I get it. Eating healthy can seem complicated, difficult, and time consuming. Or not.
Problem #1: Eating healthy is confusing
Yes, choosing the right foods for you can be confusing. But if you are eating poorly–be honest with yourself, are you eating too much garbage and not enough nutrient-rich food?–there’s so much you can do! Eat more foods that don’t require a label or packaging. Eat regularly until you’re 80% full, not more.
If you generally eat healthy, congratulations, you may find some simple tweaks beneficial. Keep reading for ideas.
If you have food “issues” (allergies, sensitivities, stress about food), speak to a knowledgeable health professional for personalized recommendations.
Problem #2: Eating healthy is difficult
Look, I’m no chef. I’ve messed up the simplest meals. For example, I once forgot to drain the can of tuna when making a tuna salad sandwich. If I can do it, you can too. There are pre-cut food options. There’s frozen veggie and fruit options. There are actually some (you need to get to know how to read labels) healthy packaged food and restaurant options (depending on where you live). Learn a few simple go-to recipes. And read on for more tips.
Problem #3: Eating healthy is time consuming
I’m not a patient person when it comes to food. I won’t line up for a popular restaurant, unless I have no other choice. I don’t pick recipes that require hours of standing in front of a stove. When I want to eat, I want to eat soon. It’s mostly about organization and preparation.
I know it’s tough when you’re busy, but here are some basic, simple recommendations you can start with. If you want, just start with section 1 here for a week or two. Then you can move on to section 2 and so forth, so that you don’t get overwhelmed.
Section 1 for Eating Healthy: Eat mindfully
- Drink between, not with meals. We chew our food better, making digestion easier, if we don’t drink with meals. We have a tendency to swallow bigger chunks of food if we wash our food down with meals.
- Make sure to drink enough fluid. Start the day with a glass of water.
- Chew, chew, chew your food. If you eat quickly, put your utensil down between bites. Or eat with your non-dominant hand.
- Pay attention to your food. Taste it, enjoy it. Food is more than fuel.
- Hara hachi bu–eat until you’re 80% full. Don’t eat until you’re stuffed. Stop when you are about 80% full. Or when you are no longer hungry. You’ll find that “no longer hungry” and “full” are not the same
That’s the basics. If that’s all you do, that can make a difference.
Section 2 to Eating Healthy: How do you feel about food?
Next step is about figuring our your food habits.
- You may find it helpful to keep a food diary for a week to help you figure out what you’re really eating. Sometimes we don’t even notice how much or what we’re consuming throughout our days. Write down what you had, approximately how much, when, and ideally include how you felt before and/or after eating it.
- Even if you don’t keep a food diary for a week, think about your food choices. Do you have cravings? For what? What are your food habits? For example, I have a major sweet tooth. I think I used to have a muffin addiction. I seriously felt like I couldn’t go a day without having a muffin. I thought it was healthy because it was bran or blueberry or blueberry bran, but really, it was a cupcake dressed up as a healthy snack. Those muffins were huge! And full of sugar. Dropped those and my Frutopia or Snapple drink and I dropped about 5 pounds in less than 2 weeks. No other changes. Plus, I got rid of my headaches and hangry tendencies.
- Think about (and perhaps write down) how you feel about food. Do you live to eat or eat to live? Do you love food (best friend), hate food (enemy), or have a love-hate relationship with food (frenemy)? Do you know why you feel this way about food?
- Start to pay attention to the types of hunger you might experience. Is it true hunger for food that has you reaching for something to eat? Is it stress, sadness, loneliness, anger, frustration, boredom, or simply habit? Even if you recognize you’re eating out of stress and you still choose to eat, just let yourself recognize that you’re eating to calm your feeling of stress. Don’t self-judge. Just recognize. For now.
- Start to consider what you’re feeding and think about whether there food substitutions that might be better for you. For example, if you’re eating to calm yourself, can you first try doing 5 minutes of breathing exercises and still if you still feel like eating after? If you’re craving ice cream, is it the sweetness, the creaminess, or the memories of childhood that you want? Is there something else that might substitute, e.g. a handful of berries for the sweetness, half an avocado for the creaminess, or make up a silly rhyme (or skip or sing or make a joke!) for the visit to child in you.
