I’m a firm believer that baby steps = big results. Check out these 5 baby steps that can start you on your way to achieving improved overall health!
Each of these steps is geared towards helping you learn your food in order to achieve “balanced” eating. By “balanced” I likely mean something different than what you’re thinking – when I say “balanced” I mean a healthy mix of protein/carbs/fat that you find enjoyable and sustainable for the long haul. In the real world this involves a “balance” of real foods or whole foods and prepackaged convenience foods/dining out.
Here we go!
STEP 1: SLOW DOWN
The first step to adopting healthier habits around food involves making the choice to change. Pay attention to what you’re eating. Eat slowly and actually taste your food. Plan time to read nutrition labels and start to “learn your food” so you can make more informed choices and achieve a more balanced diet.
STEP 2: READ NUTRITION LABELS AND PAY ATTENTION TO SERVING SIZE AND RATIO OF PROTEIN, CARBOHYDRATES, AND FAT.
Part of "learning your food" means reading and understanding what you're looking for in your food. Here's what you should pay attention to, generally speaking, on nutrition labels.
(Note: Apps like “MyFitnessPal” make obtaining and reviewing nutrition information very convenient! I highly suggest setting up an account and logging your food to see how your current diet measures up! While I do love MFP, please ignore the calorie count recommendations it gives as the app nearly always sets caloric intake very low. Instead, wait for Step 5.)
Sometimes serving size is completely misleading so make sure you understand the portion size for the nutrition information provided. Sometimes a serving size is less than what you'd think (and rarely, sometimes more!). So check your portion size so you learn appropriate portion sizes.
As you read this it will likely sound really complicated, but rest assured, it’s rather simple. If you find yourself overwhelmed, just think 3:2:1 (Carbs:Protein:Fat). If you’d like a bit more detail with respect to foods in specific macronutrient (protein/carb/fat) groups, keep reading! If not, skip to Step 3.
Protein. Protein sources should have 2.5 to 3 times higher protein than fat. So if a food has 20 grams of protein and 15 grams of fat, it's not a great choice. Ideally something with 20 grams of protein would have less than 8 grams of fat (20/2.5=8).
Carbohydrates. Carb sources should have at least 2.5 times the amount of carbs than the fat content. When looking at chips, you'd look to see if the fat count was less than half the carb content. As long as a carb source with 20 grams of carbs has less than 8 grams of fat, it's a decent option (20/2.5=8).
Fat. Fat sources are different because you're typically trying to minimize fat in your protein and carb sources and make up any left over ground with mainly just fat. Good sources of fats are oils (olive/coconut), butter, avocados, nut butters, whole fat cheeses, and egg yolks. A quick note on saturated fat: Keep it low. If an item packs most of its fat punch with saturated fat, I'd leave it on the shelf.
Fiber content. Fiber is really important to overall health and maintaining a healthy weight! If an item meets the ratio guidelines and has fiber, it's typically a great choice!
STEP 3: EAT LEAN PROTEIN WITH EVERY MEAL.
One of the easiest changes you can make is to choose leaner cuts of beef for use at home. The majority of my clients come to me eating 80/20 beef. Eating meat that is 20% fat loads your meal with excess fat while offering only a slight amount of protein. By switching your beef to 90/10 or leaner, you save an enormous amount of fat and add in additional protein! I typically buy 96/4 or 97/3 beef, which is available at most supermarkets. While buying leaner meat can be a bit of a hit to the wallet, shopping sales and buying in bulk makes buying lean meats more affordable. Check out Zaycon Fresh, a farm-straight-to-you company that offers bulk lean meats at very discounted prices.
Chicken breasts, lean pork tenderloin and chops, fish, lean steaks and roasts are all great sources of lean animal protein.
Many foods that aren't animal protein can still pack a protein punch! Some of my favorites are low-carb tortilla wraps (they can have 8+ grams of protein!), non-fat greek yogurt, low-fat string cheese, low-fat cottage cheese, whole grain breads, english muffins, green beans, edamame, and even Halo Top Ice Cream, to name a few.
STEP 4: EAT VEGETABLES AND/OR FRUITS WITH EVERY MEAL.
Eating veggies and/or fruits with each meal allows your body to obtain essential micronutrients (essential for health). This will also help to achieve a balance between eating “whole foods” (minimally processed foods) and packaged convenience foods that likely make up a large chunk of your current way of eating. Your veggies and fruits can certainly be frozen but I would stay away from the canned variety. Frozen veggies and fruits are picked at peak ripeness and flash frozen, so they are often better quality than fresh ingredients we find at the supermarket. Whether you opt for fresh or frozen, just add them to your plate!
STEP 5: LEARN HOW MUCH YOU SHOULD LIKELY BE EATING.
Setting specific goals around protein, carbohydrate and fat intake is a very individualized process. But there are some very generic baseline calculators available online for setting caloric intake and backing in to goals for protein/carbohydrate/fat intake, like https://www.active.com/fitness/calculators/calories. These types of calculators are a good place to start if you’re looking to switch things up a bit on your own.
I use mathematical equations and activity multipliers to set initial goals for my clients. I also look at how they are currently eating so their initial goals are realistic, and they aren’t set up to fail. If you’re currently eating 2,300 calories a day and you change your goal to where you’re technically supposed to be at 1,800 calories a day, you’ll likely really struggle and get quite frustrated. You may even quit. This is why I believe baby steps = big results. Taking small steps towards your goal helps to ensure that you reach your goal without experiencing unnecessary discouragement. Plus, you’ll be “learning your food” along the way and establishing healthy habits around eating that will make maintaining your results and the need for future “diets” unnecessary! So, if you find that after experimenting on your own you’d like some additional support and coaching, I’d love to help!
It sounds corny, but these five steps can seriously change your life! Eating in a good balance of nutrients and “healthy” foods and foods you love is the secret to lasting results! If you’d like some help, email me to get started!