5 Small Changes That Can Help You Eat Healthier
Goodbye, overly ambitious resolutions. Hello, lasting change.
If you just made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight (and are instantly regretting it) then go ahead and take a big sigh of relief. You don’t have to go through with it.
I’m willing to bet (if you really stop and think about it) that weight loss isn’t the only way to achieve whatever you’re aiming for in the coming year. Doctor-mandated weight loss aside, most of us don’t really want to be a certain number or size. What we truly want is to be happy, healthy, or more confident — and we believe that losing weight will help us feel that way.
Spoiler alert: losing weight doesn’t guarantee any of those things. I know because I’ve been there. I lost more than 40 pounds when I was in my mid-twenties through a combination of very strict dieting and daily workouts. And while I did need to drop a few to reach a healthy body weight I certainly didn’t need to lose as much as I did. This became painfully obvious when I realized that I was going to have to adhere to a restrictive diet and skip so many things that made me happy (read: bread, cheese and peanut butter-filled chocolates) in order to maintain my new weight.
Luckily, I found some balance. I learned that being consistent with a few small lifestyle changes could help me stay healthy and give me the freedom to enjoy outings with friends and family or time spent around the table.
The key, of course, is consistency. I’ve kept these changes up for years. When I fall off the bandwagon for a couple of days, I don’t feel bad about it — I just hop right back on. I don’t give up. These small changes have become my new way of life. And, do you know what? I’ve maintained a healthy weight (without giving up doughnuts!) and been happy with the way I look and feel for more than a decade now.
I’m not a medical professional (and completely acknowledge that every body has its own set of needs) but I truly believe that an overly ambitious weight loss goal (that fizzles out after a few weeks) isn’t going to help you find lasting health and happiness. But a few small changes that you can maintain, just might.
Here are the ones that have helped me most.
Drink Water When You Wake Up
We all know that proper hydration has health benefits and can help you avoid snacking when you’re not actually hungry. But, keeping track of how much water you drink every day can be annoying — which means you’re less likely to keep up with it. Instead, just drink a tall cup of water first thing in the morning (before caffeine!). Are you guaranteed to reach your daily intake every single day? No. But you’re off to a solid start. And, I’ve found that I feel energized and more motivated to make good decisions when I start my day this way.
Eat Some (Good) Carbs Early in the Day
Do you want to know when I’m most likely to fall off the bandwagon? When I try not to eat any carbs. Regardless of how much protein or healthy fat I have, I just don’t feel full without carbs (especially whole grains) — and I end up giving in to junk food. So I make sure I eat good carbs for either breakfast (like oatmeal) or lunch (a scoop of farro in my salad).
Try to Eat Veggies at Every Meal
Eating lots of veggies will help your body get the vitamins and antioxidants that it needs. Plus, fibrous veggies can help keep you full. But, depending on the foods you like, upping your intake can feel like a big change. Luckily, you don’t have to be too radical about it (no need to swap all your sandwiches for salads and your pasta noodles for zoodles). Instead, add a few veggies to every meal – breakfast and snacks included. It could be as simple as mixing a scoop of canned pumpkin puree to your morning oatmeal or using both veggies and chips as dippers when you’re snacking on hummus. Just try to have a few vegetables every time you eat.
If you try to completely give up one of your favorite foods, the odds are good that you won’t be successful. And, even if you are, you won’t be happy. I can't imagine life with so many food restrictions, so I reframed how I think about these treats: I use my favorite foods as motivation to continue my healthy habits. For example, when there are doughnuts in the office, I pass because I’ve already made a deal with myself that I get to enjoy an over-the-top delicious doughnut from my favorite spot on Saturday morning.
Listen to Your Body
Believe it or not, this is the most important small change that I’ve made. Rather than stressing out over what a particular diet or health recommendation says I should eat, I trust my body to ask for what it needs (most of the time 😉). When I’m craving something fatty or sugary, it’s usually because I haven’t eaten enough — so a healthy snack will do the trick. But, every once in a while, when I listen to what my body is asking for it’s definitely chocolate or bread — so I eat that. If the craving goes away, then I know I made the right choice. If the craving doesn’t go away, I drink some water, fill up on a healthy snack and try to listen more carefully next time.
It takes some practice to create new habits but, whatever happens, don’t give up — you’ve got this! Committing to even one of these changes can help you live healthier, feel more energized and have more confidence. And who wouldn’t want that?