Healthy eating and living is very simple. Of course, that doesn’t make it easy, given how busy we are and how plentiful and cheap unhealthy food choices can be.
To keep healthy eating and living simple, I’ve devised my own list of 12 simple steps for healthy eating and living that I use to help guide me in my pursuit of living a happy, healthy balanced life….
Twelve Simple Steps for Healthy Eating and Living
1. Eat more fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens.
Make eating more fruits and vegetables your number one priority. It’s the foundation of my healthy eating strategy. Fresh fruits and vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals, healthy antioxidants, phytonutrients, and fiber. They fill you you up without filling you out, so it’s easier to eat less of everything else, helping you to stay slim naturally.
Try to add fruits and/or vegetables to every meal — breakfast, lunch, and dinner — to guarantee you receive your recommended daily allowance of at least five servings per day. Pretty soon it will become a healthy habit and your plate will look sad and lonely without all the beautiful color, flavor, and texture fruits and veggies provide. I’ve also noticed that when I’m regularly getting at least five servings a day, my weight is much easier to maintain!
Try broccoli, carrots, apples, melons, berries, kiwi, bananas, zucchini, eggplant, peaches, pears, mango, spinach, chard, bok choy, kale, mustard greens, etc. Commit to trying one new fruit or veggie every week. Experiment with different cooking methods and seasonings to keep things interesting. Play with sneaking fruit and vegetable purees into dishes wherever you can. I’ve been adding them to soups, muffins, meat loaves, and quick breads recently with great results.
I know some of the carb free diets treat fruit like the enemy but I say eat all the fresh fruit you want. It’s virtually impossible to eat too many fresh fruits and non-starchy vegetables. That’s why they have 0 SmartPoints on Weight Watchers. One exception is fruit juice because all the fiber is gone it’s like drinking pure sugar. Skip the juice and eat the fruit instead. Another exception is the starchy vegetables (winter squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, and corn) that should be treated like grains. Eat them, just don’t made them the basis of your diet — leave that for the non-starchy and leafy veggie varieties.
2. Eat a wide variety of high quality foods
Quality and variety are key components of healthy eating. Make sure your diet includes a wide variety of high quality foods– fruits and veggies, healthy natural fats, whole grains, nuts, legumes, dairy, soy, meats, eggs, and fish.
Try not to get stuck in food ruts where you find yourself eating the same few foods day in and day out. Healthy protein choices include fish, chicken, turkey, seitan, tempeh, eggs, lean meat and beans. Protein is important for many bodily functions including repair and re-building activities. Proteins help to keep you feeling full longer. A healthy portion is usually 4 to 6 ounces.
Good whole grain options include brown rice, oats, quinoa, barley, whole grain breads and cereals, and whole wheat pasta. Whole grains have the germ and bran included and are full of healthy B vitamins and fiber. Go easy on the ‘white’ grains that have been stripped of their healthy coat (where all the fiber and healthy vitamins are) and are more refined. In addition to being less healthy they can raise your blood sugar and leave you feeling ravenous for more.
Eating dairy is completely optional, since many people have dairy intolerances. There are lots of great non-dairy sources of calcium including almonds and leafy greens. If you do choose to include dairy, select the highest quality you can, such as organic milk, cream, butter, yogurt and cheese, made from raw milk from pastured animals if you can find it. I take most of my dairy in the form of organic plain yogurt, cream, goat and/or raw milk cheese.
Make sure you are getting your healthy fats. They’re critical to cell function, especially brain cells. After much experimentation my recipe for healthy eating includes healthy fats from moderate amounts of extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, sesame oil, nuts, olives, avocados, tahini (sesame seed paste), fish, flax, organic butter and cheese. Stay away from the unhealthy ‘trans fats’ that are found in many processed foods and are indicated by the words ‘partially hydrogenated.’
3. Cut back on the refined sugar and processed foods
According to a report in the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter, The average American consumes 133 pounds of sugar per year. This is way too much sugar and can lead to health problems. Is it any wonder that obesity and type 2 diabetes are out of control? Sugar can be very addictive; the more you eat, the more you crave–establishing a vicious cycle so skip the soda and sugary snacks whenever and wherever you can. Try a handful of nuts when you are hungry. They are much healthier and satisfying.
