In the last article, I reviewed some components of a healthy diet. More specifically, we covered what to eat and rough quantities. In this article, we’ll be reviewing HOW to make some of those changes.
For many people, they already have a good idea of what to eat. In fact, some of them could probably tell me exactly what works for them. The problem lies in their ability to make the changes last. They have all the knowledge, they just don’t know how to bridge the gap between where they are now and where they want to be. Or, given the knowledge, they still feel frustrated when they struggle to make ALL of those changes at once!
The secret to success is not in getting everything perfect right away. Perfect is the enemy of good. Instead of trying to get everything right from the beginning, allow yourself time to work into your new lifestyle. Start with small, more manageable changes, then progressively target the harder ones.
First, add before you subtract.
That’s right; before you take anything out of your diet, start eating protein at every meal. Beginning here will make every other step significantly easier. This is because protein can help people spontaneously eat less food, it increases satiety, and simultaneously reduces cravings for junk food and increases calories burnt at rest! By building your base on protein, you are much more likely to find success in making other changes.
Aim to eat protein-dense food at every meal. A serving should be at least the size and thickness of your palm. Meat, poultry, fish, and eggs are some of the best sources of protein available.
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, seitan, tempeh, and tofu have some of the highest protein concentrations for non-animal products. Beans, seeds, and nuts contain a decent amount of protein, as well. Regardless of your preferred choice of protein, make sure it is the centerpiece of each meal.
Give yourself at least a week or two to make this a habit before worrying too much about the next step. Once you feel like you have a handle on eating enough protein, make the next addition to your diet: vegetables at every meal. Among a host of other benefits, the nutrients in vegetables boost your immune system, the fiber they contain improves gut health, and they increase satiety.
Vegetables are something that everyone knows they should be eating, but very few of us actually get enough of them day after day. In fact, most people severely over-estimate how many veggies they eat regularly. I challenge you to estimate how many servings you currently eat a day, then actually keep track of how many servings you’re really eating. It’s sure to surprise you.
If you’re already eating eggs for breakfast, it is very easy to add in spinach, onions, peppers, or mushrooms and prepare an omelet, scramble, breakfast casserole, or frittata. For lunch, pack vegetables such as tomatoes, sugar snap peas, celery, cucumbers, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, or sweet peppers that are easily paired with hummus or snacked on raw.
For dinners, be sure to include a non-starchy vegetable or two in the meal. Frozen vegetables are an excellent choice if you find it difficult to use vegetables in time or if you find yourself short on time or cooking skill. If you tend to eat out frequently, be sure to choose seasonal vegetables as a side. And, when eating a salad, opt for oil and vinegar or a vinaigrette over other dressings.
From there, if you’re still drinking sugar-sweetened beverages, stop now. Sugar-sweetened drinks typically contain a HUGE amount of sugar, often in amounts much greater than any of us would add ourselves. I don’t know many people that would physically ladle 19 teaspoons of sugar into a single drink, yet people will down that much in a soft drink without hesitation. This amount of sugar plays havoc on our bodies and is quickly stored as fat. Your best bet is to avoid them altogether.
This can be a drastic change for some people. If it’s too much at once, phase it out one drink a day at a time. For example, if you’re currently drinking five sodas (or sweet teas, or energy drinks, or …) a day, replacing one of those with water is a good first step. Do this for a week, then replace another with water. Continue this process until you’re only drinking water throughout the day. This can be a challenging process but it is necessary for sustained fat loss and overall health.
Next, replace unhealthy fats with healthier options. This is one of those areas that can get really confusing for people. After all, fat was categorically demonized by the government, health professionals, food companies, and the media for decades. Most people now know that trans fats are to avoided completely, but many have heard conflicting information about cooking oils and other types of fat. Without getting too far into the details, the old recommendations were misguided. Instead, avoid most vegetable and seed oils – such as soybean, canola, corn, cottonseed, and grapeseed oil – and stick to fats like real butter, coconut oil, ghee, and olive oil.
Making the switch to healthier cooking fats dramatically reduces inflammation throughout the body, improves blood lipids, improves cholesterol, and reduces overall mortality risk. On the other hand, consuming a diet high in vegetable and seed oils, such as the standard American diet, does just the opposite. Other healthy fats to include in your diet come from nuts, seeds, avocados, and fatty fish.
If you can progressively introduce these changes into your life, you will see a significant improvement in your health, not just the mirror. Plus, the benefits these changes will have on your body and mind will help you be even more successful with the next few changes. Introduce these principles slowly and practice them consistently until you have developed a new habit. Remember, perfect is the enemy of good. Take action now and consistently work to better yourself one day at a time. This is the secret to long-term change.
If you need some help making these changes, don’t hesitate to reach out for help! Our Precision Nutrition certified coach can help in-person or via phone. Click here to schedule a time to meet.