Nutrition is the cornerstone of your health. What you put into your body both builds and fuels you. Unfortunately, many Americans struggle with how to eat healthy. It’s all too easy to gobble up the proliferation of high-calorie, low-nutrition foods that abound. It’s why our country is battling an obesity epidemic and why so many Americans suffer from preventable lifestyle diseases. Understanding how to start eating healthy may feel confusing with so many diets around, but it’s actually relatively simple. Following just a few important guidelines can help you revolutionize your eating habits so that your food can nourish and support you rather than steal your health. Here is a simple and easy healthy eating guide.
Note: Don’t be surprised if these healthy eating tips sound familiar or if they seem overly simple. Eating a healthy diet isn’t hard or complicated. In fact, you probably know all these tips already. The key is to commit to following the tips in this healthy eating guide and making a healthy diet part of your fitness lifestyle.
Understand How Many Calories You Need Per Day
It does matter what types of food you put into your body, but at the end of the day, the simple equation of calories in versus calories out is still the foundation for any diet strategy. Crash dieting will never work, but that doesn’t mean counting calories should be ignored. It is useful for you to understand how many calories you need each day to fuel your body. For many, the biggest health mistake they make is to eat more calories than they burn each day. When this happens, the body packs away these extra calories for a rainy day in the form of fat.
This helpful calorie calculator from the Mayo Clinic will give you a basic idea of how many calories you need to eat each day to maintain your weight. If you are looking to shed a few pounds, focus on eating fewer calories than you burn. Weight loss should be slow and steady, so don’t cut your calories too much. (You can also burn more calories by living an active lifestyle.) If you would like to gain weight, then eat more calories than you burn, ideally more protein.
Closely track your calories. Many free and low-cost apps make it easier than ever.
Eat Lean Protein
Now that you know your calorie window for the day, it’s time to look at what you actually put in your body. Foods high in sugar, fats, and carbs typically possess a high number of calories but don’t leave you feeling full, which is why it can be so easy to overeat. Lean proteins, on the other hand, are usually low in calories and help you feel fuller.
Proteins also contain amino acids, which are the building blocks of your muscle. Eating a diet high in protein can help you build muscle and recover from your resistance and weight training workouts more quickly. Protein doesn’t have to come in the form of meat. There are plenty of great non-animal protein sources for vegetarians, vegans, and those looking to lower their meat consumption. Here are some great lean protein options to add to your diet:
Eat More Vegetables
Your mother was right. Eating vegetables is good for you. Veggies are filled with vitamins, minerals, disease-fighting phytochemicals, antioxidants, fiber, and protein. In particular, the fiber and protein in vegetables help you feel full for longer.
Many Americans have fallen for the idea that vegetables aren’t tasty, but that isn’t true. Cooking vegetables the right way can make them an excellent and flavorful addition to any meal. Some of the healthiest vegetables include:
- Sweet potatoes
- Brussel sprouts
Start making salads for dinner or lunch. Sautee spinach or broccoli as a dinner side. Vegetables offer tons of nutrition for a few calories and need to be a big part of your diet.
Snack Throughout the Day
It’s easy to overeat if you are practically starving by the time dinner rolls around, if you skip breakfast, or if your stomach starts to rumble before bed. Snacking, when done mindfully, is an excellent way to help you manage your hunger throughout the day.
First, recognize that if your eating schedule leaves you hungry throughout the day, you will almost certainly not be able to stick to it long term. Hunger will degrade your self-control and lead you to overeat or grab the wrong foods.
Plan your snacks throughout the day and choose healthy, filling foods. Some of the best snacks are:
- A handful or two of nuts
- Apple slices with peanut butter
- Avocado on whole-grain toast
- Plain yogurt mixed with fruit
- A low-calorie fruit or green smoothie
You really can’t beat smoothies as a great afternoon pick-me-up. Consider mixing a cup of almond milk, half a banana, a tablespoon of peanut butter, and a scoop of protein powder. (Add a tablespoon of hemp seeds as extra bonus.) You’ll never look at unhealthy snacks, like greasy potato chips or calorie-filled cookies, again.
Watch What You Drink
It’s incredibly easy to overdraw your calorie budget based on what you drink. Many of today’s most popular drinks, like sodas, sports drinks, alcoholic beverages, or your fancy morning coffee, are filled with sugars and calories. Worse, drinks don’t contain the protein and fiber that help you feel full. You can easily sip down 200 calories in one drink and never even feel it.
If you want to look at this conundrum as a glass half full, then cutting sugary and high-calorie beverages out of your diet is one of the best ways to lower your calories without affecting your hunger. Try to limit the amount of sodas and juices you drink. (Fruit juices are packed with sugar!) Switch from that fancy coffee to tea or plain coffee with minimal milk and sugar.
Drink water. Water is your friend. It hydrates and nourishes you, all for no calories. You can even buy sparkling water or add calorie-free flavor tablets to your reusable water bottle to make your water a tasty treat.
Eat Healthy Fats
Fat was the enemy of humanity during the 90s, and nutritional understanding has changed since then. Now, nutritionists know that certain fats, like omega-three fats, can actually be really good for your heart. Even good fats contain a high number of calories, so eat them in moderation. Some good examples of fats include:
- Olive oil
- Almond butter
- Peanut butter
- Hemp seeds
- Chia seeds
- Avocado oil
Understand Your Emotional Relationship to Food
No one reaches adulthood without some sort of emotional attachment to food. For many, their relationship to food is unhealthy, resulting in an eating disorder or a less severe version of an eating disorder known as disordered eating. (Research suggests that as much as 50 percent of the population suffers from disordered eating.)
You can know all the right information on how to eat well, but if you struggle with disordered eating, all the healthy eating tips in the world won’t matter. Think about your relationship with food. Do you eat when you’re bored or upset as a way to comfort yourself? Do you feel guilty after eating too much, which can spiral into more binging?
Consider keeping a food and emotion journal to document both how you feel and what you eat throughout the day. You will likely begin noticing patterns. Start making connections between how your emotions affect what you eat. If you are struggling with an eating disorder or disordered eating, consider speaking with your doctor or seeking the help of a mental health professional who specializes in disordered eating.
Life is messy, beautiful, and often chaotic. You can’t be perfect all the time, nor should you. There’s no point in chaining yourself to a rigid eating plan if it makes you miserable. The key here is to stick with these healthy eating tips most of the time, not all of the time. Give yourself a cheat day each week or two cheat meals a week. Here, you enjoy all the sinfully delicious foods you’ve been craving. Hit the fast-food drive-thru lane. Grab a second piece of cake at your friend’s wedding. Sip the fruitiest of fruity cocktails at your dinner party. Celebrate and splurge when it matters, as long as you get back to eating healthy the next day.
Add in Exercise
This healthy eating guide is a great start to embracing a fit lifestyle. The next step is to add exercise to your weekly routine, including a mixture of cardio and resistance training. If you aren’t sure how to start eating healthy or where to begin in the gym, consider hiring a personal trainer. A trainer will design a customized fitness plan for you and can also work with you on dialing in your nutrition. Another option is to work with a nutritionist who can educate you on the right eating patterns, help you work through your personal eating challenges, and help devise a customized eating plan to help you achieve your health and fitness goals.