The holidays are a season of celebration. For many of us, this translates into a season of overindulgence. All those cookies, spiked eggnog and festive holiday dinners may have taken a toll on your energy level, not to mention adversely affected how your clothes fit.
The new year is here, but instead of making a resolution to follow some torturous diet plan in hopes of mitigating the damage the holidays did to your waistline, why not focus on adopting a few habits that will support a lifetime of making healthier choices about how you nourish your body?
The Importance of Properly Nourishing Your Body
While your primary motivation for adopting a few healthier eating habits might be weight loss, especially right after the holidays, there are plenty of other great reasons to pay closer attention to the foods you eat.
For instance, a healthier diet can boost your immune system – something that’s especially beneficial in the midst of cold and flu season. We also know that a healthy diet can fight inflammation, boost energy, improve your mood and contribute to overall longevity.
Does this mean that you should jump on the hottest diet trend of the season? It’s not uncommon to be bombarded with news about the latest fad diets during the first few months of the year. While some of these plans are well suited for the physiological needs of some people, they aren’t always wildly successful for the general population and many of them lack the backing of the health care and nutrition professionals.
Most experts would agree that if you want the long term benefits of eating healthy, your approach should be centered around smaller dietary and lifestyle adjustments, rather than following a “diet” that just isn’t sustainable in real life.
Unfortunately, in being completely honest, many of us have trouble sticking to a commitment to make healthier choices when we don’t have a strategic game plan in front of us. This is especially true when sticking to a healthier way of eating involves a complete dietary overhaul. It can easily become overwhelming.
First Steps to Eating Healthier
So, what’s the solution? The best place to start is by assessing the current state of your daily diet. Put the holiday season behind you and look at what you’re eating on any average day. This gives you a much truer picture of where you’re winning with your dietary choices and where opportunity for improvement exists.
Next, take caloric intake into consideration. There are several diets out there that focus on what you’re eating and encourage followers to not pay any attention to the number of calories they’re consuming on a daily basis. This might work fine while following the diet, but it can also leave a person with a distorted reality about the number of calories they can consume without any repercussions. This is one of the main reasons why people who have been successful with diets that restrict carbohydrates but not calories tend to gain back weight so easily once they start to move away from strictly following the diet.
Obviously, nobody wants to worry about meticulously counting calories for the rest of their life. The solution to this is adopting eating habits that naturally keep the number of calories consumed to a level that is appropriate for weight loss or weight maintenance.
For example, if you’ve made a habit out of visiting a fast food place for a burger and fries every day for lunch, it can be easy to exceed a healthy number of calories without even realizing it. However, if you’re focused on nutritionally rich foods, you’re more likely to find that you stay within a healthy range without much effort or thought at all.
If you want to learn about appropriate portion sizes and how the calories you consume add up, it’s smart to track what you eat for at least a week or two to give yourself a baseline idea of what you’re consuming. Try doing this even if you’re following a dietary plan that discourages calorie counting, just so you have an idea of how your current intake compares to modern dietary recommendations.
Ok, now with all the assessing and calorie counting aside, lets look at a few easy ways of making better dietary choices and eating healthier not just as a new year’s resolution, but for the long term.
7 Tips for Adopting a Healthier Way of Eating
Sneak More Fruits and Veggies Into Your Day
This one seems like a no-brainer, but it can be harder than you think to get in all the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables. The good news is you don’t have to commit to eating a mountain sized portion of vegetables at dinner. Instead, you can get everything you need by consuming smaller portions of fruits and vegetables throughout the day.
For example, you can toss a handful of berries into your morning smoothie or mix them in with your oatmeal. A glass of fresh squeezed orange juice counts, as does a nice mixture of veggies thrown into your scrambled eggs or omelet.
When you have a sweet craving, opt for apples dipped in peanut butter. If you want something creamy or cheesy, try whole grain toast or crackers topped with avocado, a few nuts and maybe some spinach or tomato.
Take this approach with every meal and snack, and soon you’ll be hitting your target for daily servings of fruits and vegetables.
Have Healthy Snacks Ready to Go
When you need or crave a snack, you’re likely to reach for whatever is most readily available. After all, most of us don’t have the time to spend 30 minutes or more preparing a simple snack in the middle of the afternoon. Often, we reach for a bag of chips or a candy bar because it’s easy and quick. The best solution for healthy snacking is to have healthier choices that are as easy to grab as any prepacked food.
