12 Small Simple Steps to Healthier Eating Habits

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So many people think they have to make huge life-altering changes their diet to improve their health and lose weight. And sadly, the prospect of such big changes cause many people to give up before they even start.

I want to shout from the rooftops: getting healthier, having more energy and maintaining a healthy weight should not require disruptive, unpleasant changes to your life!!

You just need to make small, sustainable tweaks. And embed them until they become a permanent habit. And then make a few more simple tweaks. You get the picture!

So here are a few simple, relatively painless, tweaks you can make to your diet today which will yield high positive benefits over time!

1. Swap sugary sodas, soft drinks and juices for water

If you regularly drink these beverages, simply cutting them out will be a huge a game-changer. You will automatically be ingesting a lot less calories. And you will also be taking a huge load off your pancreas (which pumps out insulin in response to the onslaught of sugar from these drinks) and your liver (which stores glucose and converts the excess to triglycerides). You can read more about this HERE.

2. Look for opportunities to add in more veggies

I can’t emphasise this one enough!!! Only 4% of Australians are eating the recommended amount of vegetables. 4%!!!! And this is a real worry because consumption of fruit and vegetables is known to help with blood pressure regulation, stroke and heart attack prevention, weight management and even cancer prevention. Eating 5 serves of vegetables a day is one of the simplest biggest-bang-for-your-buck things you can do to improve your health!! But the health benefits increase with increased consumption! Back in February a big stir was created when scientists from the Imperial College in London published a paper stating that if people want to use food as preventative medicine and get the biggest bang for their nutrition buck, they should consume 800g of fruit and veg a day. That’s approximately TEN serves a day. You can read more about it HERE! So get onto this! Add a serve of vegetables to every meal! Have a green smoothie with breakfast, some veggie sticks as a snack, some salad in your wrap at lunch and an extra serve of veggies with dinner. Bam! You did it! So go and do this, OK????!?! Want more tips to help you up the veg in your diet? Check out THIS POST!

3. Snack Smarter!

This is a two-step process...

Firstly, reframe cakes, cookies, chips and candies as occasional treats (or as Elmo from Sesame Street says, "sometime food"!), and not as everyday snacks. Sometimes foods should be eaten, well, sometimes. It seems a bit obvious, but we seem to have our blinders on when it comes to just how much "discretionary foods" we are eating. When you eat these foods every day, these "treats" become normal every day occurrences and are no longer special. And even worse, your palate becomes habituated to super sweet, salty, refined foods. We need to get clear on the difference between the snacks or small meals we consume to keep our energy levels up between meals, and occasional treats.

Next, get into the habit of choosing healthier every day snack items like nuts, fruit and veggie sticks. There is a misconception that snack foods need to be "sometimes foods". You know, cakes, cookies, muesli bars, potato chips etc. And this kind of thinking is perpetuated by the big food companies, who want us to consume their highly profitable snack foods every day and not as an occasional "sometimes food" treat. So what we need is a reframe. Most of us are going to snack every day. These are the mini meals that sustain us until our next proper meal. Think of your daily snacks as an opportunity to fuel and energise your body. Congratulate yourself every time you choose the healthier option! You are choosing your present and future health over the profits of a multinational corporation. I have written about knowing the difference between a snack and a treat HERE, and I highly recommend you check it out!

4. Make your own food!

Making your own food is one of my three core food philosophies! Studies repeatedly show that home cooking is associated with healthier diets, reduced obesity rates and better health. And it makes a lot of sense. When we make our own meals, we very quickly realise what goes into the food we are eating. That “healthy” muffin actually contains a truckload of sugar and refined flour. That “guilt-free” raw dessert is basically a slab of saturated fat. Now I’m the last person who will ever tell you not to eat something. But I am going to urge you to get into the kitchen and start making the dishes you love to eat when you are out so you learn what really goes into them.

And you don't need to be a Masterchef contestant to make delicious, healthy, home-made meals. What you need are a few trusted recipes that you can easily make that you know you will enjoy. I created the Recipes section of my website for this very purpose, and I add at least a couple of new recipes every week. So check it out! And I wrote this post with my top tips to help busy people love home cooking. Check that out too!

