Do you know that when you are trying to lose weight, it is 80% what you put in your body versus 20% exercise? Even if you are not looking to lose weight, I share this fact because it demonstrates just how important the food you consume is to your overall health. Also, how much you eat is also essential to your overall health. Living in a “super-sized” world is making humans super-sized while distorting your view of portion size.
So, how do you eat healthy? To me, it boils down to these six steps:
- What Are You Eating? The biggest thing to know here is to eat well-balanced, which includes proteins, vegetables, fruits, and grains. If you think of every time you eat and dividing these four areas equally, that is a well-balanced diet. Fruit is one of the quadrants that you could eat less of and substitute it for more vegetables. The other important note is to eat as whole as possible. This means eating the apple rather than drinking apple juice. Another way to help ensure healthy eating is to not eat processed foods, sugar, and high-glycemic carbohydrates.
When going out for dinner, skip the dinner roll or order your grilled chicken sandwich with romaine lettuce to serve as the “bun” rather than the overly carbohydrated bun. Select a leaner cut of meat when dining out such as fish over sausage. Rather than ordering the pasta special that will leave you overly stuffed and full of high-glycemic carbohydrates, select the pork chop dinner and ask for an extra serving of vegetables in place of the baked potato.
It is small details such as this that make a difference for a healthy diet and a healthy body. As you start to eat like this more and more, you will find that you begin to crave the healthy food and no longer desire the unhealthy food. When you may want the unhealthy food because it looks good or smells good or the person next to you is raving about it, think about how you will feel 5 minutes after eating, 50 minutes, 5 hours, and even the next day. Not only from a mental strength perspective but also how your body will respond.
There is a phrase of, “eat as close to the earth as possible.” What this means is eating foods in their most natural, earthly-delivered manner as possible. These are vegetables grown in the ground, fruits and berries right off of the tree or bush, nuts directly from the plant, eggs right from the chicken or duck, and fish right from the water. When you can eat the majority of your meals with foods like this, you do not need to wonder what other ingredients are included.
- Portion control. According to the CDC, a hamburger is three times the size today as it was in the 1950s! It is imperative to read labels so you know how many servings are in what you eat. A good rule of thumb is to eat your meals from a 9-inch plate and to imagine your plate in quarters, filled with protein, vegetables, grains and fruits. If you compare the 9-inch plate (the salad-sized plate) to the “dinner plate”, think of how much larger that is and what it adds in not only serving size but also more calories. This is a very small change, but one that is powerful!
It is important to think of food as our fuel. Similar to putting gas in a car to keep it running until you need to fill it up again, the same is what food does for our body. Food serves a purpose, which is to give us nourishment and energy (fuel). Yes, it is great when food tastes good, but its first purpose is the nutrients it provides. Our bodies need vitamins and minerals to ensure that we are working to our best capacity day in and day out. Yes, we can continue to function on a very poor diet, but not for long, and not without doing our body harm down the road. I think some people feel that as long as they are still functioning they are ok. On the surface that may seem to be the case, but our vital organs serve a very important purpose, and we can’t “see” them to know if they are ok or not. We don’t know if they are sick until they fail us.
- How often are you eating? Eating six small meals a day, which essentially is eating every 2.5-3 hours, keeps you comfortable, not hungry and never overfull. I have heard often that eating six small meals a day is key to good health and maintaining your weight. I always thought it was because of what is stated in the preceding sentence. However, it wasn’t until I became a health coach and learned from the “Dr. A’s Habits of Health” book by Dr. Wayne Scott Anderson that I learned the science behind this recommendation. When you eat several small meals a day you keep your blood sugar levels consistent. This is contrary to when your blood sugar spikes and then drops after a big meal. When your blood sugar remains steady, cravings for sweet foods are reduced. Also, when we continuously nourish our bodies, we are telling our body it does not need to store calories, more will be on the way shortly.
