Healthy Eating Tips for The New Year
The new year brings new resolutions and for many that means implementing healthy behaviors, shedding a few of those holiday pounds and trying to eat better. For those who are unsure of where to start or what "healthy eating" even means anymore, here are a few tips that will help you get started.
Focus on what you will add, not what you will take away.
When I ask new clients what they want to change in their diet they typically start listing off all the things they need to stop eating. Elimination diets are not bad, in fact they can be good if: 1) you have a medical concern that you think could improve by eliminating a certain food or 2) it is short term to help you reach a specific outcome goal. The problem is elimination diets are not a realistic starting point for most people. Whatever your focus, good or bad, will still be your focus.
Here is an example. DO NOT THINK ABOUT A PINK ELEPHANT. Whatever you do, don't picture a cute little pink elephant in your mind. Think about anything else, just whatever you do, don't picture a pink elephant.
How did that go? Were you able to think about something besides a pink elephant or did, despite your efforts, the image of a pink elephant pop into your mind?
The subconscious doesn't care about the "don't" it just focuses on the subject. If my goal is to "not eat sugar" the focus is still on sugar. I will focus on it, even if it's just to avoid it. This will quickly wear out my will power reserves and before long you'll find me hiding in the pantry binging on a stash of old Halloween candy (come on, you know you've done it too).
Instead, make all foods permissible but focus on what you WILL do. Be as specific as possible. Examples might be:
- I will eat 3 or more servings of veggies each day
- I will drink a glass of lemon water before my coffee in the morning
- I will pack a healthy lunch on work days
Take it up a notch.
But only a notch.
If I were to ask you to rate your diet right now on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being "terrible", 10 being "amazing") how would you rate it?
One of the biggest mistakes I see is people who grossly overestimate their ability to change. They are starting at a 2 and want to jump to a 10. It's just not realistic and they only end up setting themselves up for failure and ultimately discouragement. Your initial goal is not to get to a 10, it's simply to get to the next number.
Here is a great article from Precision Nutrition that gives some excellent examples of how to do this (and explains why pre-set meal plans don't usually work). If you need more guidance consider Nutrition Coaching to teach you how to personally "take it up a notch".
Balance Your Meals
I'm sure you've heard the phrase "healthy balanced meals" a million times, but what does that actually mean? I teach my clients to ask four questions at each meal:
- Where is my vegetable?
- Where is my lean protein?
- Where is my healthy carb?
- Where is my good fat?
The goal overtime is to plan or adjust your meals based on these four questions. No veggie?...could you add one? Processed carb?....could you replace it with something healthier? Not enough protein?...could you increase your portion size?
Take a typical meal such as spaghetti. There is need to eliminate spaghetti night if it's a meal that works for your family (I know it does mine!). Instead, how could you make it healthier? Add some veggies to the sauce? Replace the garlic bread with a side salad topped with an olive oil based dressing? Switch out the white pasta for whole-wheat? Try spaghetti squash? You don't have to do all of these at once. Pick one and give it a try. If it works for you and your family then look for the next simple change to create balance.
The other part to the balanced meal equation is making sure that your portions are correct. Here is an easy to follow infographic from Precision Nutrition showing appropriate portion sizes for men & women that is super easy to follow and requires no measuring or calorie counting.
Does YOUR diet plan Actually improve your life?
The obvious answer would be "yes, of course" but you'd be surprised how often this is actually not the case.
Eating healthier should improve your quality of life, not make it significantly more stressful. Yes, you must make it a priority and be intentional about it. Yes, you must make time to plan and prep. But if your new diet plan leaves you feeling overwhelmed and stressed you won't stick with it. Ultimately you need to find that balance of eating better AND feeling better.
One of the biggest things I stress to my clients is that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to healthy eating (or anything for that matter). You have to find a eating plan that works for you and with you. It has to work with your schedule and your budget and your preferences and your personality and your genetics and your family and your goals and so much more. Obviously there are some basic principles to follow but in the end the goal is to customize a plan that is effective and sustainable for YOU.
Finally, understand that real change takes time.
We are drawn to the overnight success stories but, interestingly, when you scratch at the surface of those stories they are often not what they seem. True success in any arena comes because of hard work done consistently over a period of time. Any success that doesn't contain those ingredients will eventually crumble. It's one of those universal laws that can be hard to hear at first but should ultimately give you some relief. You aren't missing anything. Stop searching for the perfect diet or exercise plan and start doing what you can today.
You can reach ANY goal you set, but how you reach it is the key. A good goal should leave you feeling excited and energetic, not overwhelmed or filled with dread.
You wouldn't expect a toddler to go from baby steps to running a marathon. It's the same concept with healthy behavior change. Figure out the next step and focus on that. Then, when you are ready, focus on the next step and do that. That's the exact path that anyone who has achieved true success has taken.
One. Step. At. A. Time.