Each year around Spring time, lots of diet fads pop up, luring you into believing in miracle weight-loss-in-no-time-for-a-healthy-body promises. If you have tried any, you may have found that a- they don’t work, or b- they work… until you cannot starve your body any longer (portion-wise or nutrition-wise). How often though, do the lost pounds come back, and some more? Is the promise of health about dieting anyway? How about a not so fast but much healthier, longer term change, to both lose weight (if you have extra pounds to shed) and most importantly, invest if your future by adopting a healthy “food-style”?
You probably think if it’s about eating healthy, then it’s not for you. You’ve tried it before and after a few days craved something not so healthy, and fell off the wagon. Too difficult, too constraining, too… not for you.
You are right about one thing: depending on your current regimen, it might be difficult to unlearn some habits and process new ones. But: there is no effort too big when it comes to your health, and, there are ways to smooth into this. And to be clear: it is not about weight loss and being ready for this bikini season. It is about being ready for next year and all the ones after. Way beyond the weight loss component, it is about taking good care of yourself and putting all chances on your side to protect your health and your body’s ability to fight diseases, infections or anything else possibly hurtful.
There is no miracle, it may be hard work to let go of your old ways. But if you do feel you could fare better in the diet department, then give yourself a chance at it. Your body will thank you with more energy, maybe a nice glow on your face, and basically a stronger health altogether. Just like going cold turkey with smoking to become a non-smoker overnight does not work for everyone, the idea is that by altering your diet gradually, you’ll maximize your chances at effectively changing your habits.
1- Drink more (or start drinking) water.
Although several factors come into play (weight, gender, level of activity, or overall health), the “8-by-8” rule, or 8-8oz glasses of water a day is considered the average recommended daily water intake. If you typically fuel on soda, sugary drinks, or even juice (still sugar-laden and not a oh so perfect beverage), whether occasionally or not, the good news is that you can keep at it, as long as you do reach your goal of 8-8oz glasses of water a day first. Chances are, after you drink all that water, you will not have much room left for the other stuff, and you likely won’t be thirsty anyway. To make it even easier, keep a refillable water bottle with you at all times and refill it when empty. This may unconsciously make you drink even more water. Swapping sugar for water… who is in?
2- Eat one whole fruit (at a minimum) a day.
Think one apple, pear, orange, banana…so many options! If berries or other smaller fruits, consider a 1/2 to 1 cup intake. This healthy addition will work well as a midday snack and will reduce the need for other not so healthy options. Remember, you can still get your sugar fix, but only after eating your fruit. You may “need” it at first, but with a full belly (the fiber and water from the fruit will keep you full, and so will the 8-8oz glasses of water!) and a little practice, you could actually re-train your taste buds to appreciate sugar in its most natural state. Soon enough you may find yourself curious about trying other fruits. And to avoid temptations, keep some healthy snacks handy (start with ready to eat carrots, pepper bells, tomatoes, zucchini squash… For a bolder move, try celeri, broccoli, cauliflower…). The best is to buy organic (= no spraying with toxic pesticides), in season, local produce (no polluting transportation costs and a good way to support your local community’s small businesses). One change, multiple benefits, how beautiful is that?
3- Add nuts and seeds to your day.
Raw, unsalted walnuts, almonds, and seeds like sunflower and pepitas (pumpkin seeds) are perfect to make your own trail mix. Enjoy 1 to 2 handfuls of each item daily. Besides providing a power punch of anti-oxidants (vitamins A & E and minerals like calcium, magnesium) and good fat (omega-3/fish oil), these healthy treats can bridge two meals. They are a healthy replacement to commercially prepared trail mixes often laden with sugary dried fruit, salt, chocolate chips, sometimes even chocolate-covered candies. Also a healthy alternative to cereal bars, that may contain sugar, sodium, corn syrup, genetically modified ingredients… Again, nuts and seeds first, then only, your usual snacks if still needed… On another note, who wants to ingest supplements from a bottle when one can get all needed nutrients from natural sources?
4- Replace “white” grains with “brown” whole wheat grains.
White flour, bread, rice, pasta… all have been processed and stripped from some of their nutrients (fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals…) during industrial preparation or cooking. In comparison, the original nutrient richness of brown rice and whole wheat/grain bread, pasta and flour has been preserved. Some flour or bread manufacturers do “enrich” their products but by law, only 5 nutrients must be added back (iron, niacin, thiamin, riboflavin and folic acid) vs. the 30 that got lost in the refining process. The original but lost fiber and protein provide a more constant source of energy that keeps us feeling full longer, which leads to less over-eating. Using the white vs brown color code may help (although beware of the deceiving caramel coloring added to some white breads), but mainly focus on the ingredients’ lists. Head-to-head compare the level of fiber, vitamins B6 and E, magnesium, zinc and folic acid to be sure to pick the wholesome version of an item. As for the difference in taste between white and brown foods, this is a personal opinion, but if you don’t change your consumption based on preference, do change it based on knowledge! Simply switching from white to whole wheat bread can lower heart disease risk by 20%, according to a research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The two pronged idea here is:
- To push out the not-so-healthy foods you eat by adding in healthier options, via the strict rule to eat those first, and
- To tackle the big, “constant unhealthy snacking” issue, be it drink or food related.
The (conscious) trick is based on the hope that by the time you ate the good foods, you won’t feel the need for anything else, hence gradually dropping off your old ways. Do you still need soda after water? Packaged snacks after your homemade trail mix? Chips or crackers after your apple? You are in charge and making the assessment on your satiety. You decide if you need to eat or drink more, or not.
It is best to start adding these new items all at once, but if it feels too overwhelming, then pick one to start with, and then add one change after the other. USDA certified organic food is best so that you limit your exposure to conventional produce sprayed with toxic chemicals, and you also limit the risk of ingesting genetically modified ingredients laden packaged foods (bread, flour, pasta) since GMO labeling is not legally required. Given that we have no information on the long term effects of GMO (genetically modified organisms) on human health, it is better to be safe than sorry.
Are you already living by one or more of these 4 steps? Do they seem easily feasible to you? How long of this regimen do you think you’d need before starting doing it naturally?
Disclaimer: This is not a medically supervised diet recommendation by any means, only ideas and tips to help you introduce healthy food options into your daily diet, with the objective that they will slowly kick the not so good ones out. Make sure you still get your daily needs in every family of nutrients met via your overall food intake, and speak with your Doctor about any questions you may have.