrots with hummus. The last thing you want is for your body to feel completely deprived. Don’t deny yourself of these cravings completely, but rather, replace them with healthier options and try and trick your brain until it is retrained!
Snack Often and Snack Healthy
One of my coworkers jokes with me all the time because I have food on my desk every time he passes by. Well, he’s right, I really do. I eat small meal portions for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and have numerous healthy snacks, all while staying in my required caloric intake for the day. By doing this, I am providing my body with the fuel and energy it needs all throughout the day, and I always feel full and satisfied.
I know people that will go most of the day and hardly eat anything, thinking they are saving themselves from the calories and hoping it helps them lose weight. But you have to feed your body. If you are not eating, your metabolism is slowing down and will conserve energy rather than burn it. Think of your metabolism as a campfire. If you leave it alone and feed it nothing, it will slow down and eventually burn out. However, by vigilantly adding the appropriate amount of wood for your size campfire, you are feeding it the fuel it needs in order to continue on and maintain its power and strength. It is the same way when we feed our bodies. The food is our fuel, and it keeps our metabolism going strong all day long. When you don’t eat, your body will hold on to the energy rather than burn it. Find some healthy snacks that you can enjoy, and spread them out throughout your day.
Don’t Pick Your Food Apart Too Much at First
This one can be tied back to taking it slowly. When I first started making healthier food choices, one of the things I did was replace my cafeteria cheese grits, leftover cake & cookies and various breakfast pastries (yes, I admit, I really ate leftover cake or cookies for breakfast many times) for the much healthier option of yogurt. Let’s be honest, an entire blog can be written on the various kind of yogurts out there and which ones are truly healthy vs. not so healthy. Yes, some have too many artificial ingredients and are overloaded of sugar, but don’t get too wrapped up in it at first. Equally lengthy blogs could be written about dried fruits, granola, or protein bars, but I don’t suggest overwhelming yourself with too much information at one time. Take pride that you are making a change that is better for you. Later down the line when healthy choices become easier, then you can pick apart specific foods. When you are making so many changes to your diet and trying not to get overwhelmed or frustrated, that is not the time to overly analyze your healthier options.
Don’t Skip Breakfast
I realize that many people don’t enjoy breakfast or simply don’t have an appetite when they first wake up in the mornings. The problem with completely skipping breakfast is that even though you are physically awake and starting your day, you are leaving your metabolism to sleep (or at least in a very drowsy state). All throughout the night while you were sleeping your body was fasting, and you woke up with a very low metabolism. Eating a healthy, balanced breakfast can increase your resting metabolism and kick start your day, even making you more energetic and active. If you currently do not eat breakfast you might be thinking – I don’t want to eat if I’m not hungry. Well, it is very likely that your body has become accustomed to not eating breakfast over an extended period of time and you do not feel hungry until much later in the day. However, just because you don’t feel hungry, your metabolism is still in that resting state, and your body needs the fuel. Try eating a small meal in the mornings, even if it is half of a piece of whole grain toast, or a small serving of fruit or yogurt. Your body will re-adjust over time and look forward to that early morning bit of energy.
Drink Your Water
Most of us know the importance of hydration, but we still overlook drinking enough water each day. Water is crucial for a list of things including our kidneys, digestion, energy, and brain function to name a few. Water can also aid in weight loss and helps you feel full throughout the day.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
If you know you will be tempted, avoid the temptation as much as you can. Some examples of this would be to ask for a box as soon as your meal arrives to your table at a restaurant and go ahead and put away what you don’t need to eat. If it is in front of you, you are more likely to keep eating it, whether you are already full or not. Another example if you are out at a restaurant is simply to ask them not to bring something you will be tempted to eat if it is placed in front of you, such as the bread that many restaurants bring to your table while you are waiting. Basically, if it is in front of you, you are more likely to fall into the temptation of eating it. If someone brought you a treat to work and it is sitting on your desk, put it away in your drawer for later, or if you know it is not something you need to eat at all, maybe you could give it to someone else. Out of sight, out of mind, it’s that simple.
All Things in Moderation
All things should be eaten in moderation. While a handful of dried fruit can be a healthy snack that satisfies your sweet tooth, devouring half of the bag in one sitting will take your sugar intake off the charts for the day. Make sure you are eating the proper portions and not overeating at each meal, especially when dining out. It is also important to be mindful of portion sizes when you are reading the nutritional values of a food. While a serving of granola may only be 200 calories, it is important to realize that the service size might only be ¼ cup. Or if the bag of chips states only 150 calories, you need to be aware that that may be for only 10 chips. One of the things I have done to control my portions is to use a measuring device to portion it out whenever possible. I also count out foods such as chips and put them in a baggie to bring to work so I know how much I am eating. I also keep a ¼ cup measuring cup in my bag of granola at all times. Find the little tricks and tools that help you out and utilize them whenever possible.
In addition to making positive changes to your diet over time, add daily activity and keep your body moving. Exercise is a crucial part of having a healthy mind and body, and it takes both to have optimum wellness. If you have a job that keeps you sitting most of the day, get up and take a walk periodically. Go outside and stretch your muscles. Get your heart pumping and stay active as much as you can.
Talk to Your Doctor
Remember, my advice is not a substitute for professional, medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician before engaging in a new diet or lifestyle change. As I have mentioned before, everyone’s body is different, and your physician will be able to work with you on formulating the best diet for you and your body, taking into account your medical history.
Don’t Give Up
Be prepared that a large part of this will be a mental challenge. For a while, your body will tell you that you are hungry (a lot), and you may find yourself focusing on foods too much, specifically the unhealthy ones that your body may be accustomed to having. Food can be an addiction, and changing your diet is never easy. But it can be done. It just takes the acknowledgment that you need to make better food choices, coming up with a game plan you can stick to, and being determined not to give up, even on the hardest days. Focus on this: No matter what, your body will be healthier in the end. If you feed your body the foods and water that it needs, and eliminate the junk foods, you will be a healthier person on the inside, no matter what results you see or don’t see on the outside. Many people struggle with their weight their whole lives, despite all of their hard work and discipline, but healthy eating is for more than the physical weight that you see. You will have a healthier body inside. Your heart, your brain, your skin, and your state of mind.
You can do this. Don’t give up.
Please share your stories below and let us know about your journey to healthy eating! What helped you make gradual changes along the way, and how were you able to maintain them on a daily basis? What struggles did you face and how did you overcome them? Let’s help and inspire others to ditch their diet, and choose a healthy lifestyle for life instead!