People with unhealthy eating habits suffer from an enormous disadvantage: They have less energy, poorer quality of sleep, sickness, harder time staying fit and strong. What’s even worse is that they probably spend more money than someone with healthy eating habits.
What to do about it?
The simple answer: Eliminate the bad and add the good.
Even simpler: Eliminate the bad, and you will adopt the good easily.
Healthy eating isn’t supposed to be bland tastes, boredom, and spending huge amounts on food. There is an almost infinite array of different tastes and textures even when eating healthy; Soy sauce, cilantro, salt, pepper, lemon, butter, garlic, onion, curry, cheese, tomato sauce, salsa, broth, honey, vinegars, meat, black-bean sauce and the list goes on.
As an added benefit you avoid all the artificial flavors and massive amounts of salt, sugar, and fat present in industrial foods. They do make some foods taste great, but they could also make you sick and tired.
One more thing before strategies: Some people believe that it is somehow a loss to eliminate cravings for industrial foods. The logic is questionable: The point is to remove harmful substances from your diet. Removing something that is hurting you can not be losing out. You can still enjoy the foods after eliminating the compulsive cravings for them. You may not want to, but the most important thing is to break the cycle of having to have certain sugary or fatty substance.
The Big 3
Work on perfecting these three and you are on your way.
Eliminate food addictions.
You should strive to eliminate all unhealthy food habits. Any foods you know are unhealthy and create cravings should be included in the list.
There is no tragedy in not having cravings and food addictions. You can enjoy the foods after eliminating the cravings. More often than not you will end up eliminating the unhealthy culprit alltogether, but the point is to add freedom in your choices.
Elimination means 4-8 weeks of absolute removal of the offending substance. Instead of trying to eliminate all cravings focus on food at a time. You can still eat anything else. By removing only one thing at a time allows you to build sustainable habits. Trying to get rid of many cravings will be hard and effortful. The amount of willpower for any given day is finite. You probably want to build healthy eating habits as easily as possible, while minimizing setbacks and failures.
The extended period of elimination allows you to eliminate the unhealthy habits associated with any given food. Afterward, you might realize you don’t enjoy the taste as much as you thought.
4-8 weeks for one food can seem too slow, but the goal is ease and consistency. There is no rush. You still get to shake off 6-12 substances in one year in a sustainable way, which is probably more than enough.
Start with something you know will be easy or moderately hard. Get a few wins under your belt before attacking the most challenging obstacles.
By following this rule, you will make healthy choices more appealing and enhance your portion control.
Do this by having healthy options always available and not storing unhealthy foods at your house or in your office. You will be amazed by the lack of cravings and ease of struggle when you don’t have unhealthy options available. Cucumbers, zucchini, and other snacks become much more enticing when you don’t have other options available.
Pack your fridge full of things you can throw into the blender to make a green smoothie, protein bars, vegetables. You should also try peanut butter spread on a celery stick. Delicious and can keep hunger at bay for surprisingly long.
The rule doesn’t apply when fasting, which you should routinely practice. Few times a week is more than enough.
Measure daily and observe the trend.
Buy a scale and measure your weight daily. Some prefer to get fancy scales that measure your fat percentage. That’s fine, and you should do so if you know having that metric will motivate you.
Measuring your weight daily creates awareness and almost immediate feedback on the choices you have made during the last 24 hours. Since you know you have to face the scale in the morning, you are less likely to binge on any single sitting. You will know what works and what doesn’t.
You could also include things like your waist size, especially if trying to lose weight and doing weight training. Since weight training builds muscle, your body weight might not decrease as fast as you would like. Measuring your waist adds another metric that will show you results of healthy eating.
You might think that daily measuring is too much, but that way you are always aware and in charge. By measuring daily the changes are small, but it also means you avoid the catastrophes. A healthy and sustainable weight loss rate is from 250 grams to 500 grams (approx. 0,5-1 lb) in a week. That might not seem like much, but at that rate your body doesn’t burn muscle, but you end up burning fat for fuel and maybe even add some muscle along the way. Also, that comes to 13-26 kilos (25-52 pounds) in a year while building muscle.
Your weight and other metrics daily
THE SMALL 3
The small three entail some work but can be helpful.
Plan your meals
Identify few flexible staples you can use at almost every meal. Identify few healthy and delicious go-to meals and have the ingredients always at hand.
Some ingredients I always have in the house are:
- Cucumbers and zucchini for snacking when working
- Leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables (frozen), flax seed especially for Green smoothies
- Lentils and Beans, canned and dry as side dish and keeping hunger at bay for several hours
- Eggs and whey powder when in need for a quick protein fix
Avoid emotional eating, due to stress, boredom, anxiety or sleep-deprivation
The biggest single thing to build resilience against emotional eating is to sleep enough. The need for sleep varies. Getting adequate sleep means more willpower, less cortisol, higher mood, and everything will be easier.
Don’t strain on other things so much. Try to eliminate as much stress from your life as possible. Don’t try to control everything. Don’t schedule everything. Try meditation for increasing awareness and willpower. Focus on changing one thing at a time.
Drink water. Dehydration can mask itself as hunger. When eliminating carbs, your body can react by flushing out water. You can combat this by adding a pinch of salt on every liter of water you drink. Drink 2-4 liters a day. Have a large cup handy to make it easy to drink in proper quantities.
Quantify your diet with diet logs.
Diet log books and apps are a way to quantify your progress and help you become aware of the consequences of your choices.
Apps are much more convenient than physical versions of log books. I like myfitnesspal and myplate. Both have great metrics and are simple to use.
It can be a hassle starting the habit of logging foods, but it is well worth the effort. Log your eating for a week few times a year to spot your eating patterns. With a week you can see the trends, what you should increase and what to decrease.
That’s it. Write down your strategy and stick to it until you develop mastery.
Creating healthy eating habits is not as easy as you hope, but it isn’t as hard as you fear, either.
Adopt as many ideas as you need and remember that a little effort now will save a lot of effortful and costly interventions later.
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