How many diets have you ever started, lost 10, 15, 20 pounds or even met your goal, only to return to old eating habits and then gained it all back? Or perhaps your goal wasn’t weight loss but to begin eating healthier, so you completely cut out everything unhealthy in your diet and after a few days or a couple of weeks you gave in to the cravings and the health kick was out the window. So what happened, why is long-term success so difficult for most people?
The point is, anybody can start a diet. But, as most of you probably know from personal experience, diets don’t work if your goal is a healthier you for the rest of your life, not just the next couple of months. To reach that goal, you have to change the way you think about eating and nutrition. For instance, our society tells us that it is strictly a physical issue that can simply be handled by reducing your calorie intake and exercising more. That may take care of the physical issues (weight gain, high cholesterol, diabetes, etc.), but it doesn’t address the problems we have with the temptation to overeat or eat unhealthily.
I believe that the issue is a spiritual one that has physical manifestations. If you’re going to have long-term success for a healthy lifestyle, you need to build a spiritual foundation that will help you stay on that track. You need to understand that as you learn to eat right and exercise regularly, there are spiritual challenges that will directly affect your attitudes and patterns. Once you understand the spiritual issues, it is then that you can change the behaviors. Therefore, I encourage you to read the weekly Reflections blog first before reading any of the other articles.
Before I start on some simple ways to begin eating healthily, I’d like to address those of you out there (who I’m willing to bet are in the minority!) who don’t think you need to worry about a “diet” because you’re at a good weight for your age/height/body type. I’m spending a few sentences on this because lately I’ve heard from several people, “Oh, I don’t need to worry about eating right, I don’t need to lose weight.” My rebuttal to that is – and you’ll probably hear this again in the future – just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
What in the world do I mean by that? I mean, and I say this with love, is that just because you don’t need to lose weight is no excuse to load up on all the sweets, cholesterol-loaded and salty, processed food you want. That is abusing the body God lovingly made and gave you just as much as overeating, and increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.
Now, this message is for everybody. I’m not saying that you can never again have another piece of fried chicken or mama’s specialty quadruple-layer chocolate cake. Eating healthy is about moderation and balance. You can have those things, just not daily or weekly and don’t eat until you explode when you do splurge. Choose to have those things only occasionally and not in giant-sized portions.
Okay, let’s get started on eating healthy! Please don’t groan and grumble at me (okay, I’ll allow you one grumble but that’s it!). The key to eating healthy is the same as with exercise – don’t jump off into the deep end before you learn to swim. Make simple, small changes at first and gradually build from there. If you make huge changes and try to learn everything in the first week, you’ll likely be overwhelmed, discouraged and return to old eating patterns. Your goal is to establish good eating habits that become a lifetime pattern. Here are a few tips I recommend as a good beginning. Remember, you don’t have to do all of these at one time, choose one or two for the first week and build from there.
- Clean house. One of the first steps is to go through your refrigerator, cabinets and pantry and get rid of the really unhealthy stuff you know you shouldn’t be eating. Don’t wait until it’s all gone and not buy anymore, it’s too tempting to gorge on it just to get it out of the way. If there’s something that’s really tempting to you, toss it. I hate to waste food and this step was pretty painful for me, but it’s necessary. Get it gone!
- Ask your family and friends for support. If your spouse/children are not going to join you on your journey, ask them to support you by not bringing things that are very tempting to you in the house. You can illustrate to them the Godly pattern of taking care of your body and hopefully encourage them to do the same by your example.
- Eat fruits or vegetables at every meal. Most adults need about two cups of fruit and three cups of vegetables daily. A word of caution on fruits – while healthy there are some that are loaded with sugar.
- Speaking of sugar – count your daily sugar intake. Oh, boy, did I learn about this the hard way. Seven months into my lifestyle change I had my yearly physical. I was down 48 pounds, exercising daily, and just knew I’d get a perfect score on the physical and the blood work. Then I got the call – my A1C (three-month average of your blood sugar) was up, 5.8, and considered pre-diabetic. Talk about shock! I did the research and learned that if you’re eating healthy your fats are going to fall in line but you can still get too much sugar in a day. The average, healthy, active person should have between 40 – 45 grams of sugar per day. My one cup of orange juice every morning (which I adore and was being so careful to measure out one cup) contained 22 grams of sugar, and my one cup of milk (low-fat) had 12 grams. I was getting almost all of my sugar for the day before I even walked out the door! Since diabetes runs in my family, I am now keeping my sugar intake to around 30 grams per day. Some simple changes, fresh fruits low in sugar (berries such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, ), mixing my own fruit yogurt instead of pre-prepared (much cheaper to mix your own!) and unsweetened almond milk vs. regular low fat milk made a huge difference for me. Therefore, be aware of how much sugar you get in a day and try to keep it under 40 grams.
- Pack your lunch instead of eating out every day, and include your snacks. This makes it easier to eat healthfully during the day and is easier on your wallet.
- Measure your food servings. The first few weeks the measuring cups and spoons should be your new best friends. If you dole out what you think is a serving and then measure, I’d be willing to bet your guess is overestimated – mine sure was! It won’t take long before you can eyeball a serving, whether it’s one cup or a ¼ cup. One thing I find helpful is to measure out the meals and snacks I take to work and package accordingly. For instance, I know that almonds are a nutritious snack and ¼ cup is a serving. Instead of taking a bag and just dipping in when it’s snack time, I measure out several ¼ cup portions and put in snack bags. It’s too easy to get more than a serving if you grab handfuls at the time.
- Don’t use food as a reward. If you lose five pounds or meet your goal of exercising five times that week, don’t splurge on a cheeseburger and fries. Reaching a mini-goal definitely does deserve a pat on the back, but spend that little bit of money on something other than food, such as a music cd, an outdoor accessory, anything small that you’ve been wanting.
- Keep a food journal. One of the easiest ways to keep track of the day’s nutrition is to write it down. If your schedule is like mine, sometimes by the time supper time rolls around it’s difficult to remember what I’ve eaten during the day and can easily overdo it. It also makes you aware of where you may be getting too much or too little of any of the food categories.
Keep in mind that these are just a few tips. You don’t have to stress over doing them all, the point is to start simply and make small changes, just a little at the time. As you go along it will get easier and easier, but as with anything the first step is the hardest. Remember, God is the source of your strength, rely on Him for all your needs, including the power to honor Him through healthy eating!