You want to eat healthier, and you don’t want to diet.
I get it. In fact, I support it!
A healthy lifestyle isn’t about going on an extreme diet or not enjoying your food.
I’ve been a certified health coach for almost 10 years now, and I can tell you this: A short-term diet won’t change your life, but making one small change per week will add up to a whole new healthy lifestyle.
You can tweak a few things in your daily eating habits that create health over the long term.
Instead of swearing off certain foods or food groups forever, commit to incorporating one or two of these tips into your healthy eating habits each week to create an entirely new perspective and eating pattern in a matter of months. Focus on adding things in, not taking things out.
If you’re ready to eat healthier, get started with these tips.
(In no particular order…)
You lose a ton of water when you sleep from just breathing (think about how you can fog a mirror with your breath.) When you wake up in the morning, you haven’t had any hydration for eight or so hours, and dehydration can mimic hunger. Start your day with 20-30 ounces of filtered water before anything else and watch your health change.
Protein satiates you and helps balance your blood sugar. If you spike your blood sugar in the morning (by eating pastries or sugar), you’re more likely to eat up to double the food during the day. Commit to balanced blood sugar in the morning and watch your health change. Aim for at least 15-20 grams of protein in the morning within an hour of waking up (and after your morning hydration).
Yep, you read that correctly. Eat your water.
Foods rich in water not only keep you hydrated, but they are also less energy-dense and fill you up. Every day ask yourself, have I eaten any water-rich foods today? Water-rich foods include any fruits and veggies, especially greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, cantaloupe, watermelon, berries, cabbage, and more. And remember, a protein shake is rich in water while a protein bar is not. Fill up on water-rich foods as much as you can.
As I mentioned above, sugar makes you feel more hungry than you actually are. By now you know too much sugar is bad for you, but it’s especially bad for you first thing in the morning. If you’re not ready to give it up, at least halve the amount you use. After a week, your tastebuds won’t even notice the difference, but your body will.
Collagen dissolves completely in hot liquid and is odorless and tasteless. It’s a great way to get your protein in the morning, not to mention will make your hair and nails stronger and longer, and support the elasticity of your skin. Collagen is not vegan, so if you’re vegan skip that one. I use the Vital Proteins brand in my coffee each morning. If you don’t drink coffee or tea, you can add it to a smoothie or any other beverage of your choice.
I’m not talking about a “liquid diet” here. One liquid meal per day (a smoothie or blended soup) ensures that you not only get more hydration, but it’s easier for your digestive system to take in. Your body spends a tremendous amount of energy digesting food. Liquid meals require less energy to digest, freeing up that energy for other parts of your body to heal.
Bonus: have that liquid meal as your first or last meal to ease your digestion into or out of the day. There are tons of delicious soups and smoothies in my recipe archive. Your liquid meal should be filling and enjoyable! Get creative and don’t starve yourself.
If you only make one change to eat healthier this needs to be it. The single best thing you can do for your health is to make most of your own food at home. Dining out once or twice a week is great, but relying on takeout or premade meals every day is destroying your health. When you cook at home, you control the nutrition and ingredients you consume.
Most people don’t know this, but restaurants add heaps of extra oil, butter, and sugar to food to make it taste gourmet. It’s fine to enjoy restaurant meals occasionally without worrying about what’s in the food. It’s not fine to rely on them for your daily meals. I talk about this in-depth in my book The Health Habit (Hay House).
Tip: Add fresh herbs, fresh citrus juice, and sea salt to the food you cook at home to create gourmet flavors in your own kitchen.
To help make it easier to make most of your own food at home (see #7), employ the “Cook Once, Eat 2 or 3 Times” principle. What can you make on Sunday that can be made into lunch or dinner for Monday or Tuesday? For example, if you roast a chicken, reserve some of it for chicken tacos the next day. Soups and quinoa salads keep especially well in the refrigerator for a few days. Soups usually keep frozen up to three months.
Fats aren’t bad! But not all fats are created equal. Good fats from sources like avocados, salmon, extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, and natural food sources keep your cell membranes permeable to help get nutrition in and waste out. Fats from degraded oils such as vegetable oil don’t have any health benefits. Good fats help satiate you and can help you lose weight if that’s your goal. Aim for a small portion of healthy fats in every meal and snack.
Speaking of nuts, ease up on them a little if you eat them with every meal. It’s easy to find yourself eating almond flour crackers, nuts on every salad and nut butter with every meal, along with snacking on plain nuts. Nuts are good for you! They are also energy-dense and eating too many of them will slow your digestion and energy systems. Eat them about once a day if you like, but avoid them (including nut-based flours and nut butters) with every meal.
Store-bought salad dressing is not only loaded with preservatives to prevent it from spoiling, but it’s overloaded with sugar to make you crave it. Plus, it’s crazy expensive for what you get and doesn’t taste as good as homemade dressing. What a racket. Making salad dressing at home is SUPER easy and you probably already have the ingredients in your pantry and fridge (or you can get them and they keep forever.) You can find homemade ranch dressing, honey mustard, balsamic vinaigrette, and more salad dressings on my blog.
