In my last post, I gave a few tips to getting back your healthy diet. Namely:
- eat a diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants
- choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods across and within all food groups in recommended amounts
- cut back on added sugar
And, most importantly:
- Gather the facts
Now that you have the facts (eating out too much, keeping too many snack foods, too often giving in to cravings for sweet or salty foods, no portion control), it’s time to fix your broken diet. In this post, I’ll give you some actionable ideas to get started.
What exactly are you eating?
The only way to know what EXACTLY you’re eating is to record it. It may be tedious, but it is such a valuable exercise. Two suggested ways to do this are:
- Keep a food diary. Write down in a notebook everything you eat and drink for three days. Be as accurate as possible. Once you’ve completed the diary, look it over. Highlight three things – non-nutritious snack foods/treats (chips, candy, cookies, soda, sweetened Starbucks drinks, granola bars, etc) in one color. Substantial servings of fruits and vegetables (don’t count the one piece of lettuce on your burger) in another color and lean protein sources (chicken breast, fish, legumes, eggs, Greek yogurt, etc) in a third. Hopefully you’ll have 5-7 servings of fruits and veggies, one high protein food at each meal/snack, and very few extras.
- Use a food tracker. This is a bit more time consuming, but you’ll really get to see what you’re eating. Use a free tracker, like My Fitness Pal, and MEASURE, MEASURE, MEASURE! Before you eat it, measure it. Then log it. My Fitness Pal will let you know total calories, protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals.
What exactly should you be eating?
Generally speaking (and depending on your goals), half your calories should be carbohydrates, and the other half split between protein and fats. If you do a lot of endurance training or are a vegetarian, you will be eating more carbs. If you are seriously looking to lose weight, you may be better off with lower amounts of carbs and higher protein. In more detail:
- Carbohydrates. When and if you eat grains, most should be the high fiber type – oats, whole wheat, quinoa, brown rice, etc. Fiber fills you up. Low-fiber carbs + added sugar (donuts, white bread, pastas) = never full, always hungry, overeating ensues.
- Protein. The basic recommendation is one gram of protein per pound of body weight (though this can be difficult. Come as close as possible). Try to eat lean protein sources at each meal – chicken breast, eggs, unsweetened Greek Yogurt, lean pork and beef, chicken sausages, uncured ham steak, etc. If you struggle to get enough protein, you may consider supplemental protein powders (whey is the most popular).
- Fats. We need fat in our diet, however, like simple carbs, fats are easy to overeat. Good fat sources are salmon, avocado, flaxseeds, walnuts, kale, spinach and collard greens.
Take action. Again and again and again.
I don’t recommend the cold turkey approach to fix your diet. If we deny ourselves EVERYTHING we like to eat, it’s usually only a matter of time before we give into our cravings and go overboard. I advocate the reduce, replace, remove method.
- Reduce. Try eating the foods you like, but just in smaller portions. Instead of 3 slices of pizza, eat two slices and add a salad on the side. Do a Starbucks run only on Saturdays and Sundays instead of every day. You get the idea.
- Replace. Back to our pizza analogy – instead of pepperoni, try the veggie slice with reduced cheese.
Three slices of pepperoni pizza is 900 calories, with 15 grams of saturated fat. Two slices of veggie pizza with reduced cheese is 500 calories with 5 grams of saturated fat.
- Remove. Some foods you just have to get rid of – those non-nutritious foods that you don’t love but you’re eating anyway. For me, anything that doesn’t contain chocolate is not worth my time. So I don’t eat it. Figure out what you really love, treat yourself occasionally, and leave the rest alone.
- Repeat. Over and over and over. Everyday, every meal, we have to make food choices. Make the right choices, meal after meal, and you’ll reach your goals.