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Beginning a Healthier Life, Step Three: Healthy Eating— Dieting, and What That Really Means

Knowing what workouts are best for your body is important, but nourishing your body after working out is just as important, if not more, for a beginner trying to change their lifestyle. There is so much in our food that harms or helps us that we don’t know too much about. We all know the basics: drink water, eat our fruits and vegetables, and avoid processed food. But there is so much more behind all that. Knowing how to control and maintain your eating habits, and what kinds of foods help you more than others are important to living a healthier, stronger life.


Tips and tricks to set yourself up for success:

·         Simplify how you eat. Focus on the colors of your foods (hopefully they are naturally colored, not artificially), variety, and portion sizes. Choose fresh foods whenever possible for the healthier options. It will also probably taste better!

·         Change your habits in a slow, manageable way. Drastic changes have a tendency to set people back more than propel them forward. Make small changes like not eating a second or third helping, or getting a side of vegetables instead of fries.

·         Note all your improvements. Don’t let the bad things/setbacks deter you from continuing. Mentally congratulate yourself for not taking candy from the office candy bowl. Mentally, meaning do not reward yourself with other foods. While you note all you improvements, notice when you veer off track and see where your weak spots are. Do not punish yourself for having a setback; rather, note (write down if you need to) what you ate, when you ate it, and adjust your eating toward it.

·         Moderation is key. Moderation means you can eat that cupcake, just not every day. It also means you should drink more water, but one glass of wine to unwind after a stressful day will not set you back either.

Habit changers:

·         Do not set food as “off-limits.” Making food off-limits usually allows for the natural desire for them to set in, which is the exact opposite of what you want. If you’re drawn to salty or sugary foods, start by cutting back or reducing portion sizes. Your cravings for them will eventually decrease.

·         Think in smaller portions. One trick is to use a smaller plate, meaning piling less food on, and therefore cutting back on your portion size. Another trick is when you’re eating out and do not feel particularly hungry, get a starter instead of an entrée, or split a meal with a friend. Get a small or medium size rather than a large. Dietsinreview.com has a good chart about portion size.

·         Eat with other people. Eating with other people has great social benefits. It allows you to see how other people eat, and regulates how much you eat. When you eat in front of a screen, computer and TVs alike, it often allows for subconscious overeating.

·         Chew slower. This seems like a silly tip, but it actually helps. Rushing through your meal doesn’t give your body time to realize how much you just ate, which usually allows you to get another helping. Clew slower, put your fork down more, and savor your food. You’ll realize that you fill up faster than just hurriedly eating.

·         Notice when your body tells you you’re full. My tip is after every finished plate, wait five minutes. If you’re still hungry, then eat some more. If not, then don’t. If you aren’t sure if you’re hungry, have a glass of water and wait a bit. Your body might be telling you it’s bored and wants to do something – and that something is to eat.

·         Eat breakfast and smaller meals throughout the day. Having breakfast can jumpstart your metabolism, which helps your body process food and nutrients better throughout the day. One idea is to eat every four hours, to keep your body constantly filled with nutrients, but also to not overeat at one meal.

·         Do not eat at night or close to your bed time. Studies have shown that this adjustment of eating when you are the most active and giving your body lots of time to digest allows for your body to help regulate weight better. Again, drinking water will probably be better for you than a late night snack.

Kinds of food:

·         Water should be its own category in your diet. Water is so incredibly important for your body. Water makes up about 60% of your entire body. On average, women should be drinking 2.2L (or 9 glasses of water) per day, and men should be drinking 3L (or about 13 glasses of water), according to the Mayo Clinic. This always fluctuates per person, and sometimes it is hard to drink that much water. The “8 by 8” rule of eight eight-ounce glasses per day is a good way to start for those who do not drink water regularly.

·         Eat a rainbow in your fruits and vegetables. Have fruit at all times of the day: breakfast, snack, and in your lunch and dinner. Have an apple or orange as a snack to hold you over between lunch and dinner instead of a bag of chips. Choose whole fruit instead of juice to get some fiber into your diet. Have a bowl of fruit in your kitchen to remind you to eat some every day. Try a variety of vegetables. Add some black beans to your salads, or have cut red peppers and carrots as a snack. Eat by the season to try new vegetables. Try all the weird-looking greens – kale, mustard greens, bok choy (Chinese cabbage), kai-lan (Chinese broccoli), etc. Those kinds of greens are filled with natural vitamins.

