The first thing I always clarify when talking about food is that I’m not a nutritionist. I don’t have any official certification on this subject, though it’s on my list of things I’d like to invest in someday. But like someone who hasn’t gotten a college degree but has worked in the real world, I have a lot of experience on this subject. I have been the girl who could no longer shop at regular clothing stores because I needed something larger than a size 18. I’ve been the girl who didn’t like looking in a mirror or getting her photo taken. I’ve been the girl who was embarrassed about what she looked like even though people loved me for who I was inside. It wasn’t the girl I wanted to be, and I changed it.
I’m far from perfect. I still struggle every. single. day. I still want to eat ALL the ice cream .. And the cake too. I still have days where I want to down 2 and 3 and more beers and a box of mac and cheese. I am human and my guess is so are you. I don’t want to count calories, I don’t want to feel hungry, and I don’t want to eat foods I don’t like. Does any of this sound familiar? If not, you are much stronger than I am. If you are, here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way.
- Don’t count calories, but… At bare minimum, keep a mental check on how much you’re consuming every day. If you don’t know how many calories are in something, find out. Look at the box (hint: If it comes in a box, it’s probably not as great for you as something that’s not) or look it up online. Knowledge is power. If you stop to consider how much you are eating every day, it can make a HUGE difference. Along with that point, check out #2..
- How much of that are you eating? Not only should you be aware of your calories, but you should be aware of your portion sizes. Sometimes we have no clue that we are eating 2, 3, or 12 serving sizes. The dishes we use can be a problem too. If I want ice cream, I put it in a cup instead of a bowl. Immediately, I have to eat less that way. And unless it’s a single serving sized item, don’t eat something out of the container it came in. For example, if you reach into a bag of chips, you’ll eat far more than you would have if you’d put a conservative amount into a bowl. And lastly, don’t eat off your kid’s plates. You’d be amazed at how many calories you are consuming this way.
- Think before you go back for seconds. Ask yourself: “Do I NEED this or do I WANT this?” Let it settle, eat it slow in the first place, and savor it. Pay attention to what you are eating when you are eating it. All of these things might at least make you pause before going back. SIDENOTE: The first 3 things on this list all have to do with the same thing.. MINDFUL eating. In my opinion, this is the SINGLE most important rule of eating healthy. Master it and you are halfway there. Acceptance is the first step. Think about it. If we are eating mindfully, we aren’t sabotaging ourselves.
- Plan your meals. I used to be adverse to services like Fred Meyer’s Clicklist because I didn’t want to waste money on the service fee. But I quickly realized that the convenience was more than worth that extra $5. I can build a list online throughout the week as I think of stuff, and I can spend 20-30 minutes at MOST planning at least 3-4 dinners and some lunch, breakfast, and snack items while I finish up the clicklist at the same time just one day a week. I usually spend less overall than I would shopping myself because I’m not reaching for things for my cart that I don’t need but sound good when I’m hungry. It’s super low stress and then I can focus on making some healthy meals. As far as those planned meals go, I’ll usually make a double batch of something and freeze half of it for the days that I don’t feel like preparing something. It’s really not as overwhelming or as time-consuming as you’d think once you get into the habit. Meals can be simple too. We often have burrito or taco night.
- Plan for your “Danger Days.” If you know you have a party coming up or a night out with friends and you know already you’re not going to follow your usual rules, plan for it. Don’t beat yourself up for it. Have fun. Do the things. Then get right back on track. Don’t look back, just keep going!! It’s the days where you’ve had a bad day and you binge eat everything in your refrigerator that you want to avoid, because those are the unhealthy behaviors. Planning for life is different.
- If you’re going to a restaurant.. Along with #5, if you know you’ll be going out to eat, look up the menu and decide what you want ahead of time. And maybe box up half of it immediately when you get there and you’ll have another meal for later.
- “Cheat days” are destined for failure. In #5, I said you should plan for occasions where you know you won’t follow your usual plan, but I don’t believe in cheat days. You don’t need free-for-all days. Eat what you want sometimes, within reason. If you deprive yourself, you’ll fail eventually because this is supposed to last the rest of your life, not just for a select amount of time. Set yourself up for success FOREVER. “Your diet,” as in your nutrition for the day, is not the same as “A diet,” which is not meant to last long term. Know the difference and plan accordingly.
- Recognize and plan for your triggers. Some people can have a cup of coffee a day and be fine, but I needed a few cups a day and was more tired than ever. I recognized this wasn’t healthy, so I gave it up. I still drink it on weekends or when I meet friends sometimes, but I don’t rely on it anymore. I replaced it with tea and an Arbonne energy stick. I still get the ritual I enjoyed but replaced the bad habit with a better choice. If you know you cave in the evening and want something sweet, plan to have something after the kids go to bed that won’t totally derail you. Recognize your weaknesses and have a plan in place to deal with them.
- Eat what you love, not the things you don’t. If you don’t love fish, don’t eat it. If you love brussel sprouts, go for it. Find the things you love that are healthy and make you feel good. And there are shortcuts everywhere. I love peanut butter, but I know that the sugar and hydrogenated oils aren’t good for me, so I started making my own with just peanuts. Know your strengths and go with them. Omit the things you know you won’t stick with long term.
- But remember, too much (or too little) of a GOOD thing matters. I had a friend who loved smoothies with avocado, chia seeds, peanut butter, and a bunch of other yummy stuff. After she added up all the calories, she realized that while most of the things she was putting in her smoothie were good for her, there were too many of them in one sitting. Her calorie count was much higher than she had realized. On the other hand, I was trying to cut calories and consuming smoothies with not ENOUGH calories and feeling depleted of energy while training for a half marathon. On a good nutrition plan, you shouldn’t feel hungry. So this rule goes along with #1 and #2 again. Be aware.
- Drink your water. The age-old rule of drinking water when you’re hungry is a classic for a reason. For one, it’s rare that most people would overhydrate. A lot of us are dehydrated and could stand to drink more water. If you feel hungry, chug some water and wait. If you’re still hungry in 20 minutes, then consider your snack. Mindfully, of course.
- Exercise. You knew this was coming, right? Our bodies were meant to move. If you need some help here, I know someone who can help you with that. Any guesses who?
- I don’t believe in scales. Really. Weigh yourself once a month if you must, but we all know our weight fluctuates every hour! I go more by how my clothes fit and how I feel. If you want to see your progress, I suggest measuring yourselves before you start a new plan. Your hips, your waist, your upper arm, and your thigh are all good places to start. Write the numbers down and check back in a month. And if it hasn’t budged as much as you like, KEEP going! All of our bodies are different and shouldn’t be compared to others. We are all on a different journey and our bodies all react to change differently.
- Try something for 30 days. New habits take time to become routine. A week is not enough. Give it time. The adjustment period won’t last as long as you think it will.
- Reward yourself. This is the fun part. Celebrate yourself. When you’ve reached a goal (You should have at least one.. And a realistic one!) treat yourself. Not with food, but something. A new shirt. Your favorite lotion. A pedicure. You know what you want. Earn it.
Ultimately, you need to plan your nutrition the same way you would anything else in your life. If you are planning to run a big race, you train for it so you don’t run out of steam on race day. If you are going to a job interview, you prepare for that too. Even in day to day life, you do things. You brush your teeth to avoid cavities. You work so you can buy the things you need to do to survive. Nutrition should be the same way. We ask a lot of our bodies every day. We should treat them well. We’ll never get another chance.