I grew up on Pop-Tarts and Kraft dinners. Eating healthy or cooking at home had never been natural for me. As a busy corporate employee, I was making bad food choices daily while living with high levels of stress. But a few years ago, I turned my life around and decided to embark on a health journey. I am now a certified holistic nutritionist and the founder of The Green Life.
I didn’t become healthier overnight. I took baby steps and slowly made small changes toward a better life. When it comes to our health, there’s no quick miracle recipe. Setting unrealistic goals and expecting results overnight is what I believe set most people up for failure.
The key to successful healthy living is to aim for long-term changes. It’s a constant work-in-progress and we must learn to appreciate the journey, be gentle on ourselves, and have fun in the process. Here are five simple tips you can start applying today to improve your health and well-being in the long run.
01. Instead of removing, try adding.
We often associate healthy eating with deprivation and restriction. But sacrificing the foods we love will inevitably lead to frustration and a very good chance that we’ll throw in the towel and go back to our old habits.
So instead of removing foods from your diet, try adding more of the good stuff. Having pizza for dinner? Add a green salad. Can’t start the day without your morning toast? Serve it with a green juice or small smoothie. Burgers are your guilty pleasure? Choose a whole grain bun and load it with roasted veggies. The more healthy foods you introduce into your meals, the more they will become a natural part of your diet. With time, you’ll notice that your body will crave healthier options and you’ll naturally—and effortlessly—start making smarter food choices.
02. Know what you’re eating.
Learn to read nutrition and ingredients labels. Many packaged foods contain ingredients we’ve never heard of or can’t pronounce. My rule: if you don’t know it, you shouldn’t eat it. Focus on whole foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, seeds and grains. Stay away from things that come in a box; they usually contain chemicals, artificial flavors and additives. Skip foods labeled as low-fat, as they’re often loaded with added sugar.
Be mindful of how the food you eat was grown too, whether it’s organic or not, or how far it travelled before making it to your plate. Harvard research found that local foods are both fresher and more nutritious. They have a smaller impact on the environment and they taste much better than foods that were picked weeks ago and shipped in refrigerated trucks.
03. Slow down when you chow down.
Slow eating is your digestion’s best friend. Our stomach doesn’t have teeth to chew—it has to use enzymes to break down food—so the less chewing we do, the more work our stomach and digestive system will have to do. Further, when we eat hurriedly, our sympathetic nervous system and stress response are triggered. The body goes into “fight-or-flight” mode and suppresses digestive activity. In this state, enzymatic secretions and bile flow are hindered and the entire digestive process does not function optimally. This can lead to digestive upsets, food allergies and sensitivities, inflammation, malabsorption and nutrient deficiencies.
Studies suggest that eating slowly may also maximize satiation (the feeling of fullness). It takes about twenty minutes for our brain to realize we’re full and to send signals of satiety. Eating slowly gives our body the time it needs to receive those signals, which decreases the risk of overeating and leads to better weight management.
Above that, food tastes better when we take the time to savor each bite. Eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures and doing it slowly and mindfully makes the whole experience more enjoyable and satisfying.
04. Squeeze a few more glasses of water into your day.
I know this is an obvious one, but a little water goes a long way! Many of us are affected by issues caused by dehydration and we don’t even know it. Water plays a role in almost every single process of the body. It’s essential to digestion, it helps with the transportation and absorption of nutrients, proteins, and hormones, aids weight loss, relieves headaches, maintains focus, supports the body's natural detoxification process, nurtures healthy and glowing skin, and the list goes on.
Aim for at least eight to ten glasses a day. Bring a bottle with you when you leave the house. If you find water boring, add sliced fruits or fresh herbs to make it flavorful. Or set alarms on your phone to remember it’s time to drink. Use whatever works for you!
05. Plan ahead.
We all know that eating healthy requires a bit of planning. But don’t let it overwhelm you! Meal prep is not as difficult as it sounds. Reserve some time during the weekend (I like Sundays) to prepare your food for the coming week. It will take a couple hours, but it will save you time later on and make it much easier to stick to your healthy habits.
Cook big batches of whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, farro), and proteins (legumes, tempeh or animal proteins), chop and pre-cook veggies, and prepare a couple sauces and dressings to use throughout the week. I make hummus for snacks or bake a big batch of homemade granola to use on yogurt or oatmeal.
If you leave the house, keep healthy options on you in case hunger strikes. I carry nuts, dried fruits or homemade granola bars when I’m on the go. By having healthy options ready, you're less likely to grab a bag of chips or order fast food on your way home.
Remember that you don’t have to apply all of these healthy eating habits at once. Start with one that seems realistic for you right now and let it become a natural part of your routine. Then integrate the next one. Don’t forget to celebrate your success and be proud of your efforts! With each step you take toward a healthier life, no matter how large or small, you’re making yourself the most precious gift.