If you want to lose weight, get healthy and fit, you probably know eating better is one of the most powerful ways to make it happen. But where do you start?
Not only is it hard to know just what's healthy anymore, but after doing diet after trendy diet, you're probably starting to realize that what you need most is a simple and realistic approach to eating better that's sustainable. After all, if you're like most women, you've already tried the complicated, depriving and restricting "healthy eating" route.
Instead of trying to make big sweeping changes, the secret is to focus on making small and simple improvements over time. Not only is this healthier for your body by allowing it to adapt to changes a little at a time, it's also far better for your mental health too.
How To Start Eating Better
When you think about eating better you probably instantly think of certain foods as "good" and others as "bad." The truth is there is no such thing as a good and bad food. Sure, some may be nutritionally healthier than others, but that certainly doesn't mean you can't ever enjoy your favorite fun foods. Rather than deprivation, I teach my clients how to practice moderation.
The basic premise of eating better is to explore opportunities to level up existing food habits by steering toward more nutrient dense foods. And one simple way to do that is to include more foods in your daily diet that GREW, FLEW, SWAM or RAN.
It's unrealistic to say you're never going to enjoy a cookie, cracker or chip again. In fact, that's where most diets fall short, expecting you to make big sweeping changes to your day-to-day food habits that honestly aren't much fun or even necessary. It's why I teach my clients how to make one healthy change at a time, whether it's swapping a particular food for a slightly healthier version, reducing a portion size of a less healthy food, or adding more color to their plate to naturally boost nutrients. Because every healthy change adds up!
Getting Started with Eating Better
If you’re just starting to eat better, then start with one food, one snack or one meal at a time. Take breakfast, for example. What foods are you typically eating at breakfast, and where can you make a healthy level up? Maybe it's adding veggies to your scrambled eggs, topping your Greek yogurt with fruit and nuts, or swapping your usual protein bar for a hard boiled egg and banana.
A simple trick is to notice where you can ADD, not subtract. Instead of trying to cut out all your favorite fun foods, focus on what you can add to your plate that will be nutrient dense, filling and satisfying.
Whole, unprocessed foods include: organic fresh fruits and vegetables, free-range eggs, organic lean meats, seafood, organic milk, unsalted nuts, legumes, herbs and spices.
Minimally processed foods typically include: sliced fresh fruits and vegetables, frozen fruits and vegetables, bagged salads and leafy greens, roasted nuts, and canned foods such as vegetables, beans and meats packed in water.
Heavily processed foods typically include added sugars, salt and other preservatives to extend shelf life: jarred pasta sauces, flavored yogurts, and condiments.
Highly processed foods are often heavily modified and will contain a long list of ingredients, many of which you'll be challenged to pronounce without an advanced linguistics degree or will knock you out of a spelling bee. Pre-packaged and frozen meals tend to rate among the worst.
As you embark on your eat better journey, you don't need to go All or Nothing.
Whatever steps you take to achieve your goals, you must be willing to keep taking to maintain them. Which is why it's not realistic to cut out your favorite fun foods forever (plus it's not even necessary!). When you practice pairing pizza with a big salad full of veggies, not only will you boost your overall nutrition, you'll do it in a way that is simple and satisfying.
Not All Processed Foods Are Bad
Yes, you read that right. Contrary to what diet culture would have us believe, you don't need to raise your own livestock, grow your own vegetables, blend your own peanut butter or make your own milk. That’s where choosing the good, better and best options come into play.
By shopping the rainbow (and no I don't mean skittles), you'll naturally be selecting foods that are fresher and more nutrient dense, delivering essential vitamins and minerals to help you feel and function your best. When trying to decide what's the best choice for you, try asking yourself some of these questions to help you make YOUR next best choice:
Are there more than five ingredients?
Do I recognize the ingredients?
Does the product contain whole grains?
Does the product contain a ton of added sugar or artificial sweeteners?
Is there a healthier version of the item?
Is it really worth it? (spoiler alert: it's okay if the answer is yes!)
Removing all processed foods from your diet is unnecessary, but you want you to feel confident you're making better choices for you by understanding what you're eating.
