Today I’m sharing five things you can do to improve your health. These ideas are based on the reading I’ve done and changes we’ve made over the last 3½ years. (I’ll share five more tips in part two.) These are not all or nothing. Small changes do add up over time. I try to follow these tips 80% of the time and I don’t stress too much about the other 20%. If you have a lot of changes you want or need to make just start small. Once those habits feel normal then try to increase your healthy choices. Little by little you can get to a place of better health. Many of these changes took me a year or more to make.
Ten Ways You Can Improve Your Health, Part I
1. Try to eat out less. This is probably the single biggest change you can make if you want to move towards a healthier lifestyle. It is really hard to find healthy choices when you are eating out, especially if it’s fast food or one of the many chain restaurants. Even if something on the menu seems like a lighter option it is likely made with all sorts of unwanted ingredients. In addition, most restaurants have much larger portion sizes that what is recommended. If you and your family eat out a lot, try decreasing that amount by one meal a week to start with. In the book Cooked, by Michael Pollan, he asserts that cooking at home may be the most important step we can take to improve our health. Here are some things you can do to make eating at home a reality.
- Get organized and plan a menu for the week and shop for the needed ingredients. You are less likely to eat out if you know you already have what you need on hand to cook a healthy meal for dinner.
- If you know you are going to have a busy evening with sports or other activities have a quick meal planned for those evenings. Use your slow cooker and you won’t even have to worry about dinner come meal time. You can even put your ingredients in the slow cooker the night before and keep it in the fridge over night if you know you are going to have a busy morning too. Also, learn to double your recipes on the evenings you have more time and keep your freezer stocked. I always double up on soups, taco meat, rice, etc. so when we have a busy evening I can use something from the freezer for dinner. You can read more about how I keep my freezer stocked here.
- When you travel, try packing some of your own food. When we go out of town I always pack our favorite breakfast foods and I bring a little cooler with lunch/dinner food so we don’t have to stop and eat fast food.
- Try recreating some of your favorite restaurant meals at home. You can find just about any recipe you want with all the recipe sites on the internet these days.
- If you are going to eat out do a little research and try to find restaurants that serve fresh and healthy foods. The salad below is from one of my new favorite places, Mod Market. You can see all their ingredients on line and they use all fresh, real food (no artificial/processed ingredients.)
2. Drink a lot of water. I think everyone knows how important water is to a healthy diet. My husband likes to joke that I’m right out of the movie Signs with the way I always have water sitting around. I also take water with me wherever I go. I once read that dehydration can feel like hunger. I’ve tested this out and found it to be true at times. Here’s a tip: If you are hungry, drink a large glass of water, wait ten minutes and see if the hunger subsides. If it doesn’t then eat a healthy snack. But chances are it will. In addition, if you are drinking water you aren’t drinking other high calorie drinks (think soda, juice, energy drinks, sports drinks, etc.) Most of those drinks (including juice) provide little to no nutritional value. If you replace your daily 12 oz. can of soda (about 140 calories) with a glass of water you will save 51,100 calories or about 15 pounds in just one year. If you are used to drinking a lot of your calories you could try decreasing it by one drink a day to start with. (I have to make a confession here…I do drink a Diet Coke occasionally. I know..I know.. diet drinks are TERRIBLE for you. I am well aware. But I’ve come a long way from the days I used to have one every.single.day. I’m just sharing that to say that I know how hard it is to stop drinking something you love.)
3. Reduce portion size. I think this is one of the biggest issues we, as Americans, have. Our idea of what is a normal portion has really been skewed. I’ve seen quite a few diagrams over the past several years showing how much portion sizes have increased over the last 50 years. This was especially hard for me when I started trying to eat healthier. I was used to eating a lot and I was often hungry in the beginning. But over time as I began to eat less my stomach did adjust and now I cannot eat what I used to. I know for me personally I have a much easier time controlling my portions when I’m eating a healthy meal at home. (See #1!) I definitely eat more when I eat out or I’m at a party or some sort of get together where there are a lot of options. When I plan my weekly meals I try to balance heavier meals (that make it easier to overeat) with lighter meals on the other nights.
There is no magic answer to the question, “what is an appropriate portion size?” I think that depends on the person and their activity level. When I learned to listen to my body’s cues I learned how to eat the right amount of food. In the past I would leave a meal feeling very full and uncomfortable. Also, I wouldn’t feel hungry throughout the day. I knew my portions were too big. Now I listen to my body and stop eating before I’m full. If I’m not hungry at the next meal time I know I ate too much at the previous meal or snacked too much. It took some time for my body to get used to eating less. If you feel your portions are too large now, start decreasing the amount you eat little by little and you’ll eventually find the appropriate amount of food for you.
4. Eat More Vegetables, Especially Green Ones Green vegetables are some of the most nutrient dense and low calorie foods available. Try switching out some of your usual side dishes for a green vegetable. Swap rolls for broccoli or white rice for fresh green beans. Before switching to a real food diet I probably ate canned green beans and an occasional salad. Now we eat spinach, kale, brussels sprouts, broccoli, fresh green beans, zucchini, asparagus, etc. The secret is finding great recipes. Sauté or roast veggies with olive oil and herbs or steam and top with a little butter and you really do have a delicious addition to any meal. If you don’t eat many fresh green vegetables right now commit to trying one new thing every few weeks. Try different recipes until you find one you like and then move on to another vegetable. In a few months you’ll have lots to choose from when planning your meals. 5. Get your whole family on board. If eating right is good for you isn’t it good for the whole family? When I decided to make changes to my diet I never thought it would be something that I would do alone. There was no way I was going to cook healthy meals for me and then make something else for the rest of the family. I have never really understood the people who eat right themselves but feed their kids a bunch of junk food. It hasn’t always been easy but I love my husband and kids and want them to be healthy too. I also want to be sure to pass on healthy habits to my kids.
When we finish a new dish I always get feedback from the family. If no one likes it I usually don’t make it again. I truly do try to make things that are both healthy and appealing to my whole family. There has definitely been some resistance and discouraging moments with the kids but we have come a long way over the last several years. I try to make sure to serve something the kids like at every meal so that they are not completely discouraged. However, we do require them to at least taste everything on their plate. I could list so many things that my kids wouldn’t eat before that they will now only because we made them try them over and over again.
I’ll share five more tips in Part II. I would love to hear your thoughts on these tips. Are these things you regularly do? If not, can you commit to making some small changes in the right direction?