The first thing people do when they say they want to be healthier and lose weight (aside from working out) is to go on a 'healthy diet'. But in their mind that means a really restrictive diet like cutting out all sugar, junk food, restricting carbs, etc. It is good to want to cut down on processed foods, but over-restricting will lead to failure. After two weeks you'll be craving all the food in the world and then dump your diet and maybe even your workout routine for good.
A healthy diet is not a short-term thing, it's not a fad diet that you do just to lose a few pounds. Eating a balanced diet is about providing your body with the vitamins and essential nutrients it needs to help your body function properly and to help you be at a healthy weight. The foods we eat provide us with certain health benefits like boosting our immune system to be able to fight against diseases, giving us sustainable energy throughout the day, boosting your metabolism, and even helping our muscles to grow bigger and stronger. But those health benefits only occur if you're eating healthy - consistently, not just for a short period.
Restrictive diets can get you the results you want, but eating healthy needs to be a part of your lifestyle in order to maintain those results. You can do this by building good eating habits that will make healthy eating easy and sustainable. That way you maintain healthy habits even after reaching your fitness goals.
We are a fitness gear company, but we know a thing or two about healthy eating 😉 Here are a few tips to help you eat healthy without making it seem like you're actually dieting.
Restrict, but not too much
Diets have food restrictions for a reason. They are meant to help a person shed fat or build muscle. You can't just eat unhealthy all the time and expect to get results. Plus, that won't even fuel your workouts properly! Some might prefer to restrict carbs all together in order to decrease body fat faster, but it's only for a limited amount of time - That's what diets are for. We're trying to build sustainable healthy eating habits, and to do that we must learn to put less restrictions on our daily diet and allow ourselves to eat our favorite, not-so-healthy foods every once in a while.
A good rule of thumb to follow is the 80/20 rule. Eat nutritious foods 80% of the time and allow yourself to indulge in less healthy food for the remaining 20% of your meals. The foods you eat should mostly consist of whole foods like fresh fruit, veggies, meat, chicken, fish, whole grains, healthy fats, and dairy products. This is what will provide your body with the nutrients it needs. The key is to try to limit the amount of processed foods you eat. Most processed foods like chips, ice cream, candies, sugary drinks etc., are highly palatable. Highly palatable foods can lead to overeating. Try to keep those to a minimum by replacing them with other, healthier options. Like replacing seltzer water for soda or replacing fruit juice with a homemade smoothie filled with fruit, dairy-free milk, or other healthy add-ins!
Set aside time once a week to sit down and plan ahead. Grab your planner, calendar, or phone and plan your meals, shopping list, and even your workouts! Having a set plan will help you stay on track with not only your workouts, but with your nutrition!
Making a small change like this, sitting down for 30 minutes and planning your week, will save you time and sets an intention for success. So there's a higher chance of you making better choices like making a healthy meal instead of getting takeout.
Don't shop without a grocery list - This is exactly why you should plan ahead! Write down all the foods you need for the week (make sure they are nutrient dense and mostly whole foods) and throw in a few healthy snacks to treat yourself. Having a grocery list will help you make better food choices while shopping.
Aside from that, shop smarter and read food labels! Some foods that are labeled as fat-free, or are considered to be diet friendly, can have some not-so healthy ingredients that can be doing more harm than goods. So when selecting a product compare nutrition information on the labels and select the product with the lower amount of sodium, added sugar, saturated and trans fat, and no partially hydrogenated oils.
A good rule to follow is to shop mostly in the perimeter of the store, so in the outer aisles. Usually the perimeter of the store contains all the whole foods like vegetables, fruits, meat, and dairy. The inside aisles is where you find mostly processed foods which can be tempting to buy… But there are still healthy options in those aisles! So start by shopping the perimeter, and find the rest of the things on your list in the inside aisles like condiments, spices, whole grains like brown rice, nuts and seeds, and more. By doing this you prioritize whole foods, then everything else comes second.
The American Heart Association recommends the following foods to help you adopt a healthier lifestyle. Keep this in mind when planning your next grocery list...
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Beans and legumes
- Nuts and seeds
- Fish (preferably oily fish with omega-3 fatty acids)
- Skinless poultry and lean animal proteins
- Plant-based proteins
- Sweetened drinks
- Sodium and salty foods
- Saturated fats and dietary cholesterol
- Fatty or processed red meats – if you choose to eat meat, select leaner cuts
- Refined carbohydrates like added sugars and processed grain foods
- Full-fat dairy products
- Tropical oils such as coconut and palm oil
Keep a food diary
This one is not going to be for everyone, but we wanted to include it because keeping a food diary is a good way to make sure you're eating what you need to be healthy and for your goals. So if you want to keep track of the food you are eating to make sure you're eating enough of the good stuff then keep a simple food diary for all your meals and snacks!
If you want to go the extra mile in order to achieve certain fitness goals then consider tracking your macros. If It Fits Your Macros or IIFYM is extremely popular in the fitness world because it's a form of flexible dieting that has no restrictions. All you have to do is track the amount of macronutrients (protein, fat, carbs) you eat, no calorie counting needed (although some still do). You can do this by calculating your macros using an online macro calculator. It will calculate your macros based on physical information like body fat, weight, height, activity level then it takes into account your fitness goals - weight loss, build muscle, or maintenance.
Once you get your information, you can start tracking your macros! This will help keep you on track and ensure you're eating enough protein, carbs, and fats for your goals. There are no forbidden foods, so if you don't hit your macros for the day you can allow yourself a little treat of your choice that will help you reach the amount of macronutrients you need for the day. This removes the pressure and guilt that comes with restrictive diets, while still getting results!
Be mindful of portions
Just because it's healthy doesn't mean you can't gain weight from it. Eating too many calories, no matter where they come from, can still lead to weight gain. This goes for healthy foods and unhealthy foods. Tracking your food will help you in this department. So keep this in mind when you indulge in a treat, make sure it fits your macros (going a little bit over is fine).
If you prefer not to track, be mindful of your meal portion sizes. A good healthy eating tip is to fill half of your plate with vegetables (or fruit for breakfast) and split the rest between a lean protein and whole grains. Keep snacking to a minimum, only eat when hungry, and when you treat yourself make sure it's planned accordingly with your meals and physical activity.
Cook at home, but spice it up
Make cooking at home fun! Just like we need variety in our workout routines, we also need variety in the foods we eat. Many people end up ordering take out, even when they have food at home, because they are bored by the foods they eat. Eating healthier food doesn't mean having boring meals everyday. Add your own twist to your salads, roast veggies with new spices, switch out boring chicken breast by making shredded chicken, etc.
Aim to try a new healthy recipe at least once a week. This will help change up the foods you normally eat and nutrient intakes. Plus you'll add a new recipe to your usual lineup! You can even try to make a healthier version of a favorite family recipe or one of your favorite meals from a restaurant. Doing this will help you eat out less and help you build better eating habits.
An extra tip: Be smart when you eat out and plan ahead. If you happen to have a dinner date or brunch with friends and you want to keep it relatively healthy then look at the menu beforehand so you know what options will be available. That way you can choose a healthier option and reduce the risk of temptation you'll get in the moment. Or if you plan to use your outing as a treat then you can plan the rest of your meals accordingly.
Implementing some, or all, of these tips will help make healthy eating a breeze! Just remember that good nutrition and exercise go hand-in-hand, especially if you have specific fitness goals in mind. So aside from eating healthy, make sure you're getting enough exercise and rest to make sure your body is healthy and in tip top shape! 💪