In my previous food blogs, Food, The Ultimate Trojan, and 8 Reasons Why American’s Eat The Way We Do, I wrote about the good and the bad about how and why we eat, what we eat. And if you read those blogs, you know there is a lot of not so good.
Here I will make suggestions on how to improve your diet. But not to worry, as a foodie myself, I still love the taste of food and eating. That doesn’t have to change when you eat healthier!
Recognizing the challenge that changing one’s diet can be, I want to encourage you to embrace two concepts:
Progress not perfection – Focus on what you can do, and not on what you cannot. Feel good about the progress you make. Don’t beat yourself up if you do not live up to yours, or someone else’s expectations, all of the time.
Harm reduction – A less bad choice is a positive step in the right direction. Change will come easier for some than others. It is not a competition. If you consume something that has less sugar and “bad” fat, such as trans or saturated, for many, that is a good start.
It’s about the process. Oftentimes with diet or exercise, if people do not see or feel the results they’re hoping for in a short span of time they get discouraged and give up.
In embracing progress not perfection and harm reduction, “the win” is the positive steps you are increasing and or the negative steps you are decreasing. The results will come. It reminds me of the song from the animated classic, Santa Clause Is Coming To Town, Put One Foot In Front Of The Other. If the Winter Warlock can do it, so can you!
So without further ado, consider one or all of the below tips to help get you on a healthier more actualized path of eating.
12- Have a cheat day – No. Not that kind of cheat day! For some people, eating healthy 6 out 7 days is too much too soon. This tip is for people who want to change slooowwwwlllyyy. If you’re eating poorly seven days a week, or however you’re eating, for you a cheat day = one day a week of healthy or healthier eating.
Give yourself one day where you improve from whatever your baseline is. For bonus points:
- Eat a whole foods, plant based diet. You can incorporate meals around lentils, beans, fruits vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and spices*.
- No processed foods on this day.
- if you have meat, have it at one meal and just a single grass-fed portion.
For beverages? Eliminate soda, and energy drinks. Try sticking to water, herb teas, or vegetable based smoothies/juices. Experiment with different combinations of the above. You will find something you like.
After you get consistent with one healthy cheat day a week, stretch it to two. And after you get comfortable with two, well you can see where this is going.
11- Pick one – Another way to begin your adjusting, is to pick one. Pick one bad thing to outright eliminate from your diet. And pick one good thing to add to it.
At mid-life, a good friend of mine wanted to make a conscious effort to eat better, start exercising, and lose weight. For years I unsuccessfully tried to get him off the soda. Regular or diet, I’m not a fan. But now he was ready. He gave it up cold. It was challenging for him for about a month. However, it went from challenging, to progressively easier, to him saying, “My God I can’t believe I drank that garbage for so long!”
From there, he was able to make more changes. I am both happy and proud of him because he did not get the results he was looking for right away but he stuck with it. Tried different things. He kept making positive choices. He recently turned 50 and he has reached his goals and says he feels better than he ever has.
Whether it is a vegetable, a piece of fruit, a healthy omega 3 fat food, or supplement, pick something good to add to your diet.
And if you can’t eliminate something entirely, remember progress not perfection, and harm reduction, cut down and go from there.
10- Don’t be a sucker for the latest headlines – If you do see a post you like that makes a, to good to be true claim about a questionable food or nutrient:
- Question it.
- Read counter expert opinions.
- Check methodology of study, i.e. – know what is being compared to what.
Borrowing from Dr. Greger of NutritionFacts.Org, and how easy it is to make something look good, (such as saturated fat), one could claim, that based on a recent study, a diet with butter lowers your chance of having a heart attack. Well, hypothetically, if I have two groups in a study, and one group has a small amount of butter, and the other has five candy bars a day and the candy bar group has 14% more heart attacks, the designer of that study can now say according to my study butter lowers your heart attack risk.
Now cue the, “butter is back”, headlines. And if the study is not explored further? You wind up with people bathing their food in butter as if it were the nectar of the Gods! Again, don’t be suckered by headlines.
Stick with tried and true, whole foods, plant based diet, with grass-fed meat for non vegans, and whole grains. Ix-nay on the transfat, keep the saturated fats and heavily processed foods down, and get plenty of omega 3.
Trying to change eating habits can be challenging enough without conflicting information playing on our desires and food addictions. Tune out the white noise as discussed in my previous post and here is the link that includes what experts with differing opinions on diet (paleo, vegan etc.) were able to come together and agree on.
9- Portion control – According to the American Heart Association a single serving of lean meat is two to three ounces. So if you go to a restaurant and get a ten to twelve ounce steak, you’re getting four to five times that. Factor in some bread and butter and I can feel those arteries cringing. Do this several times a week or more and do the math on how you are potentially taxing your system with excess fat, sodium and calorie intake.
I’ve got a word for you… LEFTOVERS! Eat less, save money, be healthier. That sounds like win win to me.
You can do the same with sugar. Depending on your height and weight 25 to 50 grams of added sugar a day may be what is recommended not to exceed. (added sugar includes all forms of sugar except for the naturally occurring sugar in fruit and dairy) Long term, ideally you will reduce this to as close to zero as possible.
For now, portion control your added sugar. If you’re not already, start reading labels. Devise realistic goals that you can accomplish. Aside from anything else, sugar is just plain dangerous.
8- Stop Overeating! – It goes hand in hand with portion control. In addition to portion control, eat slower, and try drinking a glass of water before you eat.
