Are you trying to eat healthier but not sure where to start? Having a flexible work schedule can often give you more freedom to develop a healthy lifestyle, but there’s a lot of nutrition information out there to filter through. We’ve tried to simplify it for you by creating this 10-step plan for incorporating healthier choices throughout your day.
Whether you’re at the beginning of your health journey or in the middle, these are practical tips that can help you achieve a more nutritious, fulfilling diet and lifestyle. Focus on one of these steps to get started, then add in the others each week as you become a healthier version of you.
1. Shop the whole foods section
Eating healthier starts with shopping healthier. When you’re making your grocery list, try to incorporate a variety of unprocessed, whole foods—think foods you can grow such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains—which are critical to a healthy way of eating. At the store, always check the ingredient list on the nutrition label of anything you buy: a shorter list of ingredients generally means the product went through less processing and refinement before ending up on the shelf.
It’s important to be aware of what you’re putting in your body, and that starts by making the right choices. By choosing unprocessed foods, you’re exercising greater control over your consumption and health.
2. Explore a rainbow of food options
There’s a reason whole foods grow naturally in a rainbow of colors—these colors often indicate which specific nutrients are present in that food. We all need nutrients in each of these color categories. For example, red fruits and vegetables help us fight cancer, reduce the risk of heart disease, and more; green foods typically boost immunity; and orange foods help eyesight. Stock your fridge with fruits and vegetables that run the range of colors, from reds, to purples, to whites, to browns.
3. Make your meals exciting
You’re more likely to stick to a healthy eating plan if you look forward to what you’re eating. If steamed vegetables for dinner doesn’t sound enticing, for example, research how you can incorporate those vegetables into a new dish you haven’t tried before. The internet is full of healthy, fun recipes that will make eating a more engaging experience. A few quick searches will give you a list of easy yet creative recipes that can boost your meals and keep you on a healthy path.
4. Plan and prep as much as you can
The idea of meal prepping can seem overwhelming and time-consuming at first, especially during a busy work week. But meal prepping doesn’t have to mean planning out every little thing you eat that week. If you’d like to start small, consider planning what you’ll eat for the next two days, or start with only planning out your lunches for the week. There are meal prepping templates online where you can document your decisions—that way you’re more likely to remember and follow through with them.
If you have time on a weekend or evening, cook your meals ahead of time. Even something as simple as doubling your dinner recipe so you’ll have leftovers tomorrow counts as meal prepping.
Finally, if you’re going out to eat, take a look at the restaurant’s menu beforehand and select a healthy choice to order. Try to stick to that choice when you get to the restaurant.
5. Snack for success
Snacks can make or break a healthy eating plan. Especially during a busy work day, it’s normal and healthy to want to grab a quick snack to feed your appetite—just make sure what you’re grabbing is a healthy choice. In your own pantry, consider clearing out overly-processed snack foods. Replace these with high-protein snacks that will keep your energy boosted throughout the day.
A good guideline when shopping for snacks in a store is to look for crunchy foods: think nuts, carrots, and granola bars, rather than chips. You can also meal prep your own snacks, especially if you’d like to get creative.
Try to fill your pantry with snacks that vary in calorie level (for example, 50-calorie, 100, 150, and 200 calorie snacks) so you’ll always have something on hand depending on your hunger level.
6. Have a set of quick go-to meals
As you explore new healthy recipes, save the ones you love in one place. And more importantly, save any delicious meals that were quick and easy to make. On days when you’re pressed for time, you can refer to your list and make one of those options quickly rather than resorting to ordering out, which could result in a higher calorie intake.
Aim for having at least five meals on your go-to list, with each meal only taking about 30 minutes to make. A great way to find ideas is to search online for recipes with five or fewer key ingredients.
7. Track your water intake
A healthy lifestyle isn’t just about the food you eat. Drinking enough water each day is also critical to maintaining your health. To ensure you’re meeting at least the minimum requirement, search online for the recommended ounces of water you should be drinking based on your height, weight, and exercise level. Aim to reach that goal every single day.
Consider making a tally for each glass of water you drink—once you reach your minimum glasses needed for that day, celebrate! Small victories are important for creating a healthy habits. You can also download one of a number of apps that will help you track your water intake, and send you reminders to keep going throughout the day.
8. Reward yourself in moderation
Have you ever heard someone say “everything in moderation”? In this case, the cliché is true. Let yourself have a sweet treat or a simple carb snack on occasion, especially if you’re craving one. It’s important to reward yourself with these types of foods every once in a while so you don’t feel too restricted in your diet—just remember not to overdo it.
9. Don’t forget drinks
We often forget that drinks such as soda, juice, smoothies, and alcohol, can make up a significant part of our diet and in fact, can quickly add up when it comes to calories. Some smoothies, for example, can be over 1,000 calories. Remember to factor in what you’re drinking into your healthy lifestyle and try to choose beverages with no added sugar and low calories.
10. Listen to your body
Your body is constantly sending you signals throughout the day in regards to your hunger and appetite—listen to these signals. For example, if you’re typically not hungry in the morning, it’s perfectly healthy to eat a small breakfast and then a larger meal at lunch. Or another example: are you craving chocolate? It likely means your body needs to fill up on healthy fats, like avocados and nuts.
Your body is your greatest tool in managing a healthy lifestyle—be sure to listen to it and reward it.
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