When you find yourself shopping anywhere for food nowadays, you will see the words “organic” and “all natural” slapped on everything from meat, to dairy, to actual regular junk food. The pressure to eat healthier is more prominent and commonplace now than it has been in recent history, and no one has felt it more than the marketing teams behind your favorite energy drink or late night snack manufacturer. This, of course, makes it a bit more difficult to weed out what is truly “healthy” in terms of food. This is compounded even further by the myriad of fad diets endorsed by celebrities and fitness gurus. Am I supposed to follow the food pyramid? Should I be counting calories? What does “heart healthy” even mean?!
Fortunately, eating healthy is much simpler than Instagram models trying to make an extra dollar would make it seem. In this article, we will cover how to break into a healthy eating habit, and you won’t even need to drink overpriced asparagus water to do it.
Step 1. Take an inventory of your current eating habits
This may be the hardest step, because it requires a very honest peer into one’s own eating habits. It’s easy for us to say that “sure, I eat healthy for the most part,” but do we really? Except, maybe, that second helping of potato salad at the barbeque last saturday. Or that midnight Nutella snack. Or the lunch at work that consisted of whatever I could find in the vending machine.
This is easily managed by keeping a log of what you eat. Either by writing it down, or using an app, or even keeping in the notes of your phone, taking a solid inventory of what goes into your body throughout the day (and being honest about it) is a necessary step in the healthy eating process. You don’t need to count the calories at this point, but it will make things easier in the long run if you start now. You can gain a good baseline for yourself by tracking about 2-3 weeks of meals and snacks.
Step 2. Understand what is bad for you/what makes you gain weight.
The truth is that most of us already know what’s bad for us, we just eat it anyway. High fructose corn syrup, loads of added sugar, entire day’s worth of sodium in single servings, unnecessary fat added for flavor, all of these we’ve heard many times aren’t good for our bodies. The problem with these is that they are literally added to make foods taste sweeter and saltier beyond a natural level, making them irresistible to our taste buds. While these ingredients are key and necessary to a balanced diet, they exist in most foods far beyond a recommended level. There are many documentaries and websites dedicated to explaining how added sugar and salt assist in packing on the pounds. Step 2 can be performed in congruence with step 1, and is good preparation for choosing what to eliminate from your diet.
Step 3. Identify what needs to go and what needs to be added.
We’ve already identified an overabundance of sugar, sodium, and saturated fat as obvious markers of an unhealthy diet, but it isn’t as simple as eliminating only these things. Unfortunately for most of us, our eating habits stem from how we ate growing up. This usually translates to whatever our parents ate. While in some cases, some may have grown up eating hearty homemade meals at home, for many it meant premade, boxed meals or fast food. This style of eating doesn’t teach us what a portion size, a serving size, or even what the difference between the two is in terms of vegetables and meats.
Simple changes include:
- Removing fried foods
- Try grilling or broiling as an alternative
- Cut back on adding salt and sugar to consumables like meats and coffee
- Reducing meat portions and increasing vegetable portions
- A good estimate is that half of your plate be green food.
- Learn the differences between lean and fatty meats
- Red meat is popular in the US, but is by far less healthy overall than its lean counterparts (like chicken and fish).
- A brief overview can be found here (link:livestrong)
- Eliminate processed food and junk food
- When possible, meal prepping with raw, home cooked food is preferable over prepackaged meals.
- Substituting junk food (chips, cookies, etc) with snacks consisting of vegetables, fruits, and healthy alternatives like hummus.
- Choosing wheat over white breads when possible.
There are a plethora of guidelines for healthy eating, but the ones mentioned above represent a good starting point for an eating habit change.
Step 4. Plan out your approach (and stick to it)
The problem with most dieting and fad diets is that they are only designed to work in the short term. A successful two week crash diet may result in noticeable weight loss… at the cost of regaining all that lost weight (and possibly more) when you return to standard eating habits. The “lose X number of pounds in X days” diets? Throw them out of the window. When it comes to truly changing your eating habits, it’s a meant to be a lifestyle change. This is the most proven and longest lasting healthy, long-term solution to weight management. We can’t realistically expect ourselves to bonzai into a rigid healthy eating plan right off the bat, though.
- Take small steps – Eliminating foods from your diet isn’t the easiest thing to do. Trying too much too fast can result in disillusionment, crashing, and a failed diet. Trying something different from week to week is a good starting point for your long-term change.
- Devise an actual plan – Again, there are many different kinds of plans to follow. The good news is there are many free ones online that help you track your intake of calories and plan out meals, as well as cooking and prepping advice. We can’t promote and specific ones here, but a quick Google search will yield results.
- Meal prep/Cook in large batches – One of the biggest detractors from cooking with raw meats and vegetables is the time required to prepare it. Prepping foods ahead of time for future meals and cooking large batches with the intention of having leftovers is key for time management.
Sticking to your new diet is an important last step, and an ongoing one. Not everyone’s body works the same, so switching the diet to fit your needs is also vital to its success. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different food types and preparations and see what works for you. Lastly, don’t forget to exercise. Physical activity is an equal part of a healthy lifestyle as much as proper eating. Stay tuned for an article geared towards this physical aspect of a healthy lifestyle change in the near future.