Here we can also take a lesson from the Chinese. Cut your food before you eat it, and eat with chopsticks instead of a fork. This may assist you in eating slower, getting content by eating less, and digesting better!
Do you always finish what is on your plate out of some sense of obligation to those in poor countries who do not have food? You want to help starving children in another country? Donate money to them, but using them as an excuse to stuff your pie hole is not helping them! (Or you.) Of course another option is to eat on a smaller plate!
Since, in theory your mind registering the feeling of being full operates on a delay, if you wait until you feel full or “stuffed”, you’ve likely over eaten. This may not apply to obese individuals or others who suffer from leptin resistance, however you don’t know until you try, plus there are other reasons to eat slower.
7- Don’t be intimidated by cost – If you’re eating less, slower, and having leftovers. If you’re eating less meat and less sweets, then the switch to healthier foods may be negligible at worst. Far more significantly, if you’re eating healthier, you are less likely to get sick in the short-term and add to the growing statistics of people who succumb to a preventative disease.
- More likely to live longer.
- Less likely to miss work/pay.
- More likely to feel better on a day-to-day basis.
- More likely to save on medical costs.
6- Disassociate food from moods. For example, if you’re a stress eater, come up with new ways to react when stressed. You must have ideas in place for this to work. The next time I get stressed I will… and fill in that blank. It can be exercise, talk to a friend, write in a journal, read a book, harm reduction, eat something healthy, heck, I’ll even take watching TV if it gets you off the skittles! Same goes for boredom and other moods.
For more on emotional eating, and solutions, click here.
5- Reclaim your free will – In my previous blogs I talked about the various influences that can creep into a person’s mind, such as advertising, parents, peers and so on that corrupt your free will. I challenge you to be or become aware of them and reject them. If you do and you still want to make the same choices, then go for it. However, you may choose to go in completely different/ healthier direction, or somewhere in-between. Ways to do this are through research (more on that below), shutting out advertising, and going through a periodic detox diet to kick-start yourself.
Hypnosis can potentially be a powerful tool in reclaiming your free will. A myth about hypnosis is that you are giving up control, when in fact it, when done correctly, it is about regaining it. Unfortunately it is not regulated so it may be challenging to find a credible one but that should not stop you from considering.
4- Do your research – Research? I know, not a fun word. But I’m thinking, with all the tweeting, posting, chatting, texting, and so on, there is a little time in the day for #research!
I can maybe understand denial or the blasé mentality of, “oh it will never happen to me”, when it came to things like cancer in the early 1900’s when the odds were somewhere between 1 and 20 or 30 people being diagnosed with it. But now, according to the American Cancer Society, it is roughly 1 in 3 women and 1 in 2 for men.
And cancer is the number 2 cause of death. I can rattle off more statistics for heart disease, diabetes, depression, obesity, Alzheimer’s and more but hopefully you get the point. Mindful, conscious eating has never been more important.
U.S. News & World Report has an annual ranking of best diets that can assist you in familiarizing yourself with some of what is out there. They have different ranking for diet based on this like weight loss, cancer, heart disease etc..
When you consider the Time.Com report that Nearly Half Of US Deaths Can Be Prevented With Lifestyle Changes, it makes sense to give your diet the attention it deserves.
In this era of fake news, fact check and don’t only go to websites that confirm what your already believe.
3- Create healthy (or less unhealthy) alternatives – For example, I love warm apple fritters. So when I’m reaalllyyy feeling the urge I will have a piece of organic Ezekiel toast with a little raw organic honey, a splash of organic extra virgin olive oil, and some organic true cinnamon. It delicious and hits the spot!
2- Have a Plan – When I facilitate groups at the mental health center where I work, I often say the worst time to prepare for an earthquake is in an earthquake! If you try to make changes on the fly, you will make things harder on yourself.
- Keep a journal.
- Try apps like Myfitnesspal.
- Do it with a spouse or friend.
- Go to meetup groups.
- Prep your meals in advance. Start bringing healthy dishes with you to work and holiday parties.
- In addition to fat and sugar, restaurant food can be load with sodium. Here are some tips to help you plan for eating out.
- See if your insurance offers any discounts or services that could help. (such as gym, massage, supplements or other discounts)
Until I got comfortable with my diet I would type it out and save in the draft folder of me email. Don’t eat or shop when you’re hungry for as you may have heard it is far more difficult to be disciplined in those situations.
1- Pay attention to your particular needs and health circumstances – Blogs and articles are generally… you guessed it, general. You are a specific. Consult your doctor before making diet changes as he or she will know about any health specific concerns you should consider. Perhaps as important is to consult a dietitian. As medical doctors do not receive much training in nutrition.
If you’ve read my three food blogs, or even just this lengthy one, you have an interest in diet and self-improvement. I encourage you to continue to cultivate and act on it. Follow reading the post by writing out a list of 5 things you can do next. I wish you well on your journey.
*If you are not used to fiber in your diet, integrate it slowly. From My.ClevelandClinic.org: “Add fiber to your diet slowly. Too much fiber all at once may cause cramping, bloating, and constipation.” Don’t let that discourage you! The Cleveland link also speaks to fiber’s many benefits! And most people are lacking in it.
Before considering any new diet program, or making any diet changes, please check with your doctor and clear any diet changes with him or her before beginning. I am not a doctor or registered dietitian and nothing in this blog should be used to replace medical advice.
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