For many people eating healthy can seem daunting. From calorie counting to never eating out to not eating anything that casts a shadow; eating healthy just doesn’t seem worth it. Well I’m here to tell you that you can have nutritious meals without the calculator, you can enjoy meals with friends, and yes your food may be solid.
Growing up I always ate anything and everything with my family members telling me that it would eventually catch up to me. By the time I graduated, my whopper combo with three junior whoppers lunch special had certainly taken its toll on my physique and my health. But I was able to break my bad eating habits and lose the weight by following a few simple guidelines that I had made for myself based on various things that I had learned about macronutrients and the way our bodies use energy. I won’t say that it was easy to fight the cravings for fast food: after all, that stuff is designed to make us addicted. The key was to decide what I wanted more, and then stick to that decision. I had decided that I wanted to get in better shape more than I wanted that junk food. That decision was always guided by my first tip for eating healthy. Here are the suggestions that I can make for starting you on your path toward a healthier lifestyle:
Junk Food Will Always Be There – That’s right. If you pass up on that cheeseburger or chocolate bar, the chances are that you will have the opportunity to have one in the future. Don’t let the cravings control your ability to make a decision. If you’ve decided that you want to be healthier stick to that decision. Besides, you will find that there is something empowering about conquering cravings and every time you do, you will feel better about it.
Shop Healthy – With the first point comes the realization that the decision to not eat junk food is easier made once in the grocery store than it is every time you go in the kitchen or pantry because you are stacked with it.
Variety Is Vital – When I say variety I don’t necessarily mean that you should eat cuisines from around the world on a weekly basis, although that would be wonderful. What this means is that when you look at your meal you should have some variety in it every time. Include some protein (meat, lentils, beans, dairy, etc.), complex carbohydrates and fibre (whole grain breads and pastas, quinoa, brown rice, etc.), and less complex carbohydrates (fruits and vegetables). We can generally acquire the necessary healthy fats within these foods without needing to be too concerned about consciously adding them. A balanced meal can be achieved on any diet, and the internet has a plethora of information for you to learn how to create such meals.
Appropriate Portions – This will depend on a few things. I suggest imagining a plate divided into three sections. Generally a healthy meal would consist of the complex carbohydrates and fibre taking about 30%, the less complex carbohydrates taking another 30%, and the protein taking 40%. Again, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated (healthy) fats are essential, but can be found within these guidelines in the necessary amounts for most people. This is a very general and balanced approach, and your portion requirements can be greatly affected by your daily routine and goals. Speaking with a nutritionist or eating coach could help you to determine what portion sizes best fit you, or browsing some healthy eating forums and asking questions there.
Mindful Eating – Being conscious of what you’re eating is one thing, but we also have to consider when we are eating it, what we have done before eating, and what we plan to do after we eat. This may seem like a lot of thinking before you order your meal at a restaurant, but it can be kept pretty simple. For example, if I haven’t been very active all day long I will eat smaller portions and try to take more time to eat via smaller bites, more pauses between mouthfuls, and more sips of water between bites. This will fill my caloric needs while allowing my brain the time it needs to realize that I have eaten. On the other hand, if I have been very active or plan to be very active I may have larger portions or even a second helping. This is also a deciding factor as to whether I will have desert or not.
Food Prep – So many people turn to junk food because it is easy and convenient. I suggest preparing healthy snacks and having them ready to eat. Keeping a container of fresh, washed vegetables in the fridge can help you make the choice to snack healthy. Having washed and chopped vegetables available can also reduce the daily preparation time needed for meals, making it more likely that you will include that variety in your meals. Planning your meals ahead of time can also reduce leftover waste by using leftovers from one meal as part of the next meal. Having a fridge stocked with healthy options for meals and snacks that are already half made can significantly improve your eating habits.
Frequent Fluids – Often when people attempt to reduce their portion sizes they are left feeling unsatisfied and hungry. Even if self control is exercised during the meal, snacking can be inevitable, filling that caloric gap and almost completely thwarting your attempts to control your eating. This is why I recommend that people not only drink water with their meals (or increase water intake if they already do, within healthy guidelines), but also carry a refillable water bottle with them. By having water on hand, it is more likely that you will drink more and therefore keep yourself satiated between meals and healthy snacks. The general rule is to drink eight 8 ounce glasses of water, or about 2 litres per day.
The portion ratios I previously suggested would also be altered with regards to my activity and training schedule, as certain foods are better for fuel and others for replenishment and repair. A nutritionist can help with meal plans for the serious athlete, but for those of you who may just want to improve your eating habits with respect to your training I offer you this advice:
2.5 – 3 hours before training - Eat a meal with the portion ratios of 20% protein, 20% less complex carbohydrates, and 60% complex carbohydrates and fibre. It is good to try to have some healthy fats for fuel, so a small portion of fish or even some nuts would be ideal. This provides you with sustainable fuel for training.
After training – Eat a small meal with the portion ratios of 40% protein, 30% complex carbohydrates and fibre, and 30% less complex carbohydrates. This is ideal for replenishing your muscle’s need for carbohydrate energy stores as well as repairing your muscles with protein. The best window for protein synthesis after training is 15-30 minutes however it is difficult to get the protein from food sources into your muscles that fast. This is where I recommend a whey isolate protein drink for those who are interested in supplementation.
In short, eating healthy can be a far less painful transition than you think and it doesn’t have to mean giving up the things you love. I regularly enjoy cookies, but I tend to avoid them in the evening or when I am sitting at a desk all day long. It really is that simple. Now if you are serious about getting more out of your eating habits, why not get more from your workouts? If this sounds intriguing to you keep your eyes open for my next topic addressing training for gains.
I have provided some links below which address protein sources, complex carbohydrate sources, healthy dietary fats, and water intake and benefits respectively for your convenience.