It’s a stereotype to make healthy eating a resolution every New Years Day. Hey, I say there’s no shame in that. But wouldn’t it be great to not always fall off the wagon by February? You know how it goes: we get caught up in the hustle of daily life, our priorities become clear and we forget our yearlong goals. Personal, environmental and social determinants convince us that convenience, price and social uniformity are more important than consistency, longevity and prevention. We become overwhelmed by the big picture and opt to satisfy short-term wants. But eating healthy doesn’t have to be a monster of a task. If you’re looking to instill a lifestyle change, the key is to make small progress. As Robert Collier once said, “Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out.” Perspective is everything and with the proper mental tools, you can actually achieve any resolution you set your mind to. To help get you started, here are six quick, easy tips to improve your nutrition little by little this year.
1. Learn the restaurant lingo
When I first started my health journey, one of my biggest stresses stemmed from restaurant outings. I panicked over not having control over my food. What if I accidentally overindulged? While there is only so much we can do when we choose to eat out, there are a few easy, universal requests you can make to your server. First, I always ask for the sauce or dressing on the side. This allows me to dip my fork before every bite. Doing so not only lowers my calorie intake, it creates a perfect dressing to food ratio. Second, I always lean toward food that is steamed, baked or broiled. Sautéed or fried foods tend to be high in calories, salt and unhealthy fats.
And finally, before I even walk in the door, I firmly decide I’m taking a portion of my meal home. Most restaurants have no sense of portion sizes, so by no means should you ever feel obligated to clean your plate. By establishing my mindset long before I eat, I reduce temptation to inhale everything in sight. Some restaurants can even box half the portion ahead of time, before it touches the table! It never hurts to ask!
2. Meal prep weekly
Meal prep saved my life. Or at least my sanity. Put on an apron and try your hand at the subtle art of bulk cooking. Set a goal that every Sunday night (or whenever best) you make a big meal to be portioned throughout the rest of the week. When first starting out, you don’t have to prep for every meal. Try just your lunch or all snacks. Pick easily storable foods like rice, quinoa, salad, soup or veggies. When the going gets rough and you need fuel fast, meal prep makes health conscious eating more convenient. There’s nothing better than coming out of a hangry spell to a pre-cooked, healthy home meal.
3. Pay attention to portions
As I said before, restaurants usually have no sense of portions. But oftentimes, neither do we. The amount of food measured on a food label for one serving versus the amount of food you actually put on your plate is hardly ever the same. Simply being mindful of portion size can go a long way. I suggest buying a kitchen scale and weighing food to meet the amount specified on its label. If you can, buy foods that are already packaged in their designated portion sizes. For example, I love Skinny Pop popcorn so much that I often end up eating some on the side while I weigh out my portion. Now I know better to buy my pop in pre-portioned mini bags. If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, the app MyFitnessPal is perfect for keeping track of your portions. Plus, even with the free version, you’ll be able to see the exact breakdown of all your macro and micronutrients for the day.
4. Listen to your body
Of course, keeping track of all daily nutrients can be daunting, not to mention tedious. I recommend starting tracking once you’ve created a strong foundation in your journey. In these early stages, all you need to do is listen to your body. Foster a strong mental/physical connection. It’d be great if we all had stomachs of steel, however, most of us don’t. In fact, thousands of food allergies and intolerances go undiagnosed. Not to mention every gut microbiome, the community of bacteria that runs our guts, is unique in every individual based off of genetics, environment and early life exposures. Whenever you feel terrible, sleepy, bloated, light or energized after a meal, make note of it in your phone or journal. Keep tallies on your go-to meals to see which ones are doing your body good. Acting like road signs, these chunks of self-discovered information will help you create a better personal diet.
5. Shop the perimeter
Next time you hit the grocery store, use this mental cue. Shop the outside aisles first. These areas will house your fruits, veggies and other whole foods. Only after you’ve shopped the perimeter may you enter the inner aisles, home to all your boxed, processed items. Of course, it’s fine to shop these spots, however, the majority of your food should be coming from the perimeter. This will help keep more nutrient dense foods in your diet: items that are high in nutrients and low in calories.
6. Start with only one of the above tips
When I started my health journey I could barely sit down. I was so excited to do everything I could to change my nutrition, and ultimately, my life. But I made the rookie mistake of spreading myself too thin, too soon. I had so many tiny goals, I’d forget many of them. I would succeed in a few for the week but fail in some others, and that would be a huge deterrent. You can live at the level of a full lifestyle remodel, but remember that neither Oprah nor Rome were built in a day. Channel all your excitement into one goal, one tip. Keep at it until it becomes second nature to you, a habit. Then move onto the next small effort.
On a final note: there are going to be days you slip up or situations when you’re cornered. It’s counterproductive to expect perfection, for nothing in life is truly perfect. I used to think success was a linear progression when it’s really a series of backtracks, swirls and unexpected detours. And yet, regardless of the rollercoaster ride, successful people continue to push forward in their small daily efforts. They immediately dust off the dirt and continue jabbing in the ring. By this time next year I want you picking a new resolution because you rocked the hell out of this one. Keep your efforts small and digestible, but above all, keep them consistent.