Updated: Feb 21, 2018
While most of us have goals of some sort or another to change our diet for the better, actually making those changes can be super overwhelming. There are so many opinions out there of what’s good and not good, diet fads, extreme diets, and so on. What healthy eating really comes down to though is having a lifestyle of good food and drink choices. Not a ‘cold turkey’ dive into some diet we can’t maintain (and that may not be good for us anyway), but a piece by piece building of habit changes that turn into a bigger, lasting change for the better.
This last year is the first time I’ve started to feel like I have a good handle on a lifestyle of healthy eating and drinking. It’s been a journey, learning piece by piece over time, adding good habits that eventually build into a full picture of healthy living.
I’d love to share some of my favorite “habit” changes with you! Again, the goal here is not to overwhelm you with a bunch of things you “should be” doing, but rather to give you a place to start if you’re looking for a healthier eating routine. Maybe just choose one of these to try. Do it long enough to get used to it, and when you’re ready to add another change, pick something else and continue on.
As a quick disclaimer, I am by no means a health expert. Physical health is a big topic that varies in many ways for different people. These are just things that I’ve found, in the experience of my own family and through specific research, to be beneficial.
Be forewarned, this is a long post! But I want to give you enough information to be as helpful as possible.
So here we go!
1. Measure Your Water
Drinking enough water is one of the simplest things we can do to help our bodies. Having enough water helps keep our blood well-filtered, our blood pressure at a healthy level, our skin well-hydrated, our digestive system working correctly, our joints well-cushioned, and our brains energetic and alert, among other benefits. Drinking more water has also been shown to help with weight loss and maintaining healthy weight levels. Bottom line: drinking lots of water is really good for us!
(Go here to read more: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/290814.php)
I used to think I drank a lot of water until I started actually measuring it. Yep…not so much. I’ve come to love measuring my water intake! All you need is any water bottle or jug that has the ounces marked on it. Fill it up in the morning and you can easily track how much water you’re actually downing and set a goal for where you need to be.
“And how much should I be drinking,” you may ask? A good place to start is to take your body weight in pounds, divide it in half, and make that the number of ounces of water you shoot for each day. So if you weigh 150 pounds, you should plan to drink at least 75 ounces of water per day. It’s important to note that this is just a baseline. If you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, working out and sweating a lot, etc, you’ll want to add to that number.
If you have a hard time enjoying plain water, try adding a little fruit for flavor. A slice of lemon or a few frozen strawberries are my favorite switch-ups.
2. Juice or Smoothie It Up
Fruits and vegetables are chock full of vitamins and nutrients our bodies need. They can help us keep a good weight and help protect us from all kinds of health problems.
(Go here to read more: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-lisa-young/healthy-food_b_1665279.html)
It’s not necessarily easy to just start eating more produce though if you aren’t used to it. One of the easiest ways I’ve found to make sure my family and I are getting a variety of fruits and veggies in us is via juices and smoothies.
Now, to be clear, I don’t mean see-through, “Vitamin C-enhanced” juices that sit on the grocery store shelves. I mean whole fruits and vegetables that have been put through a juicer straight into your glass. Some people love this method, others don’t. My husband and I juiced for a time, and while we liked the condensed power glass of super juice, we honestly got tired of actually making it. Nowadays we just use the good ol’ blender and serve up smoothies. A little less condensed on the vitamin content maybe, but still packed with nutrition and the added bonus of keeping the fiber (a priority for me since pushing babies out and hemorrhoids happened).
Whichever method you prefer, a daily (or however often you want to start with) juice or smoothie is a fantastic way to help boost your fruit and veggie intake.
There are tons of juice and smoothie recipes out there, but here are a couple ideas to get you started:
Green Juice: 3 large leaves of kale, whole apple, whole lemon, whole cucumber, 3 celery stalks, small piece of fresh ginger
Favorite Smoothie: ½ banana, scoop of plain yogurt, large handful of fresh or frozen spinach, handful of frozen strawberries, whole orange (peeled), about 2 cups of water (more or less as needed)
3. Choose Whole Grains
Whole grains (whole wheat flour, oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, whole corn, etc) are grains that keep all three parts of the kernel. Even if the grains are crushed, ground, etc, if all three parts of the kernel are still included, they’re considered “whole.”
Refined grains (found in white flour, white pasta, etc) only keep one part of the actual grain, thereby losing much of the fiber, vitamins and other nutrients.
