I am the kind of ultra low-maintenance person that will only stick with something if it is either highly interesting or requires absolutely minimum effort. The way that I approached food for the better part of my life was no different. I was never going to stick with any meal plan that required hours of planning and prepping, at least not long-term.
I knew that I needed to try harder to make healthy choices, but between bad information and a lack of motivation, most of my attempts were doomed before they even started. Over the last year, I have been implementing permanent changes in my food habits and lifestyle that have actually worked AND are low-maintenance enough that even I can (and have) commit to them.
Before you can get started, you need to know what your focus is and what the rules are for what is ‘healthy’ and what is not. Here is a list of ground rules that I use for sticking with healthy eating habits.
No. 1 – Focus on Clean(er) Eating
I am not advocating that you strip your diet down to the full-on paleo variety. But there is a lot of benefit to getting rid of processed foods which are loaded with artificial food substances (i.e. chemicals), sodium and simple carbohydrates.
Not only do I avoid the obvious junk like meals in a box and processed cheese products, but I also avoid the low-fat, fat-free, and otherwise ‘diet’ versions of food. They taste awful and have a bunch of chemicals and artificial sweeteners in them to replace the actual nutrition that they took out when making it a ‘diet’ version.
No. 2 – Follow a Formula for Meal Planning to Keep it Simple
I eat 5 small snacks/meals throughout the day. Each one is around 300 calories, with the exception of dinner which is sometimes closer to 500 calories. This number works well for me when I am trying to lose weight. However, depending on your personal activity levels and weight, you will need to tweak this a little bit.
For every meal, I use a simple formula. I pick 2 proteins + 1 Healthy Fat + Fiber. This formula satisfies my hunger and sticks with me until the next meal without spiking my blood sugar levels. I feel better, have more energy, and don’t snack between meals.
No. 3 – Nothing is Off Limits, but Keep it in Check
We are talking in terms of making a permanent lifestyle change to eat healthier, not a short-term fad diet here. It would be unrealistic to expect that you will never indulge in a piece of cake or a burger and fries.
Keeping track of every bit that I eat is tiresome. I had to do it for the first few months until I became aware of what I was eating and worked my way into a routine of healthy choices, but it was still more than I would have liked to do.
Now, I only keep track of my indulgences to make sure that they are a once or twice a week thing and not a once or twice a day thing. Whatever your preference for tracking is, you will want to keep track of everything at first.
No. 4 – Limit Sugar and Simple Carbohydrates
While nothing is technically off limits, if there was one thing to avoid, it would be sugar and simple carbohydrates. Of course, we all know that sugar is bad. But you may not realize that simple carbohydrates such as those in potatoes, white rice, and pasta break down into sugar and have the exact same effects on your blood sugar levels as eating the sweet, white stuff.
This one is kind of hard for lazy girls, like me, we tend to like convenience and dislike planning ahead. My worst pitfall is not planning ahead and putting myself in a position where I am absolutely famished and my only options are fast-food or vending machines.
No. 5 – Fruits and Vegetables are ‘Free’ Foods
Much like the popular Weight Watchers plan, I consider fruits and vegetables (minus potatoes) to be free foods, meaning I don’t count their calorie value in my allowance. Most fruits and vegetables actually burn more calories in the digestion process than they contain, plus they provide so many nutritional benefits that making them a ‘free’ food is the best way to encourage yourself to eat them. 10 Powerful Reasons to Eat More Bananas
No. 6 – Don’t Drink Calories. Drink Water Instead.
I don’t get all crazy and drink gallons of water like most of the gurus and health professionals recommend. But, I do eat foods high in water content and drink between 16-24 ounces of water per day. There are days when I drink more, depending on my need, but drinking much more than this, and it seems to just work its way right back out and suddenly I am running to the bathroom every 20 minutes…
Do, choose water with meals instead of calorie-heavy beverages like soda or milk.
Do, drink a small glass of water when you feel hungry between meals. We often confuse thirst for hunger.
No. 7 – Limit Caffeinated Beverages to One Per Day (because lazy girl’s like to sleep).
Getting good quality sleep is important for your overall health, and it is something that I am really, really horrible at. Don’t get me wrong, I love sleep. But, I also love a well-brewed cup of coffee.
I have never had problems falling asleep, or usually staying asleep, so I never considered how my love of coffee was actually hurting me. It wasn’t until I made the effort to cut it down to one cup of coffee per day (instead of 2 or 3) that I noticed how much better I slept and how much more rested I was.
No. 8 – Build a Foundation Meal Plan to Default to When you Don’t Feel Like Planning
The single reason why this go-around has been successful for me is that I put together a single day food plan of foods that I both love and that are nutritionally beneficial. This is used as my default meal plan, so it has to be foods that I truly enjoy since my lazy self will often not feel like putting the effort in to plan new things to eat.
Of course, I can stray from this meal plan as long as I plan comparable substitutes. But, that takes a lot of effort to do regularly, so I usually mix in a few changes throughout the week, but mostly stick to my foundation meal plan.
I will save the specifics and examples for how I created my foundation meal plan for another post in this series.
No. 9 – You Can’t Supplement Good Nutrition.
There are stores dedicated to selling various nutritional supplements, but don’t waste your money. If your diet is not balanced, you may not be able to absorb and use those nutrients anyways so what would be the point of taking the vitamin?
When you put together your foundation meal plan, start with focus foods and include as many as you can fit into your day. Focus foods, coming in more detail in my next post, are essentially foods that are deemed to be super-healthy, providing a plethora of healthful benefits.
These foods will help you fill nutritional gaps that will better enable your body to absorb the nutrients in the foods that you are eating, making the need for a supplement vitamin probably unnecessary.
I still take a supplement for B12 and Omega-3’s because I don’t buy organic, grass-fed beef as often as I would like and I don’t care for fish. But, depending on what foods you like to eat, you may not even need to supplement those.
No 10. – For the Love of God, Please No ‘Diet’ Foods.
Somewhere in the last twenty years, food manufacturers have become really good at convincing the general public that you need to buy their lower fat, lower calorie (i.e. super-processed) garbage because the actual (real) food that it started as will make you fat.
This is a flat-out lie whose only purpose is to convince you that you need to spend more money on their product (at the expense of your taste buds) or you will get fat.
I refuse to eat ‘diet’ versions of foods. Most of them contain a bunch of icky chemicals to mimic the taste of the food after they have taken everything nutritious out of them. Do yourself (and your taste buds) a favor. Learn how to eat the right combinations and servings of real food instead of taking the easy way out a cutting a few calories by buying the ‘diet’ version.
Remember that you want to focus on eating cleaner, less processed foods. So, please tell me, which cow produces the fat-free milk so I can make some fat-free cheese? None, because that garbage is not even edible. Also, you are not doing any favors for yourself by choosing the diet soda, and the cookies aren’t any healthier for you if they have no taste…err, I mean if they are ‘fat-free’.