Getting healthier isn't all about your shape, size and how many diets you follow. It's about helping your body work better to defend itself from illness. The key is to know exactly what you're putting in it first. What you consume is so important to keeping the body in good shape from the inside out. I'm not claiming to be an expert on the subject, but I do strongly believe that in all my research over the years in pursuit of good health for myself and my family, the answers are simpler than we think; keep it real and natural (as the human body was designed to function) and you'll be in better health.
#1 - Get rid of that Fake Butter Spread
That's right! That spreadable butter or margarine you are buying is laden with chemicals and junk. Our bodies were not made to process something that is unnatural like that, plain and simple. It's full of chemicals and processed oils that are doing more harm than good to your body, it can even lower your good cholesterol levels and raise bad cholesterol, Check it out for yourself! I was one of the many that were in that notion that "butter flavored" spreads were better for me than the real deal. Boy, am I glad I got out of that phase. Fake butter spreads can also contain trans-fats that don't occur in natural foods. Go back to good old-fashioned butter, grass fed butter to be specific. Not only will your body agree with your decision to switch back, but your taste buds.
#2 - Cut out the Toxic Sugary & Diet Drinks
Everyone knows how much sugar or high fructose corn syrup is in soda, but what about those supposed healthier options like sweetened iced tea and sports drinks like gatorade. These drinks are just as bad as drinking soda, if not worse. You might think if they're low calorie you won't gain weight, but it's the sugar that's making people fat. An 8 oz serving (1 cup) of gatorade has about 14 g of sugar (that's 3 tsp). If you drink a full 20 oz bottle of gatorade, that's almost 8 teaspoon of sugar! Check for yourself here. You can't tell me that's not appalling. Coffee drinkers, think about your cup of coffee, if you sweeten it, maybe you add a teaspoon or 3 at the most, right? Well, it's easily tripled in that sports drink you down when you think you're doing your body good after a work-out. You can hydrate believe it or not with plain old fashioned water or even coconut water. You might even lose weight quickly just by making the switch to water and not touching one of those chemical laden drinks again.
Then we have the "diet" drinks with artificial sweeteners. Those in some ways can be worse since they're full of chemicals and fake sweeteners that cause more health issues over time and weight gain as discussed here. Our guts were not designed to tolerate such toxicity, plus it starts affecting glucose levels. Once again, plain old water will do your body the best.
#3 - Switch to Organic for Produce from the "Dirty Dozen Plus" List
(Numbers 1-16 at least on the list )
Just a few years back I questioned the point of buying anything organic until I really started researching and reading about organic vs standard produce and the danger of pesticides. I thought well, can't I just wash the pesticides off the fruit and vegetables? Not the case for a lot of produce, some of the worst are strawberries, apples and potatoes which are staples in most homes. I know that I might not feel the effects of switching to organic for produce right away, only my wallet feels it, but I do know that I'd rather be safe, especially when I know they could have a huge affect on me and my family in the future, maybe even near future knowing that pesticides can even affect hormones.
Here's a direct quote from the EPA: "The health effects of pesticides depend on the type of pesticide. Some, such as the organophosphates and carbamates, affect the nervous system. Others may irritate the skin or eyes. Some pesticides may be carcinogens. Others may affect the hormone or endocrine system in the body." Why would I want to consume such things if there are all these risks?
The controversy and disagreements lie as to "how much" of these pesticides you would need to consume for it to be toxic; with this even the EPA states the risk could be small. I beg to differ. In this country we're very lenient on food production with pesticides, hormones and antibiotics, and now GMO's unlike many other countries around the world so I feel I'd rather be safe than sorry later when it comes to what I'm ingesting. Here's a Web MD article that might help answer some questions on Organic food consumption.
#4 - Ignore the Low Fat/Low Calorie madness
Unfortunately, we've been brainwashed it seems to think that low fat and low calorie means healthier and better for our bodies and waistlines. Packaged low-fat food might as well say "Low-Fat = High in garbage", Read More here. Also, low fat diets may slow your metabolism and contribute to obesity. What?!? Yeah, sound surprising. Why would food companies screw us up so much? MONEY. This is why as soon as you stop the low fat plan and possibly lose a little weight from depriving yourself of fat and calories you gain it all back. No good right? The bottom line is, the more unprocessed, the more natural the food is to the way it's supposed to be full fat and all, the better it is for you and your body. Here's another article from Web MD. Also, calories are not all created equal, so calorie counting is not the best way to maintain your weight or lose it. The calories of an average avocado, about 234 calories, loaded with good fat are nothing like the energy and unhealthful calories of let's say a mars bar which is equal in calories. You can not eat that candy bar full of sugar and assume that it's just the same as 234 avocado calories. They're nothing alike and will make you feel totally different and process in your body completely differently. So, the low fat/low calorie game we've been playing with our bodies is just keeping us unhealthy and fat.
#5 - Switch to Real (Natural) Unprocessed Cooking Oils
Here's the easy rule of thumb, if you can't squeeze out oil from it yourself (even if it's tough and requires tools), it's not a "natural" oil you should be consuming. Let's think about those beautiful natural ingredients that we can get oil from; Olives, Avocado, Coconut, Flaxseed to name a few. Then there are those pesky "vegetable oils" we've been told are good for us, probably because there's the word, "vegetable" in them. These are so far from healthy, but somehow society is stil holding onto them like they're the heatlhy choice. Here's a great article on how they are NOT. You'll also see a video on how canola oil is processed; not a pretty sight.