Replacing refined grains with whole grains has been shown to potentially reduce a person’s risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and other health problems. Simply put, they have a heck of a lot more nutrition in them than their refined substitutes.
(Go here to read more: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/9-benefits-of-whole-grains#section5)
With how many grains the average person in our culture consumes (think breads, cereals, pastas, crackers, etc), it may seem overwhelming to replace all those categories with whole grains. Really though, it’s a fairly simple change that can easily become a good habit.
This is actually one of the first main diet changes my husband and I made several years ago. While it took a little getting used to, eating whole grains quickly became the norm, and now it’s hard to believe we ever preferred the refined version. We’ve come to legitimately just enjoy whole grains more.
So here are some simple habit switches you can make when choosing grain-based foods. Make sure you specifically get the ones that say “whole” in front, and when possible, they should say “100% whole.” Wheat bread, whole wheat bread, and 100% whole wheat bread are not all created equal. Only the 100% whole wheat version means they used only whole grains.
*Buy 100% whole grain bread and pasta (The idea of whole grain pasta can sound strange if you aren’t used to it, but it’s seriously so good once you make the switch!)
*Use 100% whole grain flour in baking (There's "white whole wheat" flour that has a lighter taste than traditional whole wheat. I use it in almost everything I bake; it's great!)
*Use brown rice instead of white rice
*Try quinoa (can be a great rice-type side dish, and is also delicious eaten like cereal with cinnamon and milk!)
* Use oatmeal (great for breakfast and also great in baking!)
*Choose whole grain cereals (be sure they aren’t sugary cereals!)
*Snack on popcorn (not the microwaved stuff, actual plain popcorn kernels popped in olive oil and seasoned with a little salt. Seriously…so good. The microwave stuff doesn’t even compare.)
4. Drink Tea (hot tea made with an actual tea bag, not the cold, sugary kind)
One of mine and my husband’s normal routines is having a cup of hot tea in the evening after we put the kids to bed. We’ll sip it while we watch a movie, play Scrabble, listen to a sermon online, talk, etc. It’s become an expected part of relaxing as a couple.
Apart from relaxation though, a good cup of tea has a lot of health benefits. Real tea (black, white, oolong, and especially green) have been shown to potentially help reduce the risk of heart attacks, cancers and many other health issues.
(Go here to read more: http://healthland.time.com/2012/09/04/13-reasons-to-love-tea/)
On a super practical level, drinking a cup of tea, whether real tea or herbal “tea,” can make us less likely to opt for a snack at night, which in turn of course helps with maintaining good weight levels by not eating extra calories. Hot tea can be a great substitute for dessert too!
Try making a cup of tea part of your daily routine; you may find you really enjoy it both for the relaxing effect and the health benefits. Feel free to add a little honey for sweetening, but definitely avoid loading it up with sugar!
5. Break the Sugar Habit
On the sugar note, let’s talk about the sugar habit that so many of us struggle with. It’s no secret that our culture as a whole consumes a crazy amount of sugar (added sugar, not natural sugars found in whole foods like fruit), and that the large amounts of sugar consumed have a lot to do with the massive number of health issues. Obesity, diabetes, heart trouble, some cancers…much of it is linked to an overload of sugar.
(Go here to read more: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-disturbing-reasons-why-sugar-is-bad#section10)
The other four habits we discussed above are about building new habits. This is about breaking a habit. An unfortunate effect of sugar is that it’s addictive, which makes it all the harder to cut back on. It’s so important though, folks, to cut back.
Several years ago my husband and I decided to go a whole month with no excess sugar. Essentially that meant no desserts and nothing made to be sweet (soft drinks, syrup on pancakes, sweetened yogurts, etc).
It was tough for a little while, but we’re so glad we did it! Ever since then our bodies tolerate less sugar (we feel sick if we eat much), we want it less, and anything super sweet is almost never even appealing. Of course that makes it much easier to say no to sugary foods, so essentially we were able to break the sugar habit and build a new habit of saying no to extra sugar. Dessert now is a handful of dark chocolate chips, a piece of toast with honey, or something else with a little bit of sweet and still a lot of flavor.
Totally worth it, people, totally worth it.
I hope these healthy eating (and drinking!) tips prove helpful to you! Good diet changes are a process, but definitely a worthwhile one. If you have any questions or would like to know more, just leave a comment!