Over the past month, I have been leading nutrition counseling sessions pretty much every day. Go me :) I am loving all the experience and different situations in a community-based setting. Almost 90% of my sessions will include some version of this phrase/question, "My doctor told me XYZ, and I need to _____ (lose weight or change my eating habits) and I don't know what I should be eating." If you are a health professional, you have probably heard this a few times along with "Can you write me a diet/menu plan?" Just a comment on the diet/menu plan, I rarely ever give someone a diet/menu to follow. My sessions are geared towards giving my clients/members the tools they need to choose healthy foods. It gets boring eating the same foods all of the time, so it is important for people to be able to have enough knowledge to change up what they eat in a healthy way.
Below, are my tips for someone looking to change their eating habits or embark on a healthy lifestyle journey!
Rid yourself of the word "diet" and replace it with "a healthy lifestyle." When you go "on a diet," you are likely to "go off of the diet." It is better to work towards a balance where you are able to enjoy the foods you love and incorporate healthy and/or new foods.
Write down everything you eat for 1-2 days. Be honest with yourself and don't change what you are eating just so it looks good on paper. I have asked many clients/members for food logs and diaries. Sometimes, I look through someone's diary and think "it looks like they eat pretty healthy." Then, I'll ask the burning question, "Is this a typical day for you?" The response is usually, "These were days that I was trying to be good." I don't want those days! Then, I will find out they have a habit of eating a bag of Cheetos at night and 2 ice cream cones. Now, that is something we can work with!
Start by analyzing your current eating/health patterns. Look over your food log and ask yourself these questions:
_1_ Which macronutrient (carbohydrates, fats, proteins) makes up the majority of my meal? Most of
the clients/members in my sessions get their calories from carbohydrates (most of them
being refined). A lot of them are also not getting enough protein or healthy fats in their diet either.
_2_ Am I drinking enough water? (91 oz (11 glasses) for women and 125 oz (15.5 glasses) for men)
_3_ Am I drinking my calories in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages? How many glasses/day?
_4_ How much sugar am I consuming?
_5_ Do I snack more often than eat a meal? Are these healthy snacks?
_6_ Do I skip meals? If yes, why? Is there anything I can do to help avoid skipping meals?
_7_ How many servings of vegetables am I eating per day?
_8_ How many servings of fruit am I eating per day?
_9_ Am I getting enough fiber?
_10_ Am I active every day?
Tracking your food will help you to be more mindful of what you are eating and can help significantly with those trying to lose weight.
After answering all of the questions in Tip #3, think about where you want to start. Maybe you will start by cutting up fruits and vegetables so they are readily available for a snack (instead of cookies). Maybe you will start by tracking what you eat for a week to become more mindful of what you are eating. It doesn't matter where you start, just pick one thing to work on a go from there.
Tip #5 (for the limited water drinkers)
If you are one of those people who dislike the taste of water (heard that a few times in my sessions), then make water fun! Put slices of fresh fruit (limes, lemons, strawberries, watermelon) in water. You could also put fresh fruit in seltzer (most of them are 0 calorie, 0 sugar). Try fresh brewed hot or cold tea. There are tons of tea flavors you can choose from! You can also try the fresh fruit in the hot tea (I love lemons in hot black tea). For those of you who have a lot of sugary beverages, you can also try replacing one of those per day with some of the examples I gave.
Tip #6 (for the snackers)
If you are an excessive snacker, the first thing to do before eating a snack is ask yourself, "Am I really hungry?" If you are feeling hungry, you make not be getting enough protein and healthy fats in your last meal, so check back to question #1's answer you wrote down. One strategy could be to add some eggs, chicken, or turkey to your lunch meal so you don't have 3 snacks before eating dinner. If your problem isn't snacking because of hunger, but because of boredom, social eating, etc, then think of what you can do instead of snacking. You could go for a walk, read a book, call a friend, etc. If you still feel the urge to snack, go for some protein, fats, and healthy carbs. An example could be a Greek yogurt (protein, carbs) topped with nuts (protein, fats). Another snack example could be an apple (carbs) with peanut butter (protein, fats).
Tip #7 (for the meal skippers)
If you normally skip breakfast, think about why you do so. Are you not hungry? Are you running late for work? Focus on your answer and brainstorm a strategy for your situation. If you don't have enough time in the morning, you could get up 15 minutes earlier or pack a breakfast the night before (scrambled eggs portioned into containers, trail mix). Also, breakfast does not need to contain the "normal" breakfast foods. You can have chicken and vegetables for breakfast! I will often make extra chicken at night to eat on my way to work in the morning.
Set small goals for yourself. If you normally skip breakfast, a goal can be that you will eat breakfast 3 days a week for the next 2 weeks. If you normally choose unhealthy snacks, a goal can be that you add 1 piece of fresh fruit or 1 serving of vegetables to your snack. I always find it better to add healthy foods before you start taking anything away. This falls more in line with the healthy lifestyle versus being on a diet.
Learn to accept and move on when you feel like you "blew your diet" or "went off the wagon." Just make better choices at your next meal or snack. Don't wait until the next day! Do it now!
Once you feel like you have mastered one of your goals, review your questions/answers from Tip #3 and choose another goal to work on. Remember, it is all about a healthy lifestyle, not being on a diet. It is perfectly okay to have a cookie, or two, once in a while, or have some ice cream while out with your family/friends. Just keep that "I am working towards a healthy lifestyle" phrase in mind!
Comment below if you have begun your healthy lifestyle and what worked best for you!