Some of you may already be living a healthier lifestyle as things get back to normal amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Or you’re a star who stayed healthy the whole time. Or some of you might be like me, who, during recovery and quarantine, didn’t have the best eating or workout habits, thus developing anxiety about all the bad food we can’t stop eating. And we want to remedy that situation.
Immediately after surgery, I didn’t eat much for two days, so as my appetite came back and my body could handle food, I was eating whatever I could to get my strength back, and I used that excuse for weeks. I was eating all the carbs, dairy, sugar and sweets, so it’s time to limit those back down again. Now that I’m back at my apartment in better shape from surgery, I’m trying to get back to a healthier lifestyle. Looking for ways to get started on healthier eating habits? Keep reading to see if what I’ve learned might be helpful for you. (And see what new FREE infographics I’ve made for you!)
Disclaimer: This is a rather lengthy post, so get comfortable as I share my experiences with you. Also, I am not claiming to be a health expert. My blog posts are sharing what has worked for me in an attempt to provide ideas to others if they’re helpful.
1. Know your body’s chemistry. Yes, we learn in school about how various food groups have certain universal effects on the body, but we’re all unique and our bodies have different chemistries. Some of us have faster metabolisms than others, some of us have food allergies, some of us have different reactions to foods, so it’s important to know your own body. What makes it tick? What makes it sick?
For example, my main stay-aways are dairy and carbs.
Dairy. Somehow I’ve developed my father’s lactose intolerance, so eating dairy in my adult life has been a challenge, even though I absolutely love cheese. What I’ve done is be more aware when dairy is present in recipes or dishes I order at restaurants. Depending on the timing of its consumption, I will include it in my meal and deal with the repercussions later. If you choose to eat what you can’t have, you just have to come to terms with it and know how to handle it after.
Carbs. These are my favorite things to eat – bread, rice, pasta. Since about 2015, I’ve managed to train my body to live without rice and pasta – still working on the bread. But even though I love eating carbs, I limit my intake, because carbs keep me hungry and don’t make me feel full, thus I eat more and risk falling into overeating. Then the rest is history with feeling a hefty food coma with massive bloating and hating myself after my meal.
That all said, let’s talk about eating in moderation.
2. Everything in moderation. We’ve all heard this before, but it’s more of a challenge than we think, especially if you’re a big foodie and love food.
Let’s revisit the carbs conversation real quick. A limited intake for me means I still eat carbs, because carbohydrates still naturally exist in some foods, but I try to cut out heavy consumption of breads, the pastas and the rice – things I can eat a hella abundance of in one sitting. Instead, I intentionally eat one slice of bread a day at breakfast so it has all day to digest and break down. Carbs are still important, because they supply energy for your body and are good for cardio workouts – you might have noticed runners carb up on pasta the night before a big run.
That’s one way to moderate your eating habits. It all comes down to portion control, which admittedly requires much discipline and practice. A challenge for me is eating only until I’m “satisfied” – not full. While I’m eating, I tend to think I could eat more ‘cause I don’t feel full yet, but in that moment, I’m not realizing my food is trying to settle into my stomach. This is why we’re advised to eat slowly so we can not only enjoy the meal, but let our stomachs catch up to our appetites and feel fuller “faster.”
Another good habit is not eating past a certain time – for me, 8:00pm if I can help it. At night, before sleeping, our bodies slow down their processes, so if you have a habit of late dinners or late night snacking, your food isn’t being fully digested and will store as fat.
All of this is not to say cut out what you love completely. You should still treat yourself to the things you enjoy eating. Personally, I give myself three treats a week, but it’s not a requirement to hit that three. Don’t think of it as “cheating,” because what I’m discussing is not a diet, per se, it’s a lifestyle. If you’re doing so well to adopt new habits, you should definitely treat yourself – but don’t go overboard!
3. Meal planning. Another method I use for portion control is planning meals. Admittedly, this can be a daunting task at first, but once you’ve gotten into the habit, it can actually be fun – it’s putting a puzzle together for meals and snacks slots each week.
Bodily intake. What’s great about meal planning is you are in control of what you’re putting into your body, and you can make sure you’re adding all the vital food groups to your plate – the time-old philosophy is the more color that is on your plate, the healthier you’re eating.
