Last week I shared my very strong opinion on diets. That does not mean you cannot make lifestyle and behavior changes that lead to better health outcomes. Some of these changes might even result in weight loss (or gain, if that’s what you’re going for). What I often tell people who come in for weight loss coaching is this: You can manipulate your body to a point, but eventually your body will fight back. This is why calories kinda matter, kinda don’t. But that might be more opinion than science? Research for another day.
Nutrition has gotten to be much more complicated than it needs to be. Most people I talk to have gotten some form of nutrition education, even if it was the food pyramid in kindergarten. Most presume that fruits and vegetables are at least “healthy”. But then social media provides a platform for articles titled “5 Foods Nutritionist Will Never Eat” that sets the stage for confusion and fear (side note: I usually eat everything on those lists). So my first rule of thumb? Look at the big picture. A hot dog at a cook out is not going to give you cancer. That ice cream cone will not give you diabetes. Part of being a healthy and competent eater is making do and doing the best you can. So below I share 3 tips that can actually improve your diet (and, hopefully, your health) and be implemented relatively easily.
1. Eat at least 3 meals. And don’t save your calories up for a large evening meal. When you eat appropriately throughout the day, you will naturally eat less at your evening meal. This is the most challenging principle for most of the people I have worked with. I’ve heard every excuse for not eating breakfast, lunch, or dinner. But find a dietitian, therapist, or a supportive friend to help you. Start small with a piece of fruit or a granola bar, I don’t care. Just do it.
2. Include at least 3 food groups per meal. This is a big-picture guideline. There will certainly be meals where this does not happen. But including multiple food groups ensures your meal will be satisfying, nutrient-dense, and balanced. The food groups I am referring to include starches (whole grains, potatoes, corn, etc.), fruits, vegetables, protein, and fats/oils.
- Peanut butter toast and a banana
- Egg burrito with peppers and onions
- Whole grain cereal with milk and fruit
- Salad with chickpeas, craisins, and walnuts
- Fish tacos on corn tortillas with onions and cabbage
- Turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread with baby carrots
- Spaghetti and meatballs with a side salad
- Grilled salmon with roasted potatoes and broccoli
- Pizza and wings (it counts – just add some peppers and onions to that pizza)
3. Eat more vegetables. You probably saw this one coming. I am sure it is possible, but I have yet to have anyone eat too many vegetables. You do not need to eat steamed or raw vegetables all day, every day. Play with different prep methods and look for new recipes. A little honey, maple syrup, and balsamic vinegar can go a long way (I know, I know; sugar and fat! But remember: big picture). I LOVE this recipe for roasted Brussels sprouts.
I hope the examples above show how implementing these tips can be simple. I totally see the benefit of preparing everything on Sunday to eat for the week, and this works for some people. But I also see the benefit of scrambled eggs for dinner if it means I have time for a barbecue and a beer with friends on Sunday. Priorities change and life happens; what works for one will not work for another. Play around with these tips and see what you come up with! Practice makes good enough.