I love food. No seriously, it is like my favorite thing. Tacos, soup, sushi, curry, chocolate and cheese…. Oh cheese! Cheese is my absolute favorite food ever. Sharp cheddar, brie, parmesan, smoked cheese, broiled cheese, cheesy bread, fried cheese, cheesecake- I am like the Bubba Gump of cheese lovers. If I could survive on cheese, I wouldn’t eat much else, but unfortunately, that is not an option (sigh). I would say that I probably have cheese every day, but still manage to maintain a healthy balance and live a fit, active lifestyle. How do I manage? Portion control, meal planning, exercise and balance in my diet. No one should have to give up their favorite foods to be healthy. Let me show you how I learned to live a healthy lifestyle, while still enjoying food, and share with you my top-12 tips to making a permanent change in your diet.
Let me show you how I learned to live a healthy lifestyle, while still enjoying food, and share with you my top-12 tips to making a permanent change in your diet.
When you are making good choices consistently and are aware of what you consume, occasional treats or indulgences won’t affect your body. I no longer feel guilty about adding cheese to my burger or having an extra glass of wine with a friend, because my lifestyle is now in balance. My journey to this comfort zone wasn’t easy. I used to be ignorant about nutrition. I tried to make good choices, but I had no idea what I was doing and indulged in fast food, alcohol and desserts way too often. My main motivation in watching what I ate was a desire to achieve the physical ideal projected upon me by the media and entertainment.
In the past, I often used food and alcohol as a coping mechanism. It was not until obesity hit after my first pregnancy that nutrition entered my mind. After I had my son, I was 50-pounds overweight and in a deep depression. It was time for a change. I began making what I thought were healthy choices: cutting calories, trying to move more, and drink less. Pretty much my only plan was to log every calorie that I consumed and burned to reach a daily calorie goal. I was caught a downward spiral into an obsession with calorie counting and exercise.
Basing my entire weight-loss plan on maintaining a calorie deficit meant that I was critical of every calorie that I consumed. I would stress eat junk food and then kick myself when my treadmill didn’t show I burned enough calories to cover it. When I had a glass of wine with a friend, I would miss my daily goal and punish myself by not eating enough the next day. I don’t want to be misleading here… understanding how many calories are in your food is smart, and the process of logging everything taught me about portion sizes. However, I was more focused on how many calories I was eating and not the quality of the food I was putting in my body. Plus, checking calorie counts before ordering food, stopping to log each item I ate, and thinking back on every extra bite I snuck during the day was enormously time consuming. I was wasting time, taking way too long to see results, and not enjoying my life.
My mindset and relationship with food changed after I started training for a fitness event. Instead of basing my exercise and diet on achieving a weight-loss goal or superficial image, I was fueling my body for what I needed it to do. The healthier I ate, the healthier I wanted to eat. My body craved better food and the junk seemed less appealing. I found that it was possible to eat well and still enjoy delicious foods. Partly, I found the balance between eating right and eating indulgently. But more importantly, I found foods that I enjoyed that were both healthy and tasty. So much of my happiness came when cooking became a passion and eating to become a hobby.
So much of my happiness came when cooking became a passion and eating to become a hobby.
I would definitely consider myself a foodie. I love learning about new foods and cooking techniques, I love stepping out of my comfort zone to try new dishes and cuisines, and I love to savor the experience of eating. After punishing myself for so long with my food choices, it became a pleasure again to focus on enjoying my meals. Have any of you ever done the meal planning/meal prep type programs where you eat scrambled egg whites and a strip of turkey bacon for breakfast, a salad with next to no dressing for lunch, and plain steamed broccoli, chicken and brown rice for dinner? It was torture for me. With these boring, flavorless foods, it is no wonder that so many people, my past-self included, find dieting to be an endless cycle of deprivation and over-indulgence, or “yo-yo dieting.”
Cleanses can be beneficial. Most “diets” are well intentioned. But health and fitness aren’t just measured on a scale. Make a permanent lifestyle change to nourish your body, mind and soul! What good is a thin or sexy body if you aren’t enjoying the life you put it through. I am not a nutritionist, but I have done tons of research over the years and employed much trial & error. Nutrition is not black & white and new information comes out all the time. Someone with a sedentary lifestyle, a distance runner, and a body builder all have different nutrition needs. “Eating right” is a process but every good decision you make, every bit of new information you learn gets you one step closer to being your happiest, healthiest self. Stop crash dieting, stop following fads, stop seeking magic pills, and stop punishing yourself with your diet. Hopefully my take on food can help you make a permanent transition to a healthy, fulfilling lifestyle.
IF YOU HAVE ALWAYS WANTED A GUIDE TO A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE, HERE ARE MY TOP-12 NUTRITION TIPS TO GET YOU STARTED:
1- DRINK MORE WATER
If you haven’t heard, you shouldn’t drink your calories. Not only will it not make you feel full, but is also triggers your brain to eat even more. Cut back on or eliminate soda (even diet soda), juice, alcohol, creamers, and other sugary drinks. Also we often confuse thirst with hunger. If you find yourself feeling hungry or craving an extra snack between meals, drink a glass of water and wait a while. You will be surprised at how crazy our hunger cues are when we are dehydrated or mislead by sugar & artificial sweeteners.
2- WATCH PORTIONS AND CUT BACK GRADUALLY
I like bread, rice and pasta. I love pizza. I originally cut these from my diet entirely, but I was miserable. When I finally allowed myself to have something, I would eat way too much. A big step in making a permanent change is to learn healthy portion sizes. Have a slice of pizza, but eat a side salad first or skip the soda. Eat a bowl of spaghetti, but measure out your pasta and add protein & veggies to fill you up. As you find healthier options, you can gradually use them to replace your old habits. If you have always been the steak & potatoes type, you cannot become a salad lover overnight. It will just result in falling back into the cycle of yo-yo dieting.