That second part can make a huge difference because remember that most of our decisions are based on what we are feeling. And sometimes we don’t pay attention to how we feel, meaning that we could be making poor choices. And eating inappropriate food doesn’t solve the problem.
Section 3 to Eating Healthy: Start adding in healthy foods
Next step is adding in healthy foods. The focus is on good things to add, rather than bad things to avoid.
- If you find that saying “no” to certain foods is really hard, you could start by just adding in healthy foods. This means organizing yourself and having these foods at the ready. If, instead, you hope that you’ll simply find and choose healthy food when you are starving and pop into Starbucks or other such place, good luck.
- Some top foods you might want to add to your routine:
- Hemp seeds, ground flax seeds, chia seeds–add them to smoothies, top them on your oatmeal or cereal, sprinkle them on salads or cooked veggies.
- Buckwheat, quinoa–these are actually seeds–rich in protein, fibre, and good fats–but you prepare them like grains. They are gluten-free.
- Millet, amaranth, rice are all non-gluten grains. Don’t make them the centrepiece of your meal though. Side dish, small servings.
- Add more veggies. Find a vegetable you’ve never used before and add it in. Or simply give veggies more real estate on your plate and eat them first.
- Collect some delicious-looking healthy recipes (choose easy ones with not too many ingredients or steps, if you don’t have much time or are not inclined to spend much time in the kitchen). Pick one day to spend some time making one of those recipes at least a couple of times per month. Invite friends or family to join in on the preparing.
- Make more than you need and freeze portions for later.
- If you don’t like chopping and slicing and peeling and all that jazz (maybe you’re slow at it, as I am), buy the pre-prepped stuff at the grocery store. Yes, you’ll pay more. And yes it’s not as fresh as when you do it yourself. But it’s better than not eating enough vegetables. Frozen fruit and vegetables are also handy.
By adding in healthy foods, you may find you automatically eat less unhealthy foods simply because you’re not hungry.
Section 4 to Eating Healthy: Swap for healthier options
Finally, start dropping out the “bad” foods by substituting in healthier options.
- Go through your pantry, your fridge, your freezer, and any other place you stash food. If it’s junk food or processed food, get rid of it.
- When you shop, shop mostly at the perimeter of the stores, not much in the aisles. Skip the aisles that contain just chips, pop, cookies, and other empty food. If you don’t have it readily handy at home, you won’t have it tempting you continuously. Or go to farmers markets for fresh, local fare.
- Don’t have pop, juice, or sugary cafe drinks like frappuccinos (the venti caramel frappuccino coconut no whip is 340 calories and 75g of sugar; add whip to that and it’s 470 calories and 81g of sugar; even a venti nonfat milk, no whip mocha is 310 calories and 44g of sugar; and the venti iced passion tango tea lemonade though fewer calories at 190, but with 47g of sugar!). Do you have a fave coffee shop drink? Check out your fave drink https://globalassets.starbucks.com/assets/94fbcc2ab1e24359850fa1870fc988bc.pdf Don’t drink your sugar. Drink water, tea, fruit or veg infused waters (e.g. cucumber slices in water or raspberries in water or lemon slices in water). If you have shakes/smoothies or freshly made juices, know what’s in them and have ones with more veg, no artificial sweeteners, and not too much sugar.
- Bring your lunch to work. Or at least do some searching out to find healthy options for when you do eat out.
- Sweet tooth? Tame it by getting your tastebuds to notice the sweetness in things that don’t scream sweet, like yams, sweet potatoes, dates, figs, berries, grapes, melon, even carrots and other root vegetables, especially when they are roasted. Salt craver? Look for naturally salty foods like seaweeds, fermented foods like sauerkraut, and even celery. Perhaps it’s texture you’re after. Try whole foods that provide the textures you crave. Substitute.
- When you start to sub in a healthier food option, you may find it easier to do a blend of healthy and less healthy (or less appropriate for you). e.g. if switching to brown rice from white, mix the two together or when adding in nut milks instead of cow’s milk, alternate them for a bit.
And, of course, if you’re confused or need help, just ask! I love helping people make healthier foods choices.
Do you have your own tips and ways to make healthier choices for your food? Share it here!