Eating healthier can be a daunting task. It's hard to know where to start. Like most things, it's easier to take small steps, one at a time, and shift behaviors until you have a new set of habits insetad of trying to overhaul everything at once, becoming overwhelmed, giving up; lather, rinse, repeat. Below is a list of small steps you can take in order to begin shifting toward a healthier way of eating over time. Try one (an easy-sounding one, even!), get the hang of it, and once it becomes comfortable (a couple of weeks or a month), try another.
- Figure out what portion sizes are and start using them. This page is an excellent resource: it contains pictures of many foods next to common objects for size comparison. Most Americans vastly overestimate the amount of food that they can reasonably eat at a time. Check the food pyramid for guidelines on how many servings of each food group you should be getting on a daily basis, but mostly, start being mindful of how much food you are taking in.
- Slow down. It takes 20 minutes for the stomach to report to your brain that you are full, but most of us eat much faster than this. Try chewing your food thoroughly, savoring the flavors and putting the fork down between bites in order to give your "full" indicator more time to kick in.
- Plan your meals and snacks ahead of time instead of grabbing them on the go. If you're always getting a candy bar from the vending machine at the office mid-afternoon, for example, try bringing some nuts and dried fruit from home to satisfy your hunger instead. If you're too hungry to think about cooking when you get home and always end up grabbing takeout, think about putting something in a crockpot in the morning so it's waiting for you. This will not only save you calories, but usually money as well.
- Shift toward complex carbohydrates. Carbs are not evil, but some are (much!) better for us than others. In fact, it's very important for us to get enough fiber, and can help us to maintain a healthy weight, among other things. Complex carbohydrates are the ones that takes our bodies longer to digest, like the ones in whole wheat, whole grains, oats, brown rice and vegetables. Simple carbohydrates like the refined sugars and white flour in baked goods, white bread, sweets, ice cream and "junk food," are digested quickly, dumped into the blood sugar, used up and leave us feeling hungry again quickly. Eating more complex carbohydrates and fewer simple carbs means we stay fuller longer, take in fewer calories overall, and stay more energetic and healthier.
- Revamp your drinking habits. You may be taking in far more calories in liquid form than you think. Soft drinks are some of the worst culprits at about 100 calories per cup. Even diet soft drinks are being looked at with skeptcism, as studies have shown they may make it difficult for people to lose weight despite being calorie-free. Alcoholic beverages are worse and mixed drinks can be up to 400 calories a pop when they contain sugary juices as well as the booze. Fruit juice, while it sounds healthy, takes most of the fiber out of the fruit and concentrates the sugar content, making it very expensive calorically speaking. A 16 oz. glass usually contains 200+ calories. Better beverages include teas (hot or cold)and coffee (preferably unsweetened, though a packet of sugar adds only 15-20 calories). The best drink of all is plain water.