We’ve all been told that we are what we eat. What we eat and drink has a massive impact on our health. A healthy diet can help you improve your cholesterol level, lower your blood pressure, regulate your blood sugar, manage your weight and reduce the risk of developing chronic health problems such as heart disease and diabetes.
But if you’re reading this article, it probably means you already want to eat healthily and give your body the nutrients it needs to feel good and stay strong. You’re just not sure where to start, and you’re feeling a little lost. That’s understandable. We’re flooded with contradictory opinions and information (or misinformation). Diet culture has also skewed our thinking and made us believe that healthy eating is about shedding pounds.
However, major changes in your eating habits, such as following restrictive diets only work in the short term, and most are unsustainable. A better strategy is to start with a few small changes and gradually cultivate a healthy relationship with food.
It’s pretty hard to stick to healthy eating habits if your fridge is full of unhealthy foods, so you want to start healthy shopping habits.
First of all, never go grocery shopping while you’re hungry. Research shows that when they’re hungry, shoppers tend to buy more high-calorie, unhealthy foods. It’s always better to go grocery shopping after having a meal or at least a snack.
Second of all, you need to have a list. When you’re not sure what you need to get, you’re more likely to give in to impulses. With a list, you’ll save time, money, and you’ll make healthier choices.
Don’t Deprive Yourself
Making promises to yourself that you will never have your favorite foods again is unrealistic and unsustainable. You’re basically setting yourself up for failure. It will make forbidden foods more desirable, so you’re more likely to give in and binge.
Instead, you should make room for indulgences from time to time. This is a better strategy because it increases self-control, and you won’t start feeling resentful of “healthy eating.” For example, let’s say you love desserts. Instead of telling yourself, you’re never going to have ice cream again and then eating a half-gallon in one sitting, you could go out from time to time and buy yourself some gelato ice cream. Gelato isn’t just the Italian name for ice cream. It’s lower in sugar and fat and also packs more flavor.
Letting yourself enjoy small portions of your favorite dessert or holiday dishes is part of developing a healthy relationship with food.
Avoid Fad Diets
Fad diets are advertised through promises that they can help you lose weight fast. Some of them actually deliver on those promises. Unfortunately, most are very restrictive and, therefore, unsustainable. The result is yo-yo dieting. You lose a few pounds, but you gain them back just as quickly.
Moreover, research shows that yo-yo dieting increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. They may be tempting because you see all those testimonials of people losing a lot of weight in only three or four months, but yo-yo dieting is the opposite of eating healthy.
Another simple tip is to eat more slowly. Maybe we’ve gotten used to eating in a hurry from having lunch at our desks so we can meet tight deadlines. However, the pace at which you eat influences your food intake and your weight.
That’s because your appetite is controlled by hormones such as leptin and ghrelin. These hormones inform your brain through signals whether you’re hungry or full. It takes about twenty minutes for these signals to reach your brain, which means that if you slow down, you’re less likely to overeat because your brain has had enough time to receive the signal that you’re full.
Studies show that eating slowly reduces the calorie intake and that fast eaters are 115% more likely to be over-weight that slow eaters. Eating more slowly also means you’ll have more time to properly chew your food, which has also been associated with better weight regulation.
Drink Enough Water
You’ve probably heard this one a million times, but it’s true: drinking enough water is very important for your health. What’s even more important is that you don’t replace water with sugary beverages. Sodas, sports drinks, and even fruit juices are full of sugar and high in calories.
Studies show that people who drink water when they’re thirsty instead of sugary beverages, consume, on average, 200 calories less per day. Studies also show that drinking water before a meal reduces both appetite and calorie intake.
Limit Sugar Intake
Too much sugar is not just bad for your teeth. It increases the risk of health problems like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. You have to be particularly careful with added sugars. For instance, one can of soda contain as much as 10 teaspoons of sugar. Even foods advertised as “organic” and “healthy” can have a lot of sugar, so it’s important to read the label.
Sugary snacks and processed foods also tend to be very low in the nutrients your body needs to function optimally. They’re empty calories.
Cut Back on Salt
Too much salt is also bad for your health. It can raise your blood pressure and increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Most of us consume more than double the recommended amount, which is 5 grams or a teaspoon equivalent per day. That’s because the more salt we add in food, the more our taste buds get accustomed to the salty flavor. If you cut back, you’ll notice that the foods you used to think were bland and needed more salt now taste too salty after a while.
To cut back on salt, you should start by removing salt and salty condiments from the table, so you’re not tempted to add them out of habit. The food will taste bland in the first three or four weeks, but then your taste buds will adjust, and you’ll be able to enjoy the natural flavors of food. You’ll also want to be careful while you’re cooking. Some ingredients, like canned vegetables, stock, or soy sauce, already have a high salt content.