#6 - Pre-make your Work Lunch
Being unprepared for your day food-wise is the easiest way to lose sight of bad eating habits that sabotage your health. Thinking ahead and bringing left overs from dinner the night before or making your lunch the night before is the easiest way to make smarter decisions and keep yourself on track with your health.
If you don't bring your lunch to work or school you instantly make yourself vulnerable to being nudged into going out for high calorie meals that will crash your system in the afternoon. Also, you'll be more tempted to feed into the commercial restaurants possibly lurking outside your office staring you down around your work. You might have seen one on the way into work that you suddenly start thinking of as your hunger pangs strike. Be proactive and do your best to already be armed with a satisfying lunch waiting for you some break time.
#7 - Work on better Sleep
So many studies have been done showing that lack of/poor sleep impedes our ability to make smart decisions on food and drink choices during the day as you can read here. Life gets in the way sometimes understandably, but sometimes it might just be bad habits or poor health affecting our sleep. I am no advocate on sleeping pills, but do believe there are ways of improving your sleep if you're willing to try natural alternatives. Some things that could help you sleep better are already included in this list, like diet, but other specific examples that can help are; yoga, going to bed earlier, turning off your electronic devices a while before sleep and therapeutic grade essential oils. I've had my share of insomnia for years, but can honestly say that besides diet and exercise, essential oils have done wonders for my sleep! You can see my post here. Find what works for you, figure out how much sleep you need to feel rested during the day and you will definitely be on the road to better health.
#8 - Don't just hide the foods you can't stop eating, stop buying them
I've read so many articles like this one on "hiding" the foods you know you have little will power to avoid in your home. I don't think hiding them helps because you still know exactly where they are and can access them if you're craving them. There is nothing stopping you from getting those "hidden" foods or treats except for your will power which is probably very weak in a desperate time of need.
Just don't buy those things you know you can't control yourself with; if it's salty or sugary treats like chips or candy, just don't buy them! Yes, it will be painful we're you're in that desperate moment of need and have to have that treat, but maybe you'll actually think about why you're craving it and find a healthier alternative.
For me personally I find that sweets are my weakness at times and if I know there are sweets in the house that I've hidden either from myself or my husband...I WILL eat them when I feel that craving hit! If they're not in the house at all, there's nothing I can do but move on and find something else to suffice. For my sweet tooth cravings I've found that drinking a cup of tea helps ward off the craving. You have to find your "warding off" food to help you get through that tough moment of binging on junk desire. If tea isn't your thing try an apple or banana for your sweet tooth. If it's a salty crunchy taste you're craving maybe try a pickle or some roasted nuts. It'll be better for you and more filling than chips.
#9 - Eat or Drink more Fruit and Veggies
It's amazing how good old fashioned vegetables have taken a back seat in the modern diet. They're only side dishes most of the time overshadowed by huge protein portions or not included at all in some meals. Eating things grown in nature, made for our natural bodies does so much good for us with their plethora or vitamins, yet we ignore them all too often. Try blending up some greens with some fruit to start benefiting from their many health benefits.
Try new ways of enjoying them if you haven't been a fan of them or lost interest in them. Take baby steps if you have to; drop the processed meats from even a pizza, homemade or not and add some vegetables with plenty of herbs and see how that tastes, you might be surprised. If you need a more drastic approach to crave vegetables, you can try juicing. Juicing will drastically up your intake of raw vegetables and you might start feeling better just from the influx of the micro-nutrients. If you're not into juicing, try making yourself a green smoothie to add some green to your diet with lots of extra fiber. Here are some juicing and smoothie recipes you can try.
#10 - Eliminate Processed Food as much as possible
Kick those frozen convenience foods out of your fridge or freezer! Yes, they are convenient now, but they're so not convenient for your body's health. I used to think how bad could it be to eat this stuff that's been precooked and packaged? It's frozen and it says it's "healthy."
I also fell into the "Low fat and healthy" frozen meal trap in my 20's. It's amazing what good marketing will do to people! I went to work everyday with my frozen "healthy" low calorie meal thinking I was doing much better for myself by not getting fast food. Not so much. I never lost weight, felt hungry all the time and experienced that not so great afternoon slump every afternoon. Since I dropped that habit shortly after having my first born 5 years ago and made the transition to eliminate as much processed food as possible, I don't experience that lazy slump mid morn and mid afternoon, plus I don't crave all the bad food as much. Going the whole real food route really can make a huge difference.
#11 - Eat at Home more
There's no easier way to eat "healthier" than to cook your own food from scratch instead of getting take out or going out to eat. Don't get me wrong, I love going out for great food as much as many people do, but it's ridiculously expensive to do it even just once/week plus your pants will feel the squeeze. When you cook from scratch you know exactly what you're putting in your food and you have more control of your portions. Eating out, especially in this country means larger portions than any man needs in a single meal plus high sodium and possibly the equivalent of a day's calories in one sitting. Yes, it takes more time out of your day to cook, but it can be fun and worthwhile if you do it right. Plus you can have homemade leftovers for work the next day! (As mentioned in #6)
#12 - Lastly, the obvious one we all know....MOVE MORE!
It's so easy to tell ourselves we're too tired and don't have time to exercise, but those excuses keep us unhealthy and train the body to be tired and lazy. Train the body to move and it should continue moving for you well after the years you feel you should be done moving. My only disclaimer is that if you keep up the same eating habits of eating out too much, eating processed food and not bulking up on real whole foods, you're probably not going to see or feel much of a difference in your weight and health. Find out what motivates you to move and do it in baby steps; you've got to start somewhere. This is how I get myself motivated.