Updated: Jun 8
You want to lose weight, get healthy and fit, and you 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 know you need a realistic approach to eating healthier that is simple and sustainable.
That's why I don't ask my clients to make big sweeping gestures in the name of weight loss. Instead we focus on making small improvements. One snack or meal at a time.
How to start eating healthier
The basic premise of healthy eating is eating foods from nature and in the natural form (or as close as possible). That means foods that GREW, FLEW, SWAM or RAN. It’s not another trendy diet, it's about leaning toward whole and nutrient dense foods, most of the time.
Now, for most of us, going completely processed food free is unrealistic, and probably not much fun. That's why as a Coach I have my clients focus on making one healthy change at a time, whether it's swapping something for a healthier alternative, reducing portions of highly processed foods, or adding more color to their plate to boost nutrients naturally. Every healthy change adds up!
Getting Started with Healthy Eating
If you’re just starting to eat healthier, then start one snack or meal at a time. Take breakfast, for example. What foods are you typically eating at breakfast, and where can you make a healthy swap?
Concentrate on eating as many colors of the rainbow as possible. Those nutrient dense foods full of color in the produce aisle will give you a bigger explosion of fresh flavor than any processed foods.
And while it may take a bit of practice to make the shift from protein bar to a banana and hard boiled egg, you can totally retrain your brain (and your taste buds) to appreciate all the flavors and textures of real foods without ingesting the artificial sweeteners, preservatives and other ingredients you can't pronounce that you may be currently be eating.
Whole, unprocessed foods include: fresh fruits and vegetables, farm-fresh eggs, nuts, legumes, etc. Minimally processed foods typically include frozen fruits and vegetables, unprocessed meats, poultry and fish, unrefined grains, and oils.
Aim to reduce processed foods that are heavily modified and contain a very 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.
These ingredients, which typically have little to no nutritional value, are often found in drive thru's, boxes, and bags.
As you embark on this journey, I must caution you to avoid going All or Nothing.
This is your healthy living journey and it should be a lifelong commitment. It's probably not realistic to cut out cookies, donuts or your favorite fun beverage forever. It's all about moderation, not deprivation.
Not All Processed Foods Are Bad
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 okay and that’s where choosing healthy, healthier, and healthiest options come into play.
By sticking to the perimeter of the grocery store, you'll be selecting foods that are freshest and more nutrient dense. When you’re selecting processed foods, ask yourself these questions to help make the best choice for you:
Are there more than five ingredients?
Do I recognize the ingredients?
Does the product contain whole grains (rather than refined grains)?
Does the product contain added sugar and artificial sweeteners?
Is there a healthier version of the item?
How many calories are in a single serving size?
Is it really worth it?
Removing all processed foods is unnecessary, but you want you to feel confident you're making smarter and more educated choices by understanding what you're getting.
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? If you made this dish at home, with minimally processed foods, you would have a lot less ingredients.
Here's an example of how you can make it with less ingredients and a whole lot healthier.
Barilla Whole Grain Pasta: whole grain durum wheat flour. Want to make it even cleaner? Then use zucchini noodles otherwise known as zoodles.
Tomato Basil Sauce: Italian tomatoes, olive oil, fresh onions, fresh basil, salt, fresh garlic, black pepper, oregano.
Home-grilled chicken: chicken Add some herbs, spices and vegetables of your choice and you have a really healthy alternative to the highly processed diet food.
Which would you rather eat?
What's So Bad About Processed Foods?
The Standard American Diet (SAD), which is typically made up of low protein, unhealthy fats, low fiber, highly processed foods, and low in plant-consumption, has been linked to the following diseases and conditions:
Highly processed foods are stripped of the nutrients our bodies desperately need for optimal health and wellness.
Let me be clear, it's not all or nothing and I'm not saying you have to eat perfectly or it doesn't count toward improving your health. It’s about making simple, realistic and sustainable changes to your regular daily diet. One healthy swap at a time. And the simplest way to start is by reducing or eliminating the worst offenders.
Avoid the Worst of the Worst
A simple first step is to reduce the highly processed Franken-foods. Here's a list of foods that have been designated as cancer-causing (or at least contributing) foods:
1. The Dirty Dozen. Each year, the Environmental Working Group publishes a list of the twelve dirtiest fruits and vegetables. The fruits and vegetables on this list have been found to be contaminated with cancer-causing pesticides. And here’s the thing ... washing doesn’t remove the pesticides.
Click to review the EWG’s Dirty Dozen. If you can’t find or afford to buy these fruits and veggies in the organic form, then do NOT eat them. Choose something else.
2. Soda. Did you know that a 12 ounce can of Coke has 140 calories and 39g of sugar? This is more sugar than a Snicker’s bar which comes in at 250 calories and 27g of sugar. The sugar, food colorings and artificial ingredients acidifies the body and feeds cancer. Certain ingredients, including the caramel color, have also been touted as cancer causers.
3. Artificial Sweeteners. You may be thinking that diet soda is better. The sad truth is some artificial sugars have been linked to some forms of cancer and those little colored packets you see on restaurant tables have been linked to Type 2 Diabetes because they alter the the composition of bacteria in our intestines.
4. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Corn and soy are two of the most common genetically modified crops grown. Some reports have shown that 90% of corn and soy has been modified. That’s crazy! Long-term research is still needed to specifically identify the horrible side affects of GMOs in humans, but initial research on rats is not good. A 5-digit code beginning with an 8 means your fruits or vegetables have been genetically modified.
5. Microwave Popcorn. Besides being made of GMO corn, the chemical-laden bags have been linked to lung cancer in recent studies. If you love popcorn, try making your own or one of my favorites that's made with non-GMO corn and is light on calories and salt is SkinnyPop.
Eat Unsaturated "Good" Fats Daily
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.
Eliminate "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.
Veggies - Cooked or Raw? Some vegetables lose nutrients in cooking and other vegetables nutrients are increased in cooking. Here’s a simple cheat sheet of foods that are better for you cooked or raw.
Go Slow and Take It One Step At A Time!
I know change can feel overwhelming, so please start slow. My clients who've had the greatest success have done so by noticing what they eat and making one healthy swap or improvement at a time. For instance, if your breakfast tends to be a sugary cereal, try swapping for some hearty overnight oats, or if your standard go-to on busy mornings is to hit Starbucks for a breakfast sandwich and 16 oz. latte, try swapping them for egg bites and a nonfat sugar free version of your favorite latte. Small improvements can add up quick! One choice at a time.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you can't ever have a granola bar, protein bar or you favorite fruit and nut bar. What I'm saying is it's important to know what you're eating and if your morning go-to is loaded with artificial sweeteners, salt, fat and a bunch of ingredients you can't pronounce you may be eating a glorified candy bar. Which is awesome when it's your planned indulgence but a big bummer when you think you're eating better.
Do you want to lose weight, gain energy, get healthy and fit but have no idea where to start? I've got you friend!
Download my free guide and I'll show you four ways to start eating better, so that you can feel and function your best!
My FREE guide is for you if...
You spend so much time wondering what to eat, if it's healthy, and worried about getting it "right."
You feel stuck in a cycle of stop and start dieting, bouncing from cutting out all the foods you love to eating All-The-Things when the wheels fall off.
You're tired of starting over every Monday, struggling with willpower, and food cravings.