For many of us, learning to develop healthy eating habits takes a little more discipline than it does for others. But by making small changes with every meal, you can start developing healthier eating habits in no time. Here are a few small steps that can lead to giant leaps for you and your family's daily diet.
Healthy Eating Tip No. 1
Start by changing the "snack ratio" in the house. Slowly and gradually have more fruit and healthier snack choices around, rather than the typical, higher-calorie junk food. For instance, have three types of fruit (apples, oranges, grapes) to replace some of the small bags of chips or candy bars. Or simply start replacing unhealthy snacks with alternative choices, such as oatmeal bars, granola bars or peanuts and yogurt.
Healthy Eating Tip No. 2
When shopping at the grocery store, spend more of your time in the outer aisles. That's where you'll find the healthier foods, such as fresh fruits, fish and vegetables, which are naturally lower in fat and cholesterol and have not been filled with sugar, salt and other preservatives that add on the pounds.
Healthy Eating Tip No. 3
Begin reading the labels of the foods that you eat. Foods that are labeled "low in fat," or "light," are not always the healthiest choice. Many times, if a product is lower in fat, it may be higher in sodium, or, if it's lower in sugar, it may be high in fat. Start reading the "Nutrition Facts" chart on the back of the box, can or bag.
I will admit, it's hard to read the label of every food item while you're shopping. A better way to start is with your favorite packaged foods and snacks at home. Soon you'll start to notice the differences in the amounts of sodium, carbohydrates, sugar and calories per serving between the different foods that you've chosen. The next step is to slowly begin making adjustments in your shopping choices, and to look for alternatives with fewer calories, sodium and fats.
Don't get caught up in the calories
"Everyone zeroes in on the calories," says registered dietitian Claire LeBrun. "I even catch myself sometimes doing it; you gotta look at the portions and calories per serving size." The gotcha that gets a lot of consumers with the nutritional facts charts is the number of calories per serving size. Most consumers read the number of calories and assume that's the number of calories for the entire package, rather than the number of calories per serving - buyer beware.
Healthy Eating Tip No. 4
Develop a healthy habit of selecting sensible-sized food portions. If your plate has a serving of rice that can't fit into the cupped palm of your hand, then, in most cases, the amount of food you've chosen is too much. Using this "cup of your hand" technique is a good way to mentally measure the amounts of foods that go onto your plate. Some people use the size of their fist as a measurement. The size of your fist, or a cupped hand, is about the same size of one measuring cup.
Healthy Eating Tip No. 5
Retrain your taste buds and retrain your brain and attitude toward good food choices. The natural sweetness of an orange or apple can't compete with the sugary taste of a candy bar, but you must retrain, and relearn, the goodness of what's good for you. Start choosing to eat more fruits and vegetables as snacks or as replacements for some of the fats that you would tend to add onto your lunch tray or dinner plate - you and your taste buds will get used to it.
Healthy Eating Tip No. 6
Learn basic alternatives to fattening foods. Learn to speak the second language of food - the language of healthy food:
- Choose mustard over mayo (mustard naturally has less calories/fat).
- Choose brown rice, whole wheat, rye or oat bread over white bread (brown foods don't have extra fats added to them to change their color).
- Choose the white meat of turkey or chicken over dark meat, red meat or pork (most of our fat intake comes from animal fat; white meat contains less fat).
- Choose baked or broiled over fried, battered or breaded.
- Choose water over juice and soda. Some juices contain just as many carbs and calories as a small bag of potato chips. Try slowly weaning yourself off caffeinated soda with tea or water - have two glasses of water, or cups of tea, per every can of soda. (Also, don't drink your calories - those 100 calories of juice could be two pieces of fruit or a cereal bar, a more filling feeling for you and your stomach.)
- Choose low-calorie sauces and ask to have sauces and dressings served on the side. (Usually more sauce is poured on than is needed. Dip your fork into the sauce, then dip your fork into the food. This will give you the flavor with every bite, but without the extra, unnecessary fat.)
- Choose fat-free milk and cheese made with skim milk, as opposed to whole milk (again, most of our fat intake comes from animal fat).
- Choose vegetables as side orders over fries and chips. Steamed veggies are preferable over creamed veggies (vegetables naturally carry less fat).
- Choose to pack fruit and nuts to hold you over to the next meal, rather than opting for fast food or snacks from a vending machine. Fruit snacks will help you get to the next meal, as they allow you to eat more, more often and without the extra fat intake). Fruits like bananas and oranges are convenient and have their own protective packaging.
Healthy Eating Tip No. 7
The more color on your plate, the better. Not only does this keep things interesting and exciting for you and your taste buds, but it's healthier. The nutrients that create the different colors in our fruit and vegetables, represent different nutrients for your body. Feed your body as many varieties as possible, the fight against the common cold, cancers and other illnesses can be prevented by having variety in you diet. Trying new fruits, vegetable combinations and dinner choices will keep your family on their toes.
Healthy Eating Tip No. 8
Don't skip meals (especially breakfast). Skipping meals, or starving your body will cause it to go into a starvation mode - it will start to hold on to fat rather than burn it. In fact, allow yourself to snack a little more, just make them healthy snacks. Your metabolism will actually pick up steam and start to burn more of what you're giving it - especially with an accompanying daily exercise program.
Healthy Eating Tip No. 9
Don't eat more than two and a half to three hours before bedtime. Give your body a chance to digest and burn the last fuel of the day. A lot of weight loss success stories profess this good habit as a key element to their weight loss journey.
Healthy Eating Tip No. 10
Keep it all in perspective. Realize that you're making a lifestyle change, NOT going on a diet - don't put yourself in food prison. According to registered dietitian Claire LeBrun, it's about balance and listening to yourself. Ask yourself, "How has your day balanced out? What's this snack going to do for you?" We all have different schedules, and we must find what works for us individually. The types of foods you choose are just that - choices. Your goal is to keep them as choices by making the right food decisions a majority of the time. When a doctor tells you that you have to make a lifestyle change, you are no longer making it a choice. Learning to eat healthy doesn't happen overnight, but it can happen, and you can do it!! One meal at a time.
Robert Alan Anderson is an AFAA certified personal trainer and martial arts instructor working out of the Washington, D.C. area. Claire M. LeBrun, M.P.H, R.D., L.D. is a registered dietitian specializing in weight management working out of the Washington, D.C. area.