There’s a lot of confusion about how and what to eat in this country. That isn’t surprising if you consider that a search for nutrition books on Amazon.com turns up over 50,000 books! Are there 50,000 ways to eat? Possibly, but my opinion is that effective nutrition programs tend to have more similarities than differences.
Let’s set aside the differences and get back to the basics. Here’s a list of basic nutritional tips that will help you to start losing weight and improving your health:
1. Drink More Water
Start your day by drinking a glass or two of water when you first wake up, then drink water throughout your day. How much water should you be drinking? Expert opinions vary on this but I use half my body weight in ounces of water as a guideline. I weigh 194 lbs so I should be drinking around 97 ounces of water a day. Try to only have water or green tea if you feel you have a lot of weight to lose.
2. Eat Balanced Meals
There are a lot of different expert opinions on this including the Zone diet, Atkin’s, Pritikin, Metabolic Typing, the government’s food pyramid, etc. I like to keep things simple. Have some meat (lean beef, chicken, fish, or eggs), some starch (brown rice, quinoa, etc.), and some vegetables (spinach, chard, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, bell peppers, etc.).
Nutrition research is beginning to show that we are all individuals and that our metabolism is affected by our genetics and lifestyle. There is no definitive answer on what to eat short of getting genetic testing and having it adjusted for your lifestyle. Nutritional Genomics is the future of diet prescription but getting in all the above-mentioned foods will put you on the right track.
3. Eat Breakfast
I run across so many people that start their day with coffee or coffee and a bagel and then finish the day with a huge meal before they go to bed. This is the exact opposite of what they should be doing. When you wake up in the morning, your blood sugar is low from going without food during sleep. Make sure you start your day with breakfast following the guidelines that I listed above about eating balanced meals.
You’re not hungry in the morning? No problem, just eat whatever you can and gradually increase the amount until you’re eating a full breakfast. After a while of doing this, you will find that your body craves a meal when you first wake up. You should also find your energy levels and mood get better as you start giving your body what it needs at the beginning of the day.
4. Eat Several Small Meals Throughout the Day
Not only should you be eating a balanced breakfast, but you should be eating 3-5 meals/snacks per day. These meals and snacks should be eaten every 3-4 hours. How many should you have? This is a complex question that should be addressed by a professional. A more general answer would be: eat if you’re hungry. Some people have metabolic or psychological issues that cause them to be hungry even when they have eaten recently. Most likely you’re not one of these people so don’t starve yourself. Eat when you’re hungry.
5. Minimize Processed Food.
I want to say never eat processed food, but let’s face it: some of this stuff tastes good and many of us will never eliminate it from our diet. That’s alright but keep in mind that the more you eat, the harder it will be for you to keep the weight off and improve your health.
How do you identify processed food? Just simply read the label. Forget about what the marketing on the package says, the nutritional information on the label will give you the best information about the product. Ingredient labels have to list certain things and meet government standards.
Ingredients are listed from the largest component to the smallest component. For example, if the ingredient list has: water, high-fructose corn syrup, sugar, and orange juice, you know that the product is made up of water, high-fructose corn syrup, and sugar; there’s probably not much juice in it. Also, if you read the label and the product has words that you can’t pronounce or sound like agents of chemical warfare, there’s a good chance it’s processed food. Keep your intake of these products to an absolute minimum.
6. Eat or Prepare Your Meals at Home
This may be time inconvenient, especially if you don’t consider yourself a decent cook, but I believe preparing your food is a necessary key to getting your eating regimen in the right direction. Many restaurants and fast food places keep costs down by buying the cheapest ingredients they can find.
Also bear in mind that most restaurant food is prepared to taste good, not necessarily to help you with your nutrition goals. Tasting good to some chefs requires adding things that you might not have if you were cooking your food. You don’t know how to cook? That’s ok, just learn a few basic concepts to get the job done. Cooking scrambled eggs and making salads are great ways to start.
7. Follow the 90/10 Rule
Everyone is busy and we all give in to tasty temptations. Don’t stress too much over it and don’t place unreasonable expectations on yourself either. Instead, try to follow good eating principles 90% of the time. Even if 90% is too much of a behavior change for you, try 60/40. Eventually, you can increase the percentage but start with something reasonable for you. Just make sure your healthy eating outweighs the unhealthy and you’ll be on the right track.
8. Listen to Your Body
Our bodies are so complex and there are a lot of systems in place to give you feedback on how what you eat is affecting you. For example, you might eat too much ice cream. It might taste pretty good when it’s going down, but the stomach ache or sluggishness you feel afterward is your body’s way of giving you feedback on your eating habits. Your body is an amazing machine so make sure you listen to it!