Some people count calories and have a calculator, but I don’t do that. It can get even more tedious and borderline obsessive to hit certain numbers, so instead, I make a conscious effort to monitor my portions and eat what I’m comfortable eating. If counting calories works for you, more power to you!
Cutting costs. Additionally, not only are you in control of your food intake, but you are also potentially cutting costs. When I introduced meal planning to my family after moving back to Texas from Los Angeles, their grocery expenditures were cut IN HALF. Instead of running to the grocery store on a whim and adding things to your cart blindly, finding recipes for the week provides you a finite list of items you need, and you can avoid going to the store hungry. If you want to go one step further in planning, selecting recipes that use repeat ingredients can also help in reducing costs, because it’s two birds with one stone – instead of buying ingredients for 5-7 unique dishes, it can maybe be reduced to 3-4 dishes.
The method to my madness. Here is how I tackle my weekly meal planning. Another disclaimer here that this is how it works for me and my body, but if there are things I share that spark new ideas for you to try, then goal achieved!
Overall, I’ve adopted the school of thought to “eat all day,” meaning eating six small meals a day, which helps keep my body constantly energized and working to burn off everything I eat instead of simply sitting. Every Saturday, I pick recipes to cook for the week, make my grocery list and then take it with me to the store on Sunday.
- Breakfast. This is a must, because it’s the first meal of the day and gets my body’s metabolism jumpstarted.
- AM Snack. I usually eat a fruit here – strawberries or a banana – paired with a tablespoon shot of Apple Cider Vinegar with a dash each of cinnamon and cayenne pepper. ACV has benefits for your body, including boosting your metabolism.
- Lunch. This is the heaviest meal of the day so it can anchor me the rest of the day. If I am eating carbs, this is where I place it to eat – that way I can work it off later in an evening workout.
- PM Snack. I usually eat veggies here – predominately carrots with homemade hummus or celery sticks with peanut butter. Celery is a good veggie. It has high water and fiber content, and it makes your body work more to break it down, thus increasing your metabolic rate.
- Dinner. Not heavy at all. It is a meal, but it’s smaller portions than lunch yet bigger than a snack.
Now, I know this might be an overwhelming overview of how I work on meal planning, but if you want formatting guidelines to help ease any overwhelming feelings, I have created FREE downloadable infographics for you:
4. Looking for alternatives. There are alternatives for a plethora of food products, so I’ll keep this section short, because it honestly comes down to your preference, how much research you want to do and how much you want to spend. For example, ghee costs way more than regular butter similarly to how coconut oil is more expensive than olive oil. Now, don’t try and find alternatives for EVERYTHING you eat – just the things you personally you want to change and limit intake on.
Namely for me, I’ve adopted:
- Almond milk (versus regular milk) for smoothies/protein shakes or as added sweetener if I’m not in the mood for plain black coffee
- Ground turkey taco salad with spinach versus ground beef tacos with tortillas
- Spiralized zucchini or baked spaghetti squash versus wheat/grain pasta
5. Stay inspired. This is probably the most important thing to remember ironically. The work you put into being healthy is easier than to stay inspired and motivated to continue doing so. We’ve all heard people starting their new year’s resolutions great for a week or two then sliding right back out of it – I am no exception as I reset my regimen multiple times a year. One thing that’s helpful is following social media profiles of cooks and people who share easy and colorful recipes, so I’m consistently seeing new content, henceforth new ideas, to keep me motivated to try new things.
Recipes don’t have to be limited to traditional cookbooks. Find posts with food that look good to you and you wanna try, but also be careful not to follow too many of your vices either!
At the end of the day, do what works best for you, because everyone leads different lives and schedules to work around. Keep in mind that, yes, a healthier diet can result in weight loss, but it’s not only about that. It’s also about feeling healthy and taking care of our bodies. The sluggish, lazy, weak feeling after eating poorly is the worst feeling and can lead to negative mental health thoughts – at least for me – so I work hard to live a healthy lifestyle in general. There have been times I was shamed for wanting to eat healthy and have a workout regimen, even though I’m fully aware I’m naturally thin, but eating healthier does more than maintain a fit physique – it sets my mental health at ease to know I’m taking care of myself.
If you’ve made it to the end, I graciously applaud you. Thank you so much for reading!
Let me know in the comments if you have any good regimens or habits that help you stay healthy!