5. Ditch the deep fried stuff

This tip, along with cutting out sugary sodas, can make such a huge difference to your weight, and also to your triglycerides and artery health. These are foods that contain much more fat and energy than our bodies can easily process. But even worse, something VERY unhealthy happens to oils that are heated to high temperatures over and over and over again. I wrote about this HERE, so go check it out!

6. Watch your alcohol intake

Don't shoot the messenger dahlinks! The health benefits of alcohol you read about from time to time in the news are pretty much overstated. And cutting right down on alcohol (or giving it up!) can make a BIG difference if you are having trouble losing weight or are experiencing disturbed sleep. Alcohol is preferentially metabolised by our body, so a lot of what we eat with alcohol can just end up being stored as fat. But that's not where it stops. When we drink alcohol we are more likely to eat more and make less healthy choices, leading to consumption of more energy, carbohydrates and fats than we need. And some of us can be mean, annoying or just generally behave like nobs. I'll be writing a lot more about this in the coming months, but for now start getting mindful about how often you drink and how much! And if you think you might need to cut back, you probably do!

7. Choose less-processed options at the store and supermarket

I wrote about this HERE. When I make food choices, my mantra is JERF: Just Eat Real Food! Think: whole pieces of fruit instead of juice; a handful of nuts instead of a pastry; brown rice instead of white rice. These options will provide you with greater amounts of vitamins, minerals and fibre - and less calories.

8. Get familiar with the concept of "overnutrition", and make sure you stay out of it!

Overnutrition may be a term you haven't heard yet, but it's everywhere in the peer reviewed scientific literature. This is because many of the chronic illnesses in our society are diseases of overnutrition. Scientists are increasingly unveiling the biochemical and metabolic processed that happen in our bodies when we regularly consume more food than our body needs to fuel it. It places strain on our bodies as it fights to process more food than it can deal with, leading to hyperglycaemia, dyslipidaemia and inflammation which over time can manifest as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. So one of the best things you can do is to make sure that your meals (and snacks!) provide you with just the right amounts of energy and nutrients to fuel you, and not to place your poor body into a state of metabolic stress. You can read more about this HERE!

9. Eat an appropriate amount of protein, but don't go overboard

Our bodies need the amino acids in protein foods for tissue synthesis, for muscles, enzymes and antibodies. But we can only utilise 20-30g of protein at a sitting. Any more than this will be burnt for fuel, and protein is not a particularly clean-burning fuel. Too much can increase ammonia which needs to be eliminated via the kidneys in urine. And while everyone knows that carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which stimulates insulin release, what a lot of people don't realise that protein intake stimulates insulin release too. Seriously, there is such a thing as an Insulenemic Index, check it out. So it is definitely worthwhile making a little effort to get the right amount of protein your body can use, but not going overboard. Want more info about this? Check out this post!

10. Get carb smart!

We need to get a lot smarter about carbs! We need to get rid of our fear of carbs and get smart about choosing the right types of carbs and eating them in the right amounts to support health. I wrote all about this HERE and I highly recommend you check it out!

11. Choose healthy fats!

I have a draft blog post in the works on this topic, but uni assignments have gotten in the way... I'll be posting it in the coming weeks, but for now think about keeping a mindful eye on your saturated fat and omega 6 fatty acid intake, whilst making a concerted effort to increase your intake of foods that are rich in omega 3 fatty acids. Think chia seeds, flax seeds, sardines and other oily fish, and even purslane has omega 3's!* Make an effort to get your omega 3's from the food you eat rather than supplements. A number of studies around the world have found that fish oils supplements in particular often do not contain the amount of omega 3 fatty acids claimed on the bottle, and many were also rancid, which makes sense as omega 3 fatty acids degrade easily. 

12. Add in the Good Stuff to Crowd Out the Not-So-Good Stuff!

Deprivation ain’t fun! As soon as we tell ourselves we can’t have something, what happens? Yup, we feel deprived and start to obsess.... White knuckling your way through your day while you are hungry is just torture, and it’s completely unnecessary. I have a much better way… Rather than focussing on what we need to cut out of our diet, I much prefer to "crowd out" the less healthy stuff by adding in lots of delicious, nutritious food! Read all about it HERE!

So that's my list! Do you have any small simple steps to add? 

* Don't know what purslane is? You probably have it growing as a "weed" in your garden or in the cracks in the pavement outside your home. I'll be writing more about it soon, so stay tuned!