Did you already read, “Want to Make a Change? Get your head in the game?” If not, go ahead and read that post first. Overhauling your diet is the second step of making a lifelong change. This step involves nutrition and food. I can’t recall exactly where I read this statistic, but in the food/exercise equation, positive changes in your diet account for 70% of that equation. In other words, you can work out for 2 hours a day, but if you’re still eating crap, it won’t have nearly the impact that it should.
One of the first steps in accomplishing a permanent life change is to alter the way that you think about food. At the most basic level, food is fuel. It is the raw material that you need to keep your body functioning. Think of it this way, would you put trash in your car instead of premium fuel if you knew that it would (1) shorten the life of your car and (2) cause your car to drive poorly? Why do we treat our bodies so much worse than we do our material possessions? At its core, good nutrition is about helping your body run as smoothly as possible and for as long as possible.
If you’re an emotional eater, create some rituals that are soothing and can replace your need for comfort food. These can include having a group of candles or incense that you light, making a cup of hot tea, reading a book of devotionals, or sitting outside to clear your head. This might take some getting used to, but if you do it consistently for 4 weeks, you’re well on your way to forming and keeping a new habit.
There are a number of things that you need to do to get ready to overhaul your diet.
1. Clean out your fridge. Get rid of everything old, questionable and unhealthy. A fresh start all the way around is the way to go.
2.Clean out your pantry and food shelves – ditto the reasoning for #1.
3. Get organized and be prepared. Plan a weekly menu and grocery shop once or twice a week. Menu planning doesn’t have to be very complicated – just compile a list of 10 or so healthy options for each meal (and another dozen for snacks) so that you can quickly compile a menu for the week. I’ll give you an example of what my menu options look like below.
4. You’ve heard this a thousand times, but it’s true – go grocery shopping AFTER you’ve eaten and not when you’re hungry.
5. Bring just enough cash with you to the grocery store to buy the items that you need – don’t bring your debit or credit cards. This will help you stick to just what’s on the list.
6. Give yourself some wiggle room. I stick with the 80/20 rule – I eat almost perfectly on Sunday through Friday and I allow myself to splurge on Saturdays. That way, if I have a craving for cheese fries that just won’t go away, I know that Saturday is just around the corner. You’re both leaving room for error as well as teaching yourself delayed gratification. I promise that you won’t die if you skip the cheesecake/ice cream/chocolate on a daily basis, but you WILL feel better about yourself and your choices.
7. Have healthy snacks stashed everywhere. In your car, in your office and on the top shelf of your fridge. Fruit (both dried and natural), nuts and sliced veggies are great snacks. You can also buy healthy granola bars (watch the saturated fat and sugar content in these) and keep them in your purse. I usually have either almonds or sunflower seeds and dried raisins and cherries with me at all times.
8. Don’t let yourself get hungry. If you’re starving, you’re much more likely to eat junk. Being prepared, knowing your “danger times” and simply not buying crap should help you avoid starvation mode.
9. Have alternatives for when you get bored. I don’t know about you, but I find myself wandering to the kitchen for lack of something better to do. When I realize that it’s because I’m bored, I pour myself a large glass of water or iced tea and go clean the house. That’ll teach me to wander into the kitchen unbidden.
10. Be flexible. So, you indulged in a slice of cheesecake at a coworker’s birthday party.Do not beat yourself up and do not quit! Simply make an adjustment at the next meal. The key to making a lifelong change is to always get back on track.
11. Keep a list of available snack options on the fridge. Also, cut and wash your fruits and veggies as soon as you get to the store so that there’s no prep work involved in eating healthy options.
12. Make and freeze single servings of dishes to create your own frozen dinners. I always have lasagna, chili and lentil soup in the freezer for quick go-to meals in the event that I just don’t feel like cooking.
13. Stay away from boxed snacks. I don’t care if the box says “Reduced Fat,” snacks in boxes (crackers, Cheese-Its, rice cakes, baked chips, etc…) are wasted calories. If you need something to munch on, buy an air popcorn popper. A cup of air-popped popcorn only has 30 calories and a spritz of “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” spray gives it a satisfying taste.
Here are some options that I pull from to make my weekly menus.
Yogurt with granola
2 egg (or egg white veggie omelette
Peanut butter banana smoothie
Cottage cheese and fruit
Whole grain toast with peanut or almond butter and honey
Hard-boiled eggs and fruit
Whole grain cereal
Lean cold cut sandwich
Shrimp, Lettuce and Tomato sandwich
Salads with nuts or lean proteins
Egg salad sandwich
Meatball sub with whole grain bread and turkey meatballs
Three Bean Salad
Hummus and veggie pita wrap
Sliced veggies (broccoli, green peppers, celery, carrots, etc…)
Fruit (apples, oranges, bananas)
Reduced fat string cheese
Handful of nuts (almonds, walnuts)
Hot or iced tea
(When I go grocery shopping, half of my cart is filled with fresh produce. I almost always go to fruit, veggies and a handful of nuts as my snack option.)
Tomato bisque soup and grilled cheese
Lemon chicken and potatoes
Greek meatball soup
Spaghetti with marinara
Black beans and rice
Here’s an easy formula for creating a healthy dinner:
- Always start with a salad with olive oil and vinegar,
- add one lean protein (grilled chicken, lean sirloin, baked fish),
- one steamed or grilled veggie (broccoli, asparagus, peas), and
- one starch (optional) rice, potatoes
We usually eat our salads 10-20 minutes before dinner to give it a chance to hit our stomachs. I also drink a large glass of water (and take my vitamins) so that by the time dinner is ready, I’m not starving.
You can totally do this! Instead of cruising the Internet when I get bored at work, I create a menu and a grocery list. I usually go shopping first thing on Sunday morning and I get cooking on Sunday evening.