You don't need to go far to hear about the latest trendy diet. Just turn on the TV or walk by the magazines in the grocery store and you'll see example after example of eating fads, strict rules, and headlines about weight loss or weight gain. From food fads to yo-yoing weight to diets that blur the line with eating disorders, we need to stop and consider: Is all this actually healthy? Is dieting and deprivation really the way to go?
I believe that you can achieve a healthy weight without dieting or depriving yourself. We can all agree that deprivation is not realistic and most people who go on a diet gain their weight back. Instead, developing realistic lifestyle habits will help you achieve a healthy weight, maintain it, and enjoy life more. As a registered dietitian, let me share with you some of my favorite habits for eating well and living a healthy lifestyle, diet-free!
1. Manage your appetite.
Extreme hunger caused by skipping meals can lead to extreme eating and binging. To prevent extreme hunger, always be prepared with a healthy option like raw nuts and fresh fruit like apples and bananas. For example, keep healthy snacks with you in your purse, gym bag, and car. If you're running errands and get hungry, instead of going through the drive-through, go to your healthy snack stash. It is important to listen to your body and be intuitive with your eating. If you are hungry (or feeling other symptoms of hunger such as a drop in energy, being on edge, or difficulty making decisions), then eat. If you aren't hungry, you do not need to force yourself to eat. Listen to your body and respond to what your body needs.
2. Stay hydrated.
We can often mistake hunger for thirst, so pause to consider what your body really needs. Being properly hydrated will help you improve digestion, reduce belly bloat, increase energy levels, and improve mental clarity. The more energy you have the more likely you are to keep up with tip number three: exercise!
3. Move every day.
Research shows that exercising can improve your mood, body awareness, appreciation for your body, and it can help you eat better throughout the day. Exercise is crucial for achieving a healthy weight—and it is also a beneficial way to reduce stress, improve mood, and clear your mind. I love to pray when I'm running and find it's a special time when I hear from God. Maybe the reason I am tempted to skip my workouts is because when I do exercise, I feel better, think better, and live better, and the Enemy does not want that!
(Be sure to consult with your primary health care provider before beginning any new exercise. It is also a good idea to meet with a certified personal trainer who can help you with proper form so you don't injure yourself.)
4. Choose whole foods.
I'm not talking about the supermarket Whole Foods (although it is a healthy place to shop!). I am talking about choosing whole foods as they are found in nature as opposed to processed versions. For example, instead of eating a fruit-flavored roll-up, eat a piece of fruit. Instead of eating flavored and highly processed chips, eat homemade, plain popcorn. Instead of mayonnaise, choose avocado. Choosing foods in their simple and natural state helps you avoid artificial ingredients that may hinder your health.
You will also notice a difference in how you feel when you start eating more whole foods versus lots of processed foods. Eating a completely whole-foods diet may not be realistic for everyone, but there are convenience foods that can be healthy. When you combine healthy grocery finds with whole foods, you get the best of both worlds! My next healthy habit, tip number five, will help you choose the best grocery staples.
5. Avoid ingredients you can't pronounce, spell, or understand.
Hydrogenated oils, monosodium glutamate, sucralose—you'd be surprised how frequent these three ingredients show up in our everyday foods! Do you know what they are and how they hinder your health? If you do, you're probably already avoiding them. If you don't know what an ingredient is or how it may affect your body, that uncertainty is probably reason enough to avoid it. Start a habit of reading the ingredient list of the food and beverages you buy. If you see ingredients you cannot pronounce, spell, or understand, just don't buy it. You can begin by reading the ingredient list of food items already in your house and cleansing your pantry of items that contain artificial ingredients. It's hard to say goodbye to items we have spent money on, but it is even more difficult (and expensive!) to become sick from diet-related diseases. Prevention is always the better approach!
6. Rest and recover.
When we are sleep-deprived, our hunger-stimulating hormone (called ghrelin) is naturally elevated throughout the day. This means we will want to eat more, and specifically, we'll want to eat more quick-energy food sources such as sugar, caffeine, and carbohydrates. Being well-rested can help you manage your appetite by keeping ghrelin at a healthy level.
7. Eat greens every day.
We must consume an abundance of green veggies in order to be healthy. When our diet is full of processed foods, our taste buds have been manipulated by artificial ingredients, making it difficult to enjoy food in its natural state. For example, did you know that artificial sugars can be 600 times sweeter than natural sugar? It's hard to enjoy the simple sweetness of a strawberry when we are used to such high volumes of sweetness from diet sodas or artificial syrups in our coffee, to name a few. Most of us need a season to re-train our taste buds in order to give fresh and natural foods a fair chance. To enjoy more produce, begin with what you like, perhaps strawberries and spinach. Increase your daily consumption of your favorite produce and, as you do, slowly try new fresh produce every week or month.
8. Spend time in nature.
The slowness of nature can slow our minds, our breathing, and reduce stress from our fast-paced life. This is good! Enjoying God's creation is a great way to feel better—and it's free! When we feel good, it is easier to make good choices.
9. Be kind to yourself.
Life is about progress, not perfection. Worrying about following a perfect diet can be detrimental to your emotional health. Instead, strive to do your best every day, but also allow real life to happen—like that slice of birthday cake or the Christmas cookie on special occasions.
10. Don't be healthy alone.
It's hard to do anything alone, at least for a long period of time! Get your friends, family, and coworkers to join you toward living a healthier lifestyle. Everyone can participate at his or her level of readiness to change, but having a buddy on your health journey will make it easier and more fun. If your spouse and kids are all eating the same healthy meals that you are, this will make reaching your health goals more realistic and less of a struggle.
A tip here is to find commonality and encouragement by focusing on the positives that are gained from being healthier. And remember, no one likes a "food pusher," so it's important to be respectful and non-judgmental of others' choices. At the end of the day, we are only accountable for ourselves. Yet, you can inspire or encourage others to be healthy too by simply walking the talk!
Strive to make these 10 tips daily habits in your life. Making mindful healthy choices every day will help you develop a healthy lifestyle change that's good for you, inside and out.
Megan Roosevelt is a fun-loving foodie, registered and licensed dietitian, and the founder and CEO of Healthy Grocery Girl LLC. Connect with Megan at HealthyGroceryGirl.com, on Twitter @hlthygrocerygrl, and on Facebook.