Consider eating more of your calories at breakfast and at dinner using the 9-inch plate. The rest of your four meals are smaller portions similar to a snack size. These smaller snacks should be as whole as possible, be mindful of serving size, and have a high nutritional value. Therefore, nothing processed, low in carbohydrates, and no sugar.
- What are you drinking? Water is vital to our overall health. You need 64 ounces of water per day. Staying hydrated serves many purposes, and it is important to know that our bodies do not/cannot store water. Therefore, it is essential for us to replenish our hydration continuously. Oftentimes when you are hungry you are actually thirsty/dehydrated, so this is why it is recommended to drink water before you decide to eat something, especially if it is outside of the time for you to eat something (see “how often are you eating?” above). Water also helps to flush our systems, removing toxins, and keeping our internal organs working at their best. Unsweetened coffees and teas are fine to consume as well.
Many people consume countless calories from beverages such as sodas, sweetened teas, fruit drinks, alcohol, and sweetened coffees. These calories provide little to no nutritional content so that is why people refer to them as “empty calories.” If you want to make yourself fall over, just search how many calories are in your favorite coffee drink! You know what, I will save you the trouble. An iced white chocolate mocha from Starbucks has 450 calories as a grande size with whipped cream and made with two percent milk. Compare this to a Greek salad with grilled chicken. All of this: 3 ounces of grilled chicken, 2 cups of romaine lettuce, ¼ cucumber, 5 Kalamata olives, 1 Roma tomato, 1 tablespoon feta cheese, 1 small piece of whole wheat pita bread with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar totals the same amount of calories as the Starbucks treat that will be consumed in 10 minutes, leave you hungry 15 minutes later, spike your blood sugar, and provide you with zero to very little nutrition.
The choice is yours but be mindful of what you are drinking. Remember that if you are looking to reduce your daily caloric intake, reviewing what you drink is a great start!
- Plan your days! When starting anything new it is essential to plan your days so you are prepared and always one step ahead of the game. I like to remind people to “avoid the lull” because it is in the “lull” that bad decisions are made! How many times have you come home from a busy and stressful day at work and you need to make dinner but you have no idea what to make? How many times has this resulted in ordering a pizza? Or, while you are waiting for the hamburger to defrost you find yourself hungry so you walk to the pantry only to find yourself mindlessly standing there eating potato chips directly from the bag?
It is for this reason that the download for this blog is a simple weekly menu planner and grocery shopping list. If you can get into the habit of taking 15 minutes the day before the start of your new week to plan out a weekly menu and then an accompanying grocery list, you will be AMAZED at what it provides to you. Not only do you find less stress with wondering what to make for dinner, but you save so much time in not spinning your wheels wondering, but you will also find that you save money on groceries and have less food waste.
When you know exactly what you will have for meals every day of the week and then shop for just those meals, you find yourself buying only what you need. How rewarding will it be to not throw away food that got pushed to the back of your refrigerator because you never had a plan for it? Also, when you shop with a grocery list you prevent the preceding sentence from happening, but you also don’t find yourself buying the case of pop because it is on sale, or the two for one cookies because they are not on your list or on your menu!
- Assess how you feel and do more of the good stuff and stop the bad stuff. If you have not been using the “30-day Challenge for a Healthier Body” from the last campaign, go back and start using that now. With this easy yet very informative tool you will quickly see connections between not drinking enough water and over-eating; not moving your body often enough and having a poor attitude; eating too much and feeling groggy or not sleeping well. When you can directly connect how you feel with what you put into your body and how you treat your body, you are much more inclined to make healthy choices. The next time you eat half of a deep dish pizza, have a huge “ball” in the bottom of your gut for the rest of the night, sleep terribly, and then wake up feeling tired, question (but know in your heart) the connection back to the over-eating of pizza and carbohydrates.
Also assess how you feel getting your life organized by creating a menu for the entire week. You will discover a new sense of freedom with the reduced stress and dread of constantly thinking of what’s for dinner. You will also discover more time in your week. And, over time and with good practice, more money in your pocket when you are not buying needlessly.
I wish you luck on this journey to good health!