I've said it before — I don't do well with diets, food restrictions, or "lifestyle overhauls," and I've learned with time that simple, achievable changes are actually way more effective in my life. If you're in the same boat, the good news is there are a ton of ways to eat healthier right now that don't require you to never eat a grain of sugar or potato ever again.
It's taken me all of my teens and most of my 20s to fully accept the fact that extreme dieting, consisting of stretches of intense mental focus and restrictive eating, and notions of "never again will I ever eat [insert food X]" simply does not work for me. Maybe if I lived in a vacuum in which I never saw another muffin or piece of cheese again it would be possible, but until then I have learned to accept the fact that I will likely never cut anything 100 percent and completely out of my life, and instead should just focus on making healthier day-to-day choices that will hopefully add up to better health and fitness in the long-run.
I've also found that the feeling of deprivation I get from super restrictive eating patterns (i.e: no refined carbohydrates) means that when I fall off the wagon, I fall hard. I don't just eat the two cookies I might have normally had, but instead I eat all ten. It's just my body's reaction to days or weeks of being told "No!"
If you're tired of thinking of health in terms of extremes and just want some easy tips for living healthier, here are 11 simple ways to eat healthier this week.
1. Double The Vegetables
This is a crazy simple tip from Registered Dietician Sidney Fry for Cooking Light; when making a recipe, such as a soup or pasta, simply double the amount of vegetables. "You are already doing the prep work; so a little extra chopping can go a long way for your vegetable intake," she said. Plus, she noted that for most recipes the added veggies will not alter the flavor. This also means you'll be doubling all the good-for-you fiber, vitamins, and minerals with each serving.
2. Swap A Side — Or Order Two
This is a personal tip: When eating out, automatically swap the given side for veggies. However, if you really, really want those fries or mashed potatoes, then order both the fries and the veggies, and make sure you eat the greens first. We sometimes tend to think we have to make "all or nothing" decisions when it comes to our health, but in reality we can usually meet somewhere in the middle.
3. Load Up Veggies On Other Foods
And in the spirit of meeting in the middle, a piece for Cooking Light on ways to get more vegetables recommended simply packing non-veggie foods with vegetables whenever possible. For example, order the extra veggie pizza instead of the pepperoni, or ask for extra lettuce, tomatoes, and onions on your burger. That way you won't completely miss out on the foods you love, but can also be sure you're getting a dose nutrients in every bite.
4. Experiment With A New Dessert
If you know you have a sweet tooth and that you'll always want a little something after dinner, you can capitalize on it as a way to consume even more good for your nutrients. A compilation piece on healthy dessert recipes for Shape highlights things like chocolate cake recipes with hidden beets, ice-creams that are actually banana-based, and truffle recipes that use caramelized potatoes instead of flour and sugar. Make a game of it and try a new nutritious dessert every week!
5. Swap Out Caffeine Six Hours Before Bed
Did you know that according to the CDC, 30 percent of the population doesn't get enough sleep? And that study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that consuming caffeine as early as six hours before bed has "important disruptive effects" on our sleep patterns. So if you have trouble falling asleep at night, or often wake up feeling exhausted, try swapping out caffeinated beverages for decaf teas and sodas by mid-afternoon. You'll likely notice a big difference in your sleep patterns.
6. Alternate With Water
In a piece for SFgate, sports medicine writer Jan Annigan suggested alternating every caffeinated drink you have each day with a glass of water."The diuretic effect of caffeine increases your urine output. The more you drink in a short amount of time, the more water you could lose," she said. The same holds true for alcoholic beverages!
7. Choose Your Alcohol Wisely
I recently wrote a piece on healthier cocktail options to order at the bar, and in researching I found that most U.S. adults consume as much sugar from alcoholic beverages as they do from sugary sodas and juices. This struck me as especially interesting, since I know I personally am totally guilty of staying away from soda — specifically for health reasons— and yet I don't really think twice when ordering a sugary cider or cocktail when out. Try sticking to orders that are seltzer-based and that don't entail sugary syrups, like this super simple gin and coconut water concoction.
8. Eat Consciously And Sitting Down
According to a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 59 percent of young women eat on the run, and that on-the-go eaters generally consume more total fats, sodas, and fast foods. If you know that you're guilty of wolfing down food in a rush — so much so that you're often not even conscious of what or how much you even ate — try to carve out time for simply consciously eating. At the very least you'll enjoy your food more!
9. Make Sure You Can ID The Meat
In that piece for Self, Adam Drewnowski, Ph.D., director of the nutritional sciences program at the University of Washington at Seattle, said if you can't tell what part of the animal a piece of meat is from (i.e: if it's coming to you in the form of a nugget, sausage link, or strip) then the odds are good you're also getting a large dose of sodium and preservatives. Instead, opt for cuts of meat that you can ID.
10. Wrap Up Healthy Foods In Plastic Wrap, Junk In Aluminum Foil
On his website, behavioral psychologist and life coach James Clear suggested simply wrapping up good-for-you foods, like avocados and mangos, in transparent plastic wrap, and wrapping the cookies and brownies in aluminum foil. He noted that simply not being able to see junk food reduces our cravings.
11. Wrap Half Your Meal In Restaurants
A piece on CNN.com about eating healthily while eating out recommended simply asking your waiter to box up half of your meal before it reaches the table. This will prevent you from eating more than your body needs just because it's in front of you. This is especially helpful considering that the average restaurant meal serves at least two people.
We shouldn't have to dread the term "healthy lifestyle," nor should we feel like getting enough vitamins and nutrients is a giant task that takes days of planning. Just use some or all of these super simple tips and you'll already be eating healthier.
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