When you are going to indulge your sweet tooth, opt for homemade baked goods and desserts. They are more satisfying without all the additives, chemicals, and preservatives. I love to bake and eat desserts, but I have learned to be satisfied with just a few small bites of the real thing. Experiment with quality natural sweeteners such as raw honey, maple syrup, Sucanat, barley malt, and stevia.
Avoid food products containing ingredients that are unfamiliar or unpronounceable. All those chemicals, artificial flavorings, dyes, and food additives confuse your senses and innate body wisdom. Ask yourself if your great grandmother would recognize what you are about to eat as food and if the answer is no, don’t eat it!
Studies are beginning to suggest that whole, real foods are much more than the sum of their parts and provide health and wellness benefits beyond our current levels of understanding so shop the peripheries of the supermarket and avoid those middle aisles as much as you can. All the ‘real’ food is located around the outer perimeter: fruits, veggies, dairy, eggs, meat, and fish.
Check out alternative sources for your food like farmer’s markets and farm stands. They’re a great source for wonderful fresh locally grown foods.
This may be the most important of the twelve simple steps for eating well. Food is one of life’s great pleasures that should be enjoyed completely. Have what you want and really enjoy it. No food is totally off limits. If you want dark chocolate, have dark chocolate. Just be sure to slow down and savor it without guilt! Don’t eat what you don’t want. Life is too short to eat food you don’t want just because it’s available. It’s okay to toss away food you don’t like or don’t want. It’s much healthier for your body, especially your waistline.
Be discriminating in your food selections focusing on quality over quantity whenever you can. Eating for pleasure means slowing down and savoring your food. No eating on the run, eating in your car, eating while watching television. Studies show that your brain doesn’t have the capacity to acknowledge and recognize food that is eaten without awareness which can lead to excessive hunger and weight gain. Slowing down and paying attention can be a big adjustment if you are used to multi-tasking your way through the day.
Try Paying attention to the process of eating as much as you can — to the sight, smells and flavors of your food. Pretend you are a food critic reporting for your local paper. When you slow down and enjoy your food you digest it more efficiently, leading to less gastric upset and the absorption of more nutrients.
5. Eat when you are physically hungry and stop when you are full
Learn to reconnect with your body’s innate wisdom and its hunger and satiation signals. Don’t stuff yourself or fall into the mindless snacking habit. It’s hard to pay attention if you are eating while doing other things so don’t eat in the car, while checking email, or standing over the kitchen sink.
If you are tempted to eat when you are sad or happy or angry, do something else to distract your self like call a friend or take a walk. Ask yourself what it is you really want and if eating is going to make your situation better. Often this delay is all that is required to break the cycle of unhealthy emotional eating. Just 5 to 10 minutes of basic yoga exercises and focused breathing is all I need to stop a Ben & Jerry binge.
Seek support if you struggle with severe emotional eating issues.
6. Practice portion control
Most of us eat way too much. Serving sizes are huge and not just at the fast food establishments. Did you know the average bagel is equal to five servings of grain? Load up on your veggies, which are naturally low in calories, leaving less room on your plate for the proteins, dairy, and starches. When eating out, bring part of your meal home for tomorrow’s lunch or dinner. Try gradually decreasing the amount you put on your plate, trick yourself by using a smaller plate – it really works. You may be surprised at just how little you need to feel full. Here are a few more articles about portions that can help:
- Managing Portions and Serving Sizes
- The Portion Teller: Smartsize Your Way to Weight Permanent Weight Loss
- The Key to Proper Serving Sizes is Right in Your Hands
7. Drink plenty of water
Did you know the average body is composed of 55-60% water? Your blood is 83% water and your muscles 75%. Water keeps your body hydrated which is critical for proper functioning. Have a glass of water when you are thirsty (you’re probably already a bid dehydrated), or hungry (thirst often masquerades as hunger) or tired (it can really perk you up).