For instance, keep a bowl of washed fruit on the counter or have little containers of snacks that contain nuts, veggies or low-fat cheeses prepared and within easy reach. If you’re in a pinch and need to grab a quick snack while you’re out, pick up a bag of pretzels or whole grain crackers instead of chips or other crunchy snacks.
Discover the Pleasures in Your Own Kitchen
One of the biggest sabotages to any diet is frequently eating out. This is still true even if you’re conscious about choosing the healthiest option on the menu. The fact is, you never know for sure every ingredient that’s used in the cooking process and sauces or dressings can easily pack in extra calories, fat and sugars. Plus, many restaurants use at least a few pre-packaged ingredients, which translates to preservatives and chemicals you probably want to avoid.
If eating out is your downfall, it’s time to get better acquainted with your own kitchen and discover the joys of creating healthy, delicious food. Even if you’re doubtful about your ability to effortlessly throw together a 5-star meal, you can still improve your skills in the kitchen and improve your diet in the process.
Try taking a healthy cooking class or picking a few favorite dishes to master. Then go grocery shopping on a regular basis to fill your refrigerator and pantry with healthy staples to encourage dinner in rather than going out.
Be Mindful About Your Eating Habits
How many times have you grabbed something to eat and then sat in front of the television or scrolled through your phone, being only partially aware of what you were consuming. This also happens in social situations where appetizers and drinks can lead to mindless consumption.
Changing this habit doesn’t require forgoing the appetizer platter forever. Just taking a break and being aware of what you’re consuming will help increase your awareness for the long term.
For example, think about a big tub of buttered popcorn that you might enjoy at a movie theater. Now, imagine eating that same tub of popcorn while sitting at your dining room table and concentrating on nothing else. Our money says that you’d eat significantly less of that delicious buttery popcorn when there isn’t something to distract you. Practicing mindful eating can help your body to recognize natural satiety signals and prevent overeating.
Learn the Fine Art of Saying No
Just because something is offered to you doesn’t mean you have to accept. For many, this is an even bigger challenge in the workplace where pastries might be served for morning meetings or a cake appears in the breakroom in celebration of someone’s birthday. Coworkers are also notorious for applying a thick layer of guilt if you dare turn down the double-chocolate, fudge-filled mega-muffins someone made from scratch.
There is something that you need to remember, even if it means making a daily mantra out of it – you not only have the right to say no, you also have the responsibility to say no when it’s necessary for taking care of your health.
Don’t Go Low Fat All the Time
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, low fat everything was the craze. Since then, we’ve learned that low fat doesn’t necessarily equate to healthy. We’re more conscious of this now and it’s important to keep in mind that you don’t always have to choose the lowest fat version of your favorite foods.
For example, it’s fine to indulge in an ice cold glass of whole milk or full fat yogurt from time to time. Some studies even suggest that the consumption of low fat dairy products is connected to lower rates of obesity. Whole milk dairy products can seem like a decadent indulgence, and they’ll help you feel satiated and feeling less deprived.
The thing to keep in mind here is moderation. A glass of milk or serving of full fat yogurt once a day is fine. However, if you’re consuming multiple servings of dairy products, it is probably best to mix in a few lower fat versions as well.
Nix the Screen Time
Yes, lounging around all day in front of your laptop or with your phone in your hand isn’t doing much good for your body. But what you’re looking at during all that screen time can also affect your eating.
We’re all been guilty of falling down the rabbit hole of looking at food blogs or pinning countless new recipes to Pinterest. You might think that drooling over image after image of delicious looking food is a relatively harmless indulgence, but the truth is that just the act of looking at food produces a hunger signal in your brain, making you reach for a snack even if you’re not really that hungry. If you’re a diehard foodie that doesn’t want to give up your guilty pleasure, enjoy looking at food blogs after you eat, not before, and enjoy a guilt free beverage like a warm cup of tea to help keep hunger at bay.
The most important thing to remember is that adopting a healthier way of eating isn’t about depriving yourself in any way but nourishing your body with the foods that it needs to help you live a long, healthy and beautiful life. It all starts with small changes that lead to lifelong healthy habits.
"Fatigue;Inflammatory Conditions;Mental Health Issues;Obesity " "Anti-Inflammatory;Diet/Nutrition;Healthy Choices;Mindful Aging;Stress Management "