For most of us, our biggest challenges to living a healthy lifestyle come in the areas of nutrition. So many of us around the Barn feel like we could dance all day, but our real struggle comes when it comes time to fuel our bodies for that dance. The pressure to eat healthy and properly fuel our body can sometimes feel like too much. While knowing which foods are healthy and which are not is certainly beneficial to overall health simply finding some balanced eating concepts to hold onto when you are out there in the thick of it trying to make good decisions can help tip the scales towards victory. While some of these tips might seem obvious to veterans returning to the basics can provide a needed refresher to our focus and outlook. Try to be mindful of these tips in the weeks ahead and see if you can incorporate some or all of them into your daily mindsets and routines.
1. Drink the Damn Water
You’ve probably heard this so much that your eyes want to glaze over. Drink more water. We all know it and it would be so easy if that alternative wasn’t so tasty. There can’t be enough said for staying properly hydrated but there is also benefits to drinking water at specific times. Drinking a glass of water in the morning helps fire up your metabolism and boost your brain function. A glass of water 30 minutes before a meal will help aid in digestion and nutrient absorption. A glass before bed (especially warm) helps rid the body of toxins. (However, if it is interrupting your sleep it is better to skip as a good sleep cycle is important to overall health). Then, of course, there is the benefits to staying properly hydrated throughout the day. Water is beneficial to nearly every function of your body. So as much as it might be a struggle, just drink the damn water. Once you form that habit, you’ll find it easier and easier and your body will thank you.
2. Skip or Switch that Side
One of the simplest ways to improve your nutrition is to incorporate small changes that add up to big results. We all have those outings that seem unavoidable and when you are staring at the menu trying to make healthier choices don’t just consider the main dish. Pay attention to the sides. There is often a lot of added calories on the plate. Does it come with fries? Maybe get the side salad instead. Does it have a baked potato? Skip the sour cream. Getting a salad? Opt for a lower calorie dressing or nix the cheese. Look for little ways to reduce the overall calorie intake of the meal or alter the nutritional value. When cooking at home, look for alternative ways to prepare foods or other things to pair with your favorite dishes. Sometimes those sneaky sides can be far more harmful to your goals than the entrée. Sauces, sides and sodas will turn a reasonable splurge into a supersized sabotage.
3. Disconnect Food from Fun
This one isn’t going to be easy. The connection between these two words is deeply rooted into our culture and understandably so. From the very first time we receive nutritional intake our body is set up to reward us for eating. On top of the nutritional reward, food is often connected to almost every pleasurable experience we have ever had. From birthday parties to family outings. Holidays and vacation. Celebrations and gatherings. Even in harder moments, we use food to help elevate ourselves and each other. We often come together in our hardest moments over food. We use food as a steady comfort and coping mechanism, and it is so tied into our lives that it just becomes second nature. Try to keep this in mind when you are planning outings and events. Does food have to be present to enjoy yourself? Do you have to have popcorn at the theater? Do you have to go out to dinner to socialize? Do you have to get drinks? Of course, splurges here and there are fine! However, it is easy for this to become a daily routine. Doughnuts at the office, cupcakes in the break room, lunch with the gals, dinner before the movie and before you know it your healthy lifestyle was really like a healthy hour between 10 and 11 o’clock. Look for ways you can have fun without the calories and if food has to be present look for ways to keep the options nutritional. No, a veggie tray isn’t as good as chips and salsa during the big game, but you have to decide how much your goals matter to you in the long run.
4. Write it all Down.
Keeping a log of what we eat can be a pesky nuisance, but it is one of the most eye opening and revealing peeks into our diets that we can take. It is so easy to fall into a trap where we think we aren’t taking in that many calories or sneaking in that many snacks. Getting into the habit of logging and tracking your food, even if only for a few months, will not only help you get a bigger picture of your diet but it will also help you become mindful of what you are eating before you are eating it. Something happens to us when we know we are going to have to put it into a log. Honestly, that fact alone is one of the main reasons people stop keeping a log. Many people completely alter their eating habits while they are logging until they can’t take it anymore. That sheer in your face truth of having to admit you were snacking on candy bars in your pajamas or munching on the last of the chips right before you turned in for the night makes us want to turn a willful blind eye. Forcing yourself to see what you are really eating can help you admit where you need the help and the change. You must be honest about it. No one else has to see it but you. And before you think it, just mentally keeping track of it won’t cut it. Your brain can be a little villain when it comes to nutrition. The chocolate cake is like a hit of a drug to it. It will happily shred the evidence and hide the body if you will keep those chemical hits coming. Don’t kid yourself. Take an honest observation of what you are eating. Get a journal and keep a log and if you feel guilty writing it down then consider not eating it to begin with. When you feel those red flags, listen to them. They are the better you that is trying to grow.
5. Eat Small Healthy Snacks
One of the first things people think about when it comes to healthy eating is “dieting” which often translates to eating less food. More often than not, less food is not the issue. The issue is the right foods! For optimal nutritional health you should be eating something every couple of hours to keep everything in your body running on all cylinders. Trying to reduce calories by starving yourself for large windows of time will only serve to cause your body to put on all the breaks and hold onto the food like a child seeing a pinata bursting open. That translates to storing everything away in little pockets of fat to be used later. Simply put, the machine of your body says “Oh my word, there is no food on the entire planet, and we are all going to STARVE! Don’t let any of these precious bites go!” and like a panicked mother who is overly concerned about your well-being, it stuffs all your little rolls full just in case of emergency. Only there is no emergency because 6 hours later you are going to eat like it was your last meal and the cycle will continue. Your body is quite amazing and really is a very incredible creation, but it can only work with the data it has. Not only will eating smaller frequent meals keep your metabolism flowing but the steady nutritional intake helps prevent crashes associated with digestive needs. That translates to better overall mood, cognitive function and the ability to make other healthy lifestyle decisions.