Exactly how much water you need depends on many things including how many water rich foods you are eating, where you live and your activity levels. Most agree you should drink six to ten eight ounce glasses of water a day to stay well hydrated. Try to drink clean filtered water whenever you can to avoid chlorine and other contaminants. If you don’t like the taste of water perk it up with a squeeze of lemon, lime or orange, cucumber slices or a splash of fruit juice. Give sparkling water a try. It’s a refreshing alternative to soda and juice. (Click here to discover 23 Ways to Drink More Watcher)
8. Find an activity you love and do it regularly
Healthy living includes healthy eating and healthy moving. Our bodies were designed for movement. Seek fun ways to exercise. Basic yoga and walking are my preferred ways of staying active. I encourage you to give yoga try if it sounds interesting. Maybe pilates, swimming, or dancing is more appealing. The key is to find something you love to do so it seems less like work and more like fun.
Find ways to sneak in extra movement during the day –take the stairs, park at the far end of the parking lot, take a ten minute walk at lunch, do a few sit ups and push ups while watching tv in the evening. Your body will thank you with more energy and fewer aches and pains. Here are a few more articles on the power of exercise for weight loss:
- Why Yoga is the Best Exercise for Weight Watchers
- To Lose Weight and Feel Great Turn Exercise into Play
- 6 Reasons to Love Exercise
- Why Exercise Alone is a Terrible Weight Loss Strategy
- The Best Exercise for Losing Weight Is Not What You Think
9. Seek balance and pleasure, not perfection
Lose the all or nothing; good vs. evil thinking. Food is not inherently good or evil. Yes, some food is more nutritious, some more caloric, but don’t get obsessive or militant. Think in terms of your overall day or week when assessing your healthy eating strategy. Employ the 80-20 rule. If most of your meals are balanced and healthy, the occasional treat(s) or unhealthy meal won’t be a problem. It’s how you eat most of the time that’s important. Remember that pleasure is an important aspect of healthy eating and living.
Discover the fine art of complementing, compensating, and balancing. When you overeat at one meal, eat a little less at the next, if you eat lots of bread for breakfast, have a salad at lunch, without guilt, or remorse. Find a rhythm, a flow that works for you. If you allow yourself to slow down and pay attention, you may notice your body naturally seeking equilibrium. My body often craves a few days of fruit, vegetables, and soup following an indulgent vacation.
- 5 French Weight Loss Secrets That Can Work for Weight Watchers
- 45 Reasons French Women Don’t Get Fat
- Follow the French Lady’s Lead for Lasting Weight Loss Success
10. Cook as often as you can
Cooking is the best way to make sure the food you are eating is healthy and balanced. It’s a wonderful way to really connect with the whole process of nourishing yourself and those you love. For me it has been the most rewarding of my twelve simple steps for eating well. Cooking doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult. There are loads of easy healthy recipes to make healthy eating simple. If you don’t feel comfortable in the kitchen, consider taking a cooking class, tuning into the food network, or buying a cookbook or two. Once you get the hang of it, you may find yourself looking forward to unwinding in the kitchen after a tough day at work. Experiment and let yourself have fun in the kitchen.
11. Take A High Quality Multi-Vitamin
Just to be safe, supplement your healthy diet with a high quality multi-vitamin. Optimal health can be hard to achieve through healthy eating alone, even with your best intentions. Studies show that our food doesn’t contain as many nutrients as it used to — mainly from overuse of chemicals and depletion of the soil. The American Medical Association suggests vitamin supplementation. My doctor agrees with Drs. Oz and Roizen, authors of You: The Owner’s Manual, You: On A Diet and You: Staying Young who recommend Omega 3, and calcium supplements in addition to a high quality multi-vitamin.
12. Nurture your body, mind, and spirit
What you eat is only one component of my recipe for healthy eating. Where, when, and with whom you eat matters too. Make eating a pleasurable, social experience like the Mediterranean cultures do.
Make your life as full and rewarding as possible with enjoyable satisfying work, supportive friends, and healthy relationships. Engage in self care that nourishes your body, mind and spirit. Figure out what nurtures you and do it. Try to get enough sleep. Treat yourself to a massage or pedicure. Read inspirational works. Be compassionate with yourself and others. Practice Gratitude. Take time to appreciate and savor your life.
- 12 Ways to Think Yourself Thinner
- 10 Secrets of the Naturally Slim
- Essential Weight Loss Ingredient
- Relax and Lose Weight
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