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." But the truth is there is no such thing as a good and bad food.
Sure, some may be more nutritionally dense than others, but that certainly doesn't mean you can't ever enjoy a cookie or ice cream cone. Rather than trying to remove fun foods from your life, I help my clients learn how to practice a healthier food balance.
It starts with making food level ups. The basic premise of food level ups is to explore simple ways you can eat just a little bit better each day. And one simple way to do that is to include more nutrient dense foods in your daily diet, often called "whole foods". These are typically foods that GREW, FLEW, SWAM or RAN.
And no, that doesn't mean you should suddenly cut out all processed foods and only eat whole foods. It's unrealistic to say you're never going to enjoy a cookie, chocolate bar or potato chip again. In fact, this is where diets fall short, asking you to make big sweeping changes to your day-to-day food habits that leave you battling cravings and willpower.
It's why I teach my clients how to make ONE healthy change at a time. Whether it's making one small and simple level up, adding one nutrient dense food to their plate, or reducing a portion size of something to help them better balance their snack or meal.
Because every healthy change adds up!
The 'Less Is More' Approach
If you’re just starting to eat better, then I recommend you begin 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 small level up? Maybe it's adding veggies to your scrambled eggs, trading your usual yogurt fro a protein packed Greek yogurt, or swapping out your morning latte and a protein bar for coffee with creamer, hard boiled egg and banana.
A simple hack I use with my clients 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 more satisfying.
And you don't need to go from zero to sixty. When making level ups, you only need a slightly healthier version that still satisfies. Such as a looking for a Greek yogurt that offers more protein and less added sugar, then adding your favorite fruit and nuts, or opting for a cereal that lists whole grains in the top of the ingredient list with less added sugars than your usual go-to, pairing it with fruit and even a hard boiled egg.
Ditch the All or Nothing. As I often remind my clients, whatever steps you take to achieve your goals, you must be willing to keep taking in order to maintain them. Which is why trying to cut certain foods out of your life is not a good long-term strategy (unless you need to for health and/or medical reasons). Instead focus on small improvements that feel doable, so you can make it easier to stick to them over time.
Not All Processed Foods Are Bad
Yes, you read that right. Contrary to what diet culture would have you 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 level ups come into play.
When trying to decide the best choice for you, scan those nutrition labels and ask yourself some of the following questions:
Do I recognize the ingredients?
Does the product contain whole grains?
Does the product contain a bunch of added sugar or artificial sweeteners?
Is there a healthier version of the item?
If there is not a healthier version, is it worth it? (spoiler alert: it's okay if the answer is yes!)
You do not need to remove all processed foods from your life in order to lose weight. But starting to notice where you can minimize them and trade them up for better versions is a great way to promote healthier food balance, better support healthy body function and your lasting weight loss goals.
Why "healthy" foods are NOT always healthier.
Check out this 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 actually 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 meal at home using more nutrient dense ingredients:
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, and highly processed foods. All of which have been linked to the following diseases and conditions:
Highly processed foods are stripped of the nutrients your body desperately needs to feel and function its best.
And no, I'm not saying you need to cut out all processed foods in order to achieve your goals. It’s all about raising awareness so you can begin to practice a healthier food BALANCE. Because when you understand just what you're eating, it becomes a whole lot easier to start making slightly better choices.
Enjoy The "Good" Fats
Healthy fats don’t make you fat. This is just another myth diet culture has been spreading for years. And those fat-free "diet" products we saw everywhere in the '80s, really did a disservice to our health and our 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
Making changes to your food habits can often feel confusing, frustrating and overwhelming, especially when it comes to trying to figure out what's actually healthy. That's why I recommend taking it slow. My clients who've had the greatest success have done so by starting with ONE small change at a time, allowing their body to adapt and removing the mental drama. Keep it simple, make it doable and it will be easier to stay consistent (not perfect) with your food habits.
Are you sick and tired of riding the diet roller coaster, trying to figure out what, when and how to eat so you can lose the weight and keep it off?
I've got a 3-step simple process to help you out. Click the link below and book your free 30-minute Weight Loss Strategy Session with me now and let's get you off the diet roller coaster using a simple and personalized plan.