Now that summer is underway, I’ve been looking for ways to jumpstart healthy habits to achieve my goal of moving more and staying fit. I know I want to make smarter food choices and commit to exercise, but sometimes just getting going with a healthy routine feels nearly impossible.
Through reading books, doing some research, and talking with friends, I discovered some simple ways to help me focus on what really matters when it comes to my health. Without feeling overwhelmed or guilty all the time, these simple lifestyle changes have really helped me feel better and get fit.
Here are six of my favorite hacks that are slowly becoming habits, helping me live healthfully and eat mindfully.
01. Clear Your Counter
On Monday, my husband and I hosted a housewarming party and there was leftover cake. We left the cake sitting out on our counter. Do you know what happened at 10 a.m. on Tuesday? I had a slice of cake.
“‘In sight. In stomach.’ We eat what we see, not what we don’t,” writes Brian Wansink, author of Slim by Design and director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab. Through his research, Wansink discovered that he could roughly predict someone’s weight based on the food that was sitting out on their counter. “The average woman who kept potato chips on the counter weighed eight pounds more than her neighbor who didn’t,” he explains. Wansink advises keeping all food out of sight in the kitchen, except for fruit.
The same principle applies at the dinner table. Although it may be proper to serve food from the dining room table, Wansink discovered that “people who served from the stove or counter ate 19 percent less total food compared to those serving themselves right off the table.” If you’re anything like me, you may finish your food before your dining companions. If the food is on the table, it’s easy to have an extra serving, even if you’re full. When the food is off the table, it’s more work to indulge in that extra serving.
02. Multitask While You Move
You know the saying that when you fail to plan, you plan to fail? It rings true with our exercise goals too. Simply allotting short breaks in your day to walk can be helpful.
“While at work, schedule time in your calendar to be active during the day,” advises Kristen Bertke, a wellness coach for TriHealth, a collaborative organization between two Cincinnati hospitals that provides clinical, educational, and preventative programs. “This could include getting up for five minutes every hour, walking for 10 minutes a few times, or planning a workout around lunch. There are great videos on YouTube for desk workouts, stretches, or 10-minute quick workouts.”
If you work from home, Bertke says that setting up a small home gym with resistance bands, small weights, and an exercise ball makes for good midday breaks. If you’re a parent, you can move by playing with your children, inside and outside. You can even slip in some activity while watching TV in the evening.
Bertke recommends finding an accountability partner with similar priorities. “If you can find someone who is trying to work on the same goals like going for a walk at work or packing healthy lunches, it can move both of you forward,” she says.
03. Cut Your Cart in Half
Have you ever arrived home from the grocery store and realized you only picked up a bag of lettuce and three apples swimming in a sea of random snacks? We’ve all been there, whether it’s because we didn’t shop with a list or we got distracted by other items at the store.
Wansink recommends that when shopping at a grocery store, shoppers divide their carts in half and make sure to fill half the cart with fresh produce.
“This dividing line in the cart doesn’t moralize or lecture,” Wansink says. “It just encourages shoppers to ask themselves whether the food in their hand goes in the front or back of the cart.” The research project Wansink and his team conducted showed this tactic encouraged thoughtful purchases, and “it also made people believe that buying more fruits and vegetables is normal.”
Although I don’t strictly observe the half cart rule, I keep all my produce at the front of my cart so I can accurately assess how much I’m purchasing. If the fruits and veggies pile is meager, I’ll add some more peppers and berries to make sure we have healthy options for our week.
04. Write It Down
A simple notebook and pen don’t seem like key tools in making healthier choices. But science tells us otherwise.
“When researchers studied the eating behaviors of female dieters they found that two of the most important tools linked to successful weight loss were a pen and notebook,” explains Salyn Boyles of WebMD. “Women who kept food journals and consistently wrote down the foods they ate lost more weight than women who didn’t…. Women who consistently filled out the food journals lost about six pounds more than those who didn’t.” By writing down what you eat, you give yourself a form of accountability to track your health goals.
Bertke recommends taking the same approach to exercise. She encourages her clients to set SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely) to track their fitness. It only takes a few minutes to jot down what you ate today or whether you took the stairs. If you did well, it’ll be a pat on the back. If you could’ve done better, it’s a reminder of what you’d like to try to accomplish tomorrow. “Keep an exercise log to visualize your goals per week. It is rewarding to check off those days,” she says. “Setting small goals that lead into long-term goals helps build self-esteem and self-efficacy.”
05. Use Small Plates
Sometimes, making wiser food choices that meet your unique nutritional needs is a matter of simply eating less and knowing how much is enough.
“It is important to understand what a portion of a certain food/food group is, then measure out that portion to help visualize what a portion looks like in your hand, in a bowl, or on your plate,” Bertke says. “Also, it can be helpful to use the hand method, i.e., using your hand for measuring servings.”
We can also help ourselves through using smaller plates and bowls so that we don’t overeat. “Your table can stack the deck against you and your family,” Wansink writes. Two ounces of cooked pasta is about one cup, has around 300 calories, and looks huge on a 10-inch plate. The same two ounces on a 12-inch plate—the size most of us have—looks like a measly appetizer, so we serve ourselves another spoonful.”
06. Make Rules for Your Weaknesses
When it comes to foods we’re tempted to indulge in, it’s important to approach them with confidence instead of fear. Bertke advises that the best way to manage our indulgences is by limiting portions and frequency. “If things are made 100 percent off limits, it is much more challenging to adhere to healthy habits in the long run,” she explains.
I don’t open a bottle of wine if I’ll be the only one drinking. I only have desserts with friends. Fruit and vegetables are the snacks I eat between meals if I’m hungry. I don’t add sweetener to my coffee or tea, and sip on water instead of juice. There are occasions when I’ll break these rules, but they keep me grounded in making good choices daily.
“With habits, we don’t make decisions, we don’t use self-control, we just do the thing we want ourselves to do—or that we don’t want to do,” Rubin writes. Through these hacks, I take the hard work out of making decisions that will benefit my health and lifestyle in the short and long run. And I know I’ll be able to enjoy the indulgences of summer all the more with these good habits under my belt.
Photo Credit: Adobe Stock