If you’re trying to lose weight or improve your health, the idea of overhauling your diet can seem overwhelming. Are all your favorite foods going to be off limits? What do you do when it seems like all of the healthy options are unappealing?
You don’t have to change your entire diet all at once
Don’t panic! Losing weight, getting in shape, and improving your health are all part of a larger process that takes time. It’s perfectly okay to progress at a pace you are comfortable with. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend starting with small changes in your diet in order to make those changes last. With each change you master, not only will you feel great and lose weight, you’ll also have more confidence to try new things and implement additional healthy habits into your routine.
Every bite counts
March is National Nutrition Month, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has chosen “Put your best fork forward” as this year’s theme. It’s a reminder that every bite counts, and that we can move towards a healthier life one forkful at a time. Below are some suggestions for making small changes in your diet that can add up to big changes.
- Start with easy changes that make a big impact. What are some changes that you can make now that will have an immediate impact on your health and your weight? One of the first things many people do is give up soda — including diet soda. Artificial sweeteners diet soda have been linked to weight gain and other health problems such as heart disease and diabetes. If you have a soda habit, one of the best things you can do for your health is to trade your soda for water. Find water too boring to drink all day? Try adding slices of lemon, cucumber, or other fruit for some extra flavor. And beware of healthy-looking drinks like bottled tea or fruit juice, which are often high in sugar.
- Ditch the fat-free foods. Speaking of sugar, packaged foods that are labeled low-fat or fat-free are often full of added sugar or other chemicals to make up for the loss of flavor. Look for less processed alternatives, and remember that just because something is labeled fat free, that doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
- Cut back on the carbs. We all love the carbs, but refined starches like bread and pasta are a major contributor to weight gain. Look for small ways you can cut carbs out of your diet. Leave the croutons off your salad. If you’re getting a burger, skip the bun. Opt for fresh fruit for dessert instead of cake or cookies. All of these small choices add up!
- Cook more at home. When you cook at home, you have more control over what goes into your food — not to mention portion sizes. Experiment with ways to use healthier ingredients. Make brown rice or quinoa rather than white rice. Instead of pasta, make spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles. Skip the dinner roll and serve an extra vegetable. Eventually, all of these choices will be so natural, you’ll find yourself automatically making smarter food choices even when you’re dining out.
- Be mindful of snacking. If you tend to hit the office vending machine in the afternoon, equip yourself with alternatives to the potato chips and cookies. Bring healthy snacks to work, such as pre-cut apples or baby carrots. When you feel the urge to snack, stop and ask yourself if you’re actually hungry, or if you’re tempted to eat due to a different reason, such as boredom. Distract yourself with another activity, such as a brisk walk. Remember that thirst often masquerades as hunger: Drink a glass of water and wait ten minutes to see if you still feel the urge to eat.
- Stop eating when you’re 80% full. Most of us eat until we’re stuffed, and wind up feeling miserable. This is especially easy to do if you eat while watching TV or driving or doing anything else that distracts you from your food. If this sounds like you, start making meals more of an event. Turn off the TV and sit at the table. Eat slowly, and stop before you feel completely full. You’ll feel better, digest your food better, and most likely sleep better as well.
- Find a few tried-and-true favorites. Find some healthy foods that you love and make sure you always have them available. Obsessed with blueberries? A handful of fresh berries is a much healthier snack than a blueberry bagel. Love tomatoes? Experiment with different ways to add them to your meals. With a few favorite healthy foods on hand, you’re less likely to feel deprived and reach for the junk food.
Above all, remember that eating right and being healthy involve lifestyle changes that take time to master. Each healthy habit you adopt, no matter how small, will help you build a foundation for a healthy life.
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