3- SWITCH OUT YOUR STAPLES TO HEALTHIER ALTERNATIVES & LIMIT PROCESSED FOODS
Avoid or dramatically limit processed foods. Watch for ingredients like enriched flours, high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors & flavors, and anything you can’t pronounce. Instead of white bread, buy whole wheat. Instead of white rice, buy brown rice. Instead of creamy soups, try broth-based soups. Instead of gelato, try frozen yogurt. Chicken, seafood, pork loin and turkey are all significantly better for you than beef. This doesn’t mean that you can never eat steak or bacon or ice cream, just make the better choice as often as possible and you will feel so much healthier. Honestly, the more often I ate the better option, the less often I wanted the worse choice.
4- DON’T KEEP JUNK FOOD AT HOME
I have junk food and soda on occasion. Usually at a restaurant or on a special occasion. But I don’t buy any of it to have at home. If it is there, I will eat it! When you have tempting treats (like chips, crackers, soda or sweets), it is significantly more tempting to make the unhealthy choice. My favorite healthy-but-easy snacks to keep on hand are packaged hard-boiled eggs, nuts, cheese sticks, grab-and-go fruit (apples/mandarins/banana), and quality protein bars (preferably homemade).
5- FIND HEALTHY FOODS OR RECIPES YOU ENJOY
Everyone’s tastes are different. I am not a fan of salads or steamed veggies, but I can eat soups & roasted foods every day! I found so many ways to add tons of veggies and superfoods to my favorite dishes without adding unhealthy fillers. If you really don’t like a type of food, don’t eat it! Not all healthy food is cardboard and tasteless. There are SO many delicious recipes available online (or you can try some of mine!)
6- DON’T INDULGE EVERYDAY
I love treats: cheesecake, ice cream, beer, wine, soda, chips. I allow myself these indulgences a couple of times every week (still in moderation, still using portion control). I don’t have dessert every day. I don’t drink wine every day. In fact, we don’t drink any alcohol at our house Monday through Thursday unless it is an event or very special occasion. If you can’t live without your favorite dessert or beverage, save it for the weekend or a specific day. Limiting the indulgences makes you savor them more and makes them special… that’s why they call them treats!
7- ADD FLAVOR FROM HERBS, SPICES, AND SEASONINGS
This may seem obvious, but adding flavor to your food is the best way to get yourself to eat it. It doesn’t take heavy sauces or tons of fat to make things taste good. Some of my go-to choices to liven up my foods are fresh onion & garlic, cumin, peppers, curry powder, and cinnamon. Also vanilla extract is great at tricking your brain into thinking dishes are sweeter even without adding sugar! I know not everyone likes spicy food, but for me, few things make a meal more enjoyable than heat. Some of my favorite ways to add heat to a dish are adding cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, salsa or hot sauce. Plus, research has shown that spicy foods can actually boost your metabolism and reduce your appetite and cravings!
8- MAKE MORE OF YOUR OWN MEALS
Restaurant food is notoriously high calorie. Even the so-called “healthy options” have a ton of fillers, empty carbs, and oils. Make your own food and have better control over the portion sizes, fat/oil content and the ratio of veggies/protein/carbs. Plus, you save the time of driving or waiting for delivery, and you don’t even have to get dressed!
9- ADD VEGETABLES TO EVERYTHING THAT YOU CAN
Seriously! Put vegetables in everything: soups, pastas, casseroles, omelets, sandwiches, and even pancakes! When you are making your food taste good with seasoning and spice, it is really easy to throw in extra veggies without affecting the overall flavor of the dish. Onion & zucchini go great in mild dishes, bell pepper pairs great with Latin dishes, sweet potatoes enhance pastries, and you can hide pureed cauliflower in cheesy dishes and sauces!
10- TRY TO PLAN YOUR MEALS IN ADVANCE
Sit down and make a list of meals for the week (or even two) and get all of your shopping done at once. If you know you have a busy night ahead or limited time to cook, plan an easy/fast meal and/or prep your meals in advance: put dinner in the slow cooker in the morning, pre-chop ingredients, prep & freeze a casserole. Also check your calendar. If you know you have a date night, event or holiday approaching, take extra care to eat well in the days or weeks ahead. Knowing indulgences are coming makes it easier to turn down a mid-week treat or extra glass of wine.
11- HAVE EMERGENCY MEAL BACKUPS ON HAND
No matter how much you plan, issues may arise to prevent you from cooking: a family emergency, traffic jam or last minute appointment. Be prepared by having healthy options at the ready. Freeze your favorite dishes (even leftovers!) so you can have a healthy meal from the microwave in minutes. Even store-bought canned soups, frozen entrees, and jarred pasta sauces & frozen meatballs are better choices than a drive thru!
12- DON’T GIVE UP
Did you have a bad day and stress-eat an entire pizza? Missed your alarm and had to grab drive-thru breakfast? Had a friend visit and drink your weight in cocktails? It happens! A bad meal, a bad day, or even a bad week is not the end all to a lifestyle change. Forgive yourself, drink tons of water, and make a plan to avoid a repeat breakdown!
Having a healthy lifestyle doesn’t mean you have to maintain a perfect diet and routine. Just make the best possible choice as often as you can. I have had many setbacks maintaining my healthy lifestyle: illness, injury, travel. There is so much working to derail our efforts. But honestly, our biggest obstacle is our own willpower. You have to have a greater desire for health, vitality, energy and life than you do for the temporary comfort of food.
You have to have a greater desire for health, vitality, energy and life than you do for the temporary comfort of food.
Start with these tips and you will find that you can still enjoy food and enjoy your life while making healthy choices.
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