Here’s the list of ingredients in a Chicken Pasta Parmesan made by a popular weight loss food delivery company:
WATER, COOKED CHICKEN (CHICKEN BREAST WITH RIB MEAT, WATER, RICE STARCH, SALT, ISOLATED SOY PROTEIN, SODIUM PHOSPHATE), ENRICHED PASTA (DURUM SEMOLINA, EGG WHITES, NIACIN, FERROUS SULFATE, THIAMINE MONONITRATE, RIBOFLAVIN, FOLIC ACID), CRUSHED TOMATOES, GREEN BELL PEPPERS, PARMESAN CHEESE (PASTEURIZED MILK, CHEESE CULTURE, SALT, ENZYMES), MODIFIED CORN STARCH, ROMANO CHEESE (PASTEURIZED MILK, CHEESE CULTURE, SALT, ENZYMES), TOMATO PASTE, KALE, AGAVE SYRUP, ISOLATED SOY PROTEIN, SUGAR, SEA SALT, ONION POWDER, GARLIC POWDER, SPICES, OLEORESIN PAPRIKA. CONTAINS EGG, MILK, SOY AND WHEAT.
How many of those ingredients do you really recognize? Think of it this way, if you made this dish at home, you would have a whole heck of a lot less ingredients.
Here's an example of how you could make this dish with less ingredients and better balanced nutrition.
Barilla Whole Grain Pasta: whole grain durum wheat flour. Trying to avoid gluten? Try Banza Chickpea Pasta or making zoodles (veggie noodles) from zucchini, carrot or squash.
Tomato Basil Sauce: Italian tomatoes, olive oil, fresh onions, fresh basil, salt, fresh garlic, black pepper, oregano. A quick scan of the nutrition label can help you choose one that's lower in sugar. Trader Joe's carries my favorite organic tomato basil sauce!
Home-grilled chicken: skinless chicken breast, grilled, baked or throw it in the instapot with some vegetable stock. Add some herbs, spices and vegetables of your choosing and you have a delicious and nutritious alternative to the highly processed diet food.
What's Wrong With Processed Foods?
The Standard American Diet (SAD), is typically comprised of low protein, unhealthy fats, high sugar, low fiber, highly processed foods, and low in plant-consumption, and has been linked to the following diseases and conditions:
Highly processed foods are stripped of the nutrients your body desperately need to feel and function its best.
Again, I'm not saying you need to cut out fun foods in order to improve your health and achieve weight loss. No way! It’s about BALANCE. When you understand what you're eating, you can make the best choices for you, your health and your body!
Enjoy The "Good" Fats
Healthy fats don’t make you fat. The fat-free products revolution of the 1980s, really did a disservice to our health and waistline.
Our bodies need monounsaturated fatty acids to reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol and to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Fats are also used for energy, cell growth, temperature regulation, nutrient absorption, and to help you feel satiated. Some great sources healthy fats are avocados, olives, nuts and seeds and the oils extracted from these foods.
Our bodies also need polyunsaturated fatty acids for brain and heart health.
These fatty acids can be found in cold water fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines and herring. If possible, choose wild fish over farmed because the farmed fish may be treated with antibiotics. Non-fish eaters can get them from chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp and walnuts.
Reduce The "Bad" Fats
Trans fats are man-made fats created by converting liquid fats into shelf stable solids which have a longer shelf life. In June 2015, the FDA has ordered manufacturers to stop using trans fat within three years. In the meantime, be sure to read labels carefully to avoid them.
There's a lot of conflicting information about saturated fats (most commonly found in animal sources). The American Heart Association recommends limiting them to 5% - 6% of your daily calories.
Take It One Small Step At A Time
Change can feel daunting and overwhelming, especially when it comes to our food habits. That's why I recommend taking it slow. My clients who've had the greatest success have done so by simply starting to notice portion sizes and reduce autopilot eating. Skipping meals and under eating all day tends to backfire by challenging metabolism and healthy body function, with an increase in late night food cravings. Keep it simple, make it doable and it will be easier to stay consistent (not perfect) with your habits.
Are you tired of starting over every Monday, hopping from diet to diet, wondering if you'll ever get it "right" so that you can lose the weight and become the best version of you? I’ve got you friend! Come join me inside my FREE women’s-only Facebook community: Eat Better with Coach Mindy. It's for busy women who are ready to lose weight, gain energy, get healthy and fit -- without restrictive diets or punishing food rules.