·         Get your vitamins from food, not pills if you can. While the vitamin supplements are good, it’s better to get your nutrients straight from the source. Most of the health benefits from natural sources come from vitamins and chemicals inside working together, not pulled apart to be put into tiny capsules. Plus, natural sources offer better energy revitalization than pills.

·         Good vs. bad carbs: Healthy carbs include whole grains, beans, fruit, and vegetables.  These carbs are digested slower, allowing you to feel fuller longer. Bad carbs are more available and include white flour, refined sugar, and white rice. What makes all these products white is the fact that they have been stripped of fiber and most of their nutrients. While these are better options to eat than not at all, they do not offer the same amount of nutrients that their less refined components offer. These are digested faster, and thus don’t keep you full as long.

·         Good vs. bad fats: Fat is not a bad thing. It’s a good thing, if you get the right kinds. Monounsaturated fats are found in plant oils like canola oil, peanut oil, and olive oil, and are also found in nuts and seeds. Polyunsaturated fats are fats found in fatty fish such as salmon and anchovies. This kind of fat can also be found in some seeds and nuts.  These two kinds of fats tend to nourish your heart, brain, and cells. Saturated or trans-fat are found in red meat, whole milk, margarines, candies, cookies, fried foods, and other process foods. Saturated fats tend to raise cholesterol levels while trans-fat usually comes from unnecessary oils in processed food. Those two fats should be reduced from your diet.

Here are some low-calorie, lower fat alternatives. Greatist.com has a great (ha!) list of healthy recipe substitutions.

·         Mix in the whole grains. Some tips from ChooseMyPlate.gov: Make small switches to whole grain, such as choosing brown rice instead of white rice, or choosing whole-wheat bread when you can. Popcorn is a whole grain, so choose popcorn as a movie snack instead of candy. Add little or no salt or butter. Choose to bake with whole grain instead of white flour half the week.

·         Protein is key, but it comes in many forms. Red meat is a great source of protein and iron, and is one of my favorite types of protein. However, it is also very fatty and is high in sodium. Choose seafood a couple times a week in place of a cheeseburger or steak. Eggs are a great form of protein, so make those for breakfast. Nuts and seeds are also good forms of protein, and almonds or peanuts are great snack foods. Choose the unsalted option to also cut how much sodium you consume. A lot of forms of protein have high sodium, so check the sodium level before choosing your meal plans.

·         Don’t forget your calcium. Drink fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1%) milk. This has the same amount of calcium as whole milk, but with fewer calories. If you’re not much of a milk drinker, there are other options: yogurt and cheese for example. Choose cheese with low or reduced fat. Many vegetables are also great forms of calcium.

·         Eat naturally sweet food instead of sugary drinks or foods. Sugary drinks like soda and juice have an absurd amount of sugar in them, so if you are an avid sugary drink lover, try to cut back, and it will decrease your sugar intake significantly. Candy , cookies, and other baked goods have lots of sugar. A good substitute would be produce that has natural sugars to fix your sweets cravings. Natural sugars are found in fruit, peanut butter, and peppers.

·         Try to avoid how much salty food you eat. Processed food has tons of sodium in it, much greater than the suggested amount. Lots of restaurants and especially fast food joints use salt generously. Salty snacks, such as potato chips, pretzels, and crackers should be cut back. However, this is an important place to cut back slowly because if you cut everything out instantly, your taste buds will crave it more, and your resolve will be tested further than if you cut back slowly.

·         Fiber is often forgotten in the mix of what to focus on in your diet. Fiber lowers your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Fiber is found in whole grains, oatmeal, nuts, vegetables like carrots and celery, and in fruit, like apples, berries, and citrus fruit. There is not fiber in meat, dairy, or sugar. The refined foods, such as white rice, sugar, and bread had their fiber stripped from them.


There are many other tips, tricks, and foods to look out for that will help in your healthy weight loss journey, but here is a start. A lot of it has to do with paying attention to what, how, where, and with who you eat. It’s important to stay on track, but not punish yourself if you veer off. Cravings happen, but knowing when to use your will power will keep you on the path you wish to take toward a cleaner body and a healthier life. Love your body, and note what you put in it.

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