Salmon is packed with omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and minerals. In his book, The Perricone Promise, Dr. Perricone did an experiment having women eat salmon in addition to living a healthier lifestyle (i.e., hydrating, consuming fruits and veggies, reducing inflammation). The results in their faces were remarkable—many looked like they had some type of cosmetic treatment, but it was a result of the anti-inflammatory lifestyle. Weekly salmon is also on the menu at Sanoviv Medical Institute, where I’ve hosted numerous health retreats. This one addition to your weekly meal plan can add up to great results. We like to enjoy our salmon with broccoli or asparagus and roasted potatoes or a quinoa salad.
If you want to eat healthier, go easy on dairy, including milk, cream, and cheeses, especially if you have any acne breakouts. Dairy is hard on your digestive system and is more energy-dense than most foods, meaning that it requires a lot to process. You don’t have to give it up entirely, but find naturally dairy-free meals that you love. Things like sushi (I love a poke bowl!), most Thai food and Japanese food, vegan soups, quinoa salads, and the salmon I mentioned above are naturally dairy-free.
If you do choose to eat dairy, choose well. When you choose dairy, choose fermented dairy, such as yogurt or kefir, when you can. Most flavored yogurts have more sugar than a Snickers bar. Opt for the unsweetened versions of high-protein yogurts like Greek yogurt or Icelandic yogurt (Skyr) and add a teaspoon of honey or whole fruit for sweetness and chia or flax seeds for more nutrition. I like to enjoy a Siggi’s brand Icelandic yogurt once every week or so.
Use this small tweak at mealtimes to eat healthier: eat your protein first. For example, if you have a burger and fries, eat most of your burger before the fries. Protein fills you up more quickly and will prevent you from overdoing starchy carbs. If you have Italian food, eat the chicken picatta before the pasta. With Mexican food, eat the beans or meat before the rice. Having pizza? Eat a big green salad with a few nuts on it first (greens are surprisingly high in protein per weight.) This tip can be applied to any type of food, whether you’re eating a salad, at a buffet, or out for a treat.
Along with eating your protein first, simply eating enough at mealtimes can change your health.
If you find yourself endlessly snacking, you’re not eating enough protein at mealtimes, and you’re not eating enough in general at mealtimes. Especially if you find yourself stark-raving-mad-hungry at dinnertime. That means you didn’t eat enough for breakfast and lunch. Need to down a pint of ice cream or a bowl of popcorn before bed every night? You’re not eating enough for dinner. Eat enough at mealtimes to satiate yourself until the next meal. Your body and digestion need breaks in between meals to stabilize your blood sugar. Snacking all day thwarts that.
Trade soda for sparkling water, kombucha, or coconut water. Drinking soda (aka “pop” for some of us) is the quickest thing you can do to fill up on empty calories and spike your blood sugar. It simply leaves you hungrier than you were before. And don’t think diet soda is any better. It has the same effect on your blood sugar.
Along with the question, “did I eat any water today?” ask yourself, “did I eat fiber today?” While water keeps you hydrated, fiber fills you up. Fiber also keeps your digestive system in tip-top shape. Most Americans get fewer than 10 grams of fiber per day. Aim for 25 grams of fiber minimum each day and watch your health change for the better. Fiber-rich foods include whole fruits, veggies, leafy greens, beans, lentils, and whole grains such as whole rolled oats.
Psyllium husk fiber is a fiber supplement that you can add to smoothies to boost your fiber intake even more. I recommend 2 teaspoons of psyllium husk fiber added to a smoothie 3-4 days per week when possible.
An easy way to eat healthier without giving up foods you love is simply adding in superfood boosts to what you already eat. A superfood boost is a teaspoon or so of nutrient-packed ingredients. Chia seeds and flax seeds are great examples of superfood boosts. Add a teaspoon of one to your next smoothie, salad, or a cup of yogurt.
Even if you don’t want to change what you eat to eat healthier, you can change when you eat to eat healthier.
Time-restricted eating is a form of intermittent fasting where meals are consumed within a specific period of time. A popular and extremely effective form of this way of eating is an 8-hour eating window, then fasting for the remaining 16 hours of the day, called 16:8. Generally, this is done every day or almost every day.
The most important thing about utilizing time-restricted eating is giving your digestion and insulin levels a rest between dinner and breakfast the next day. A slow trickle of food or drinks (except water) up until you go to bed will keep your insulin levels high, which can deplete your energy, affect your sleep, increase inflammation in the body, and make it difficult to lose or maintain weight. I find most women do well with a 9- or even 10-hour eating window for optimal health. At the very least, create a 12-hour eating window. For example, if you eat breakfast at 8am, finish dinner by 8pm and fast between 8pm until 8am.
You can find more ways to live well and eat healthier on my blog (and sign up for the free ebook below this post!), and if you’re ready for more a more in-depth plan, check out The Health Habit on Amazon.
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Instead of prescribing what I think you should do, I help you find what works for you.