Right now your news feed is probably crowded with New Year’s Resolutions, many of which are about people wanting to eat healthier, with the best of intentions. Many of the popular ones include cutting out carbs, cutting out sugar, not eating any junk food/white bread/donuts, among many others. You might be wanting to make a change yourself, but not sure which route to take or if these extreme restrictions are even right for you at all.
First, just keep in mind that any “diet” that is founded on cutting one thing or an entire list of foods completely out of your diet, can probably fall under the category of a Crash Diet. Crash Diets are dangerous territory, oftentimes people gain back more than what they lost on the diet when they return to eating normally. And I say when, and not if, they return to eating normally because cutting things completely out of your diet is usually not sustainable long term.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to cut back on the amount of sugar or fast food you’re eating, just be wary of basing your entire diet around just cutting something out completely. Also, carbs are essential to a healthy diet and absolutely should not be feared or cut out completely. There are many factors that go into a healthy diet, and although it seems easier to just focus on one “bad” food, it’s better to take a more broad view of your eating habits.
Focusing on how you eat as a whole can be more intimidating and confusing, especially for people who are beginners when it comes to nutrition. You might be feeling very overwhelmed and unsure where to begin — I’ve been there. I’ve listed a few simple tips for improving your nutrition without any extremes, just small steps toward improving how you feel and how you look.
Start Using a Food Journal
This one can be huge. Like I said previously, it’s important to look at your diet as a whole, and this is a great way to put that into perspective. It can tell you, are you really eating too much sugar, too much fast food, are you getting enough vegetables in? You can really understand and quantify what you’re eating problems are, and what things you need to improve.
I also think that keeping a food journal has some psychological effects for many people. Even if you aren’t sharing your food journal with anyone else, you will notice that you want to make better choices if you know you are going to have to write it down.
Just take 5 minutes at the end of each day, or throughout your day, to jot down what you’ve eaten. Start the year with a goal to keep a food journal for two weeks, or a month. This is a good goal because it will most likely have a positive effect on how you eat, and its reasonable and quantifiable.
Center Each Meal around Lean Protein
This tip will make a huge difference in helping you reach your health goals, especially if you are also working out or trying to be more active. The average person does not consume anywhere near the appropriate amount of protein daily.
Many of you probably know what a lean protein is, but some of you might not. Protein is one of the three macronutrients that make up the amount of calories in any given food, the other two being carbohydrates and fats. A lean protein is a food that provides a decent amount of protein per serving, with a limited amount of fats.
Examples of Lean Protein:
- Chicken Breasts
- Ground Turkey
- Turkey Breast
- Sliced Deli Meat (Turkey, Chicken)
- Egg Whites
- Greek Yogurt
- Protein powder
This is just a small list, but includes some of the more common sources of lean protein. No need to completely cut out things less lean like beef, but opt for leaner options as often as you can. Just replacing the main dishes of your meals with a lean protein can be a huge step toward a healthier diet.
As cliché as it is, if you fail to plan, plan to fail. All of us are busy with our jobs, families, and other responsibilities. No matter how good your intentions are at the beginning of the year or the beginning of the week, it can be hard to keep up with getting that lean protein in when you’ve got 30 minutes to make it from work to the other side of town to take your kid to flag football.
Taking a couple of hours each week to plan ahead can make your life a lot easier and your nutrition a lot better. The first step is getting your groceries. Make sure you aren’t stepping into the grocery store hangry and end up buying the entire chip aisle. Sit down, plan what meals you want to make, and write a list. Be sure to include multiple sources of lean protein, and plenty of vegetables and fruits. Also include easy grab and go snacks for when you really don’t have any time. Things like greek yogurts, low fat cottage cheese, jerky, etc. And I hate to break it to you, but super low calorie frozen meals aren’t exactly your best option for “meal prepping.”
Once you’ve gotten your groceries, prep some of your food ahead of time. Make a few, if not all, of your lunches and/or breakfasts for the week. Although it’s a lot of work up front, you will feel better the entire week and grateful that you did it. Another option is to make crockpot freezer meals. Find whatever works for you, and prepare.
Add a Green Veggie to Your Meals
The most common problem with the average diet is overeating. It makes sense, food is awesome, and it can be hard to have self-control when things like mac and cheese exist. Please do not starve yourself, or consume only tiny low calorie meals, just learn to stop eating when you’re full. That can be harder than it sounds for most people. An easy way to help with this, and to help your consumption of micronutrients, is to add a green veggie to each meal. Adding a low calorie side, full of nutrients, can help in many ways. For example, it can help fill you up a bit before you overstuff yourself with more indulgent sides like cheesy potatoes (are you sensing a theme here? I like cheese.)
A very simple, and healthy option for cooking these veggies is to steam them. I usually add this to my weekly meal prep, steaming enough green veggies for me to add to my meals for the week. I usually go for broccoli or green beans, although there are many other good options. For even less prep, you could have a side salad with your meals, as long as you keep in mind the amount of dressing you are using.
Reduce High Calorie Drinks
This tip is fairly common knowledge, but I felt obliged to include it. If you consume sodas, high calorie juices, Starbucks Frappuccino’s, sugar loaded energy drinks, every day or multiple times per day- that is going to add up very quickly to your daily caloric intake. If you have this problem, try to just slowly cut back, reduce your soda intake by a little bit each day.
Sodas have hundreds of calories per bottle, and don’t really make you feel full- so people tend to consume just as much food even when they are drinking these high calorie drinks. Personally, I find it much more satisfying to eat 300 calories of food than drinking 300 calories in one drink.
The other important part of this is getting enough water. If you are drinking pop all day, then chances are you probably are not consuming enough water. Try to focus on getting the right amount of water each day, and you’ll find that it’s hard to drink all of that water AND fit in 3 sodas. Once you increase how much water you are drinking, I guarantee you will start to feel better and it can even help with weight loss if that is your goal.
Getting started with changing how you eat is not always easy, but it will be well worth it in the end. Think about how you want to feel next year, and what habits will get you there. Do not expect perfection from yourself, or get discouraged when you slip up, just try to improve a little bit each week. Small and simple changes will build off of each other and eventually a healthy and balanced diet will feel normal to you. There are no good or bad foods, only good or bad diets. Think big picture.
Thanks for reading! – Kate