I have split this post into two parts as it was getting too long. Here is part one. You can find part two here.
As I sit on my couch eating a mini chocolate bar, I ponder ways to get back on track with my nutrition. Every winter, my food choices are much less healthy than the rest of the year. This year has been worse than normal.
The more unhealthy food I eat, the worse I physically feel. I become lethargic, foul-tempered and apathetic. Clearly not someone very nice to be around, and it gets to the point that I don’t even like being around myself much either.
I think that most people know what they should (or should not) be eating but it’s the how to do it that is often hard. So here are some ideas to get you (and me) back on the healthy nutrition track.
1. Start small.
This is one of my favourite tips for improving health, or making any sustainable change in life.
Generally, when people decide to eat healthier, they go all out and extreme with a new diet. All unhealthy food is eliminated immediately, replaced by salads, or foods from one or two food groups. We all know that this is not sustainable.
If all (or most) of the food you currently eat is unhealthy, start to turn things around by choosing one meal (I suggest breakfast) that is your healthy meal of the day. Start the day with a fulfilling healthy breakfast and make this non-negotiable. Anything you eat for the rest of the day can be whatever you choose – healthy or not. Do this for a week or two and see how it feels.
Once eating a healthy breakfast feels ‘normal’, increase your healthy meals to two per day. Again, do this for a week or two until it feels normal to you and then move to a third healthy meal each day. Once you’ve done this, move on to your snacks.
If you historically have eaten mostly nutritious foods but are noticing that you are now eating more and more unhealthy food (like me), try giving yourself the option of one (small) unhealthy food each day or second day – whatever works for you. Gradually reduce the frequency of the unhealthy food in your week.
2. Food is fuel, not a reward.
Until recently, I never used food as a reward. Maybe my life was pretty cruisy before? Maybe life just feels a bit harder at the moment? Regardless, I now find myself increasingly turning to food to congratulate myself on getting through the day. This has to stop.
Food is fuel for my body. It is not a reward for surviving a tough day. Nor should it be used to pacify or anaesthetise my negative feelings or moods. If my days are tough, I need to try to change aspects of them to ease the pressure, or find some other (healthier) coping strategies. If I’m eating to avoid other things that are bothering me, I really need to spend some time addressing these.
If you are using food as anything other than fuel for your body, think about why this is happening and what you can do to address the actual problem, rather than masking it with food.
3. Create a guideline for when you eat your favourite unhealthy food.
I don’t like using the word rule (because that’s just too stringent and begs to be broken) but consider creating a guideline for when you will generally eat your favourite unhealthy food.
I like (read: really, really like) corn chips and could probably eat them most days (for awhile at least until I overdosed and couldn’t look at them anymore) but I know that they aren’t very healthy for me. So my guideline for eating corn chips is that I can eat them on Friday or Saturday nights (not both). This doesn’t mean that I don’t eat them on other nights (because I sometimes do), but if I keep to this guideline most of the time, I am being kinder to my body in the long run.
4. Wait 30 minutes before indulging a junk food craving.
Sometimes you can avoid eating junk food by putting some time between when you have the craving and when you actually eat the food. ‘This too shall pass’ is a quote (I’m unsure of the author) that aptly applies to food cravings.
If you think you really want a piece of cake, that’s fine. But try waiting for 30 minutes before you have any. The cake isn’t going anywhere, but by waiting, you can be really sure that you want it. If after waiting you still want the cake, go ahead and enjoy some – but try just having half a slice.
5. Adopt the 80/20 guideline.
Not many people can eat healthy food 100% of the time for their entire lives. It is just not possible. Even if you want to eat well, it can sometimes be hard to find healthy options (road trip anyone?). So many experts suggest the 80/20 rule (their word, not mind). That is, opt for healthy foods 80% of the time and relax a bit about the other 20% that you eat.
There are different approaches to this strategy. Some people choose to eat healthily for 80% of their meals each week. For example, they eat nutritious food throughout the week and have some less healthy meals over the weekend. Others who count calories might assign 20% of their daily calories to less healthy food choices. Go with whatever works for you.
I hope that these five tips help you to eat a bit more nutritiously. For more tips, have a look at part 2 of ‘How to eat healthier’. If you enjoyed this article you may also like to read Simple Steps to Health.