The term “healthy” can be a very negative word in today’s diet obsessed world. When we talk about getting healthier we often think of big weight loss, restrictive diets, heavy bouts of exercise and completely changing the way you function day-to-day. Thinking of health in terms of extremes can keep you from making some necessary changes to live a better life. Being healthy is simply about being in good health. Steps towards having good health can be simple and easily managed. They shouldn’t cause stress or anxiety, and should make adherence easier. So what can you do today to start living a healthier lifestyle??
1) Don't starve yourself throughout the day
One of the easiest changes a person can make is to make sure they eat. Now this may seem like common sense, but it’s very common that people tend to skip or restrict meals throughout the day. This can often lead to binging, or overeating, in the evening. The best thing you can do for yourself is to eat regular meals throughout the day.
We’ve all heard that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” but it is also the most commonly skipped meal. While you may make it to lunch break before realizing you need to eat, this can impact the overall function of your body and your productivity. Skipping meals can often lead to feeling exhausted, unfocused and even moody. You may not even realize the connection, as life’s stress may distract you from normal hunger cues like a growling stomach.
So make sure to space your food throughout the day and have some go-to snack options ready. If you have questions about figuring out how many calories are right for you, you can look at some of my previous posts for guidance.
2) YOU DON’T HAVE TO ELIMINATE FOOD GROUPS TO LOSE WEIGHT OR TO BE HEALTHY!
This one goes along with making sure to eat throughout the day. It’s important to remember that elimination diets often lead to poor adherence. While we all know someone that has succeeded in their strict diet plan, that doesn’t mean it will work for us, and it doesn’t mean that they couldn't have succeeded another way.
Yes, some foods may not make us feel like the healthiest version of ourselves and it’s important to recognize those foods. What’s also important to remember is that when we eliminate a food completely, it’s all we crave! If someone tells you not to do something, it’s often all we want to do! A balanced approach is what is recommended by registered dieticians. So instead of completely removing entire food groups and saying no to eating some of your favorite foods, have them in smaller quantities. This can also help with removing the temptation to overeat them later.
3) Recognize high calories foods/beverages and when they can be cut back
One mistake that is commonly made is that we will consume some high calorie and/or high fat foods, and in return we are not eating balanced meals. Maybe your morning routine includes a fancy latte from Starbucks. Depending on the size and add-ons, this could be a 200-500 calorie drink. No wonder you aren’t hungry for breakfast! While this drink is probably delicious and gives us that caffeine boost we need, it doesn’t give us any nutrients to keep us full for long periods of time or to support our bodies. Swapping this drink for a regular coffee with a low-calorie syrup or sugar can allow you to eat a breakfast with carbs, fats and protein that will keep you full longer and support your productivity and a good mood!
These are the kinds of changes that can make a big impact on how you feel throughout the day. You may not notice how much the sugar from that fancy coffee makes you crash later. I would never dream of advising anyone to cut out coffee, but find a way to still enjoy your coffee while allowing yourself the ability to have a good meal too.
Another good thing to note is how food is prepared and dressed. Condiments, dressing, oil, butter, etc. all have calories, but are often forgotten when we think about the nutrients in a meal. Things like butter, oils, dairy based dressings, mayo, ketchup, mustard etc. are actually pretty high in calories and fats. You could order a great salad but then drown it in a sea of ranch dressing and unknowingly add hundreds of calories to a meal. You don’t need to cut out the dressing completely, though. It’s just important to understand what a serving size is and how much you really consume. Most people can cut back on the dressings and still have the amazing flavor you love. Food is still meant to be enjoyed and making food bland just to cut down on calories, will never lead to long-term adherence. It’s all about the middle ground! This also applies to drinks like soda, which can contribute a lot of unnecessary calories to a day.
It’s also a good thing to note that when we consume these high calorie and fat meals, they often leave us hungry again sooner and one top of the calories from the meal itself, there’s often snacking or larger meals needed later.
4) DRINK WATER!
We need water to function at our best! When we don’t drink enough water it impacts our sleep, mental health, general mood, metabolic function, and so much more. Remember that the recommendation is for women to have 2.5-3 liters a day and men to have 3.5-4 liters a day.
5) Don't overwork yourself and get sleep!
Most people don’t get that 7-9 hours of sleep that is recommended. Not getting enough sleep can actually lead to a slew of issues. Some of those include constant fatigue, irritability and overall bad moods, lack of focus and reduced mental capacity. Over long periods of time, the reduced amount of sleep can lead to high blood pressure, increased risk of diabetes and other diseases. Not getting enough sleep will cause an immediate impact, and making time for proper rest can also have immediate results. You’ll almost immediately notice improved mood and energy. This will lead you to make better decisions about food and movement. Also, keep in mind that while caffeine will help with that daily fatigue, it’s no replacement for actually sleep!
6) Make small adjustments in day-to-day movements
Once you’re rested, it’s time to start thinking about how you live your day-to-day life. With so many people working office jobs and spending most of their time at a desk, it's easy to end up sedentary for the entire day. Remember to take your breaks to get in some movement. Think about the activities of your day and how you could add more activity. If you have a dog and typically you just let them into the backyard in the morning, maybe get up 10 minutes earlier and give your dog a quick walk. You can walk to places nearby instead of driving. Take the stairs vs. an elevator. All these small changes add up. Especially for those who have health issues or no experience with exercise, these can be easy additions to make your life that won’t feel overwhelming. You’ll notice over time that you’re inspired to move even more!
7) Change it up. The body adapts to repeated stress, so try different activities
If you are an experienced weightlifter or athlete, you will go through plateaus, and the best way to get through them is to try new activities and mix it up. Remember our bodies plateau when we have exhausted specific muscle groups, so if they aren’t getting enough rest, it’s time to reevaluate your training lineup.
For those who are newer to the fitness world, you may get bored or not like certain styles of training. Find what you enjoy doing, but also try new things and keep things exciting. Oftentimes, those who allow themselves to get bored will not continue exercising long term.
8) Know when it’s time to take a rest or if you're making excuses!
You have to be able to check yourself and know when you are making excuses. Know your excuses in advance to work around them. If you know when you get off work you'll be exhausted and it’ll be easier to make excuses to skip training, go before work. We all have the best intentions, but life happens and it’s important to recognize how we think and set ourselves up for success. Get exercise out of the way if you know life often gets crazy and unpredictable. If you know thinking about exercising after work will stress you out, again, go before work. If you know exercise after work will help reduce stress, do that!
Only you know what will be best for your lifestyle. If you still have trouble committing, find someone to hold you accountable. A friend, partner, coworkers. Anyone who can check in with you and make sure you get that little push you need. Maybe you can train together. This is also a good time to get a personal trainer, if you need instruction, goal-setting and more accountability.
Maybe this all seems too easy, and that’s because getting healthier is not as dramatic as we see on social media, tv and magazines. We all just have to practice patience, as change takes time. Making small adjustments like eating enough and getting nutrients, getting sleep, drinking water and getting in movement are fantastic first steps to health, and will often lead to more healthy choices. We all have to start somewhere, though. So don’t overwhelm yourself. Take things step by step. Maybe start with food changes and once you feel confident in that, you can take on a new task. I don’t recommend trying all of these at once, as that’s a lot to change and I want you to make these long-term habits.
Always keep in mind where you are trying to be in a year or 5 years from now. The goals and tasks you take on today are to set yourself up for success years from now. So find a way to live your life that supports your body and long-term progress!
Until next time… and remember health is for all!