“Can I get that with no cheese, no bread, and substitute the dressing with olive oil?”
“Wow, you sure know how to suck the life out of a salad.”
“Oh, I’m on this new Paleo diet. It’s basically eating like a caveman.”
“Didn’t most cavemen die before the age of 40?”
“I don’t know, but my friend just started and he lost 20 lbs. in like two weeks so I think it works.”
How often do you find yourself a victim of mindless banter like this when waiting in line at your favorite restaurant? Does it ever grab your attention? Do you find yourself reaching for your phone to Google the “fill-in-the-blank” diet craze that everyone seems to be talking about? Don’t worry. You’re not alone. This scenario has replayed itself throughout history for decades and has only been exacerbated by the constant availability of data (often flawed) at our fingertips, compliments of the information age.
From Atkins, to Paleo, to South Beach, to Vegetarian, to Zone, the amount of dietary theories that have been force fed to us over the past 40+ years is enough to make you lose your appetite. As if managing your own nutritional decisions isn’t enough, then there are your children. First the USDA gave us the Food Pyramid and that has since evolved to MyPlate, part of a larger communications initiative based on 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans to help consumers make better food choices. Despite progress, you can’t help but wonder after the pizza sauce debacle when Congress declared that the tomato paste used on pizza for school lunches qualified as a serving of vegetables. This is not exactly instilling sound nutritional decision-making criteria for the leaders of tomorrow. To make matters worse, almost every one of these theories has at least one notable, “celebrity” champion conveniently invading your favorite TV shows, blogs, news publications, social media feeds, and of course the dialogue of bystanders at your favorite restaurants.
With so much information and – more often than not – misinformation, how can anyone be expected to juggle the decision about what to eat on top of the more pressing issues that claim the lion’s share of our precious mental capacity? Luckily, there are some very simple changes that you can incorporate into your daily life without having to commit to a torturous 30 days of deprivation that throws you into fits of rage over cravings for cookies and ice cream. But before considering any kind of changes, it’s important to evaluate your current condition to help direct your decisions. Think of it as declaring a “state of the union” on your health. As a framework, ask yourself these simple questions:
Are you making conscious decisions about what you use to fuel your body? Do you think about the ingredients going into the meals you eat? There is truth to the phrase “you are what you eat” and too often we miss this point by focusing on the quantity of calories vs. the quality. How do you feel at different times after your meals? Immediately following? Two hours after? Are you sluggish and experiencing a “crash” or are you energetic and focused on the task at hand? Keeping with the theme of making conscious decisions, being mindful of your reaction to different foods is a foolproof way to confirm if it’s time for a change.
Finally, what is going to motivate you to incorporate change into your routine? Having an end goal in mind is a vital step to making positive change. Maybe you’re looking to lose ten pounds or maybe you just simply want to look sexier in your bathing suit for that upcoming Spring Break trip. Either way, defining a motive will help to ensure you stick to your changes.
Now that you’ve had an honest conversation with yourself about making changes, let’s get to the fun part. As someone that has studied numerous dietary theories, there are certain commonalities that often apply regardless of the “diet of the week train” that everyone can’t seem to board fast enough. You might be the type of person that is on a budget and in a hurry and defaults to the Wendy’s next to the office for a quick lunch. On the other hand, you might be preparing a fresh sandwich in the morning to bring to work or packing leftovers into a glass container. Whatever your current means of fueling your body, here are some quick fixes that anyone can incorporate without taking drastic leaps outside of their comfort zone:
- Eat more vegetables (your Mom was right). What does “more” mean? Everyone’s situation is different. If you had to look up “vegetable” when you read this, start by picking one meal throughout the day and adding vegetables to that meal. If you’re reaching for a bag of potato chips or crackers for your midday snack, swap them out with carrots or celery sticks paired with your favorite nut or seed butter. If you’re eating vegetables at most of your meals, try to increase your servings by 1-3 per day. To get the right amount of key nutrients in their purest form, vegetables should account for at least one third or more of each meal. Regardless of where you are starting, eat the vegetables first before you move on to the rest of your meal. This guarantees you’ll get the important nutrients your body needs before moving on to less nutrient dense foods.
- Seek out your local grocery store. The supermarket down the street isn’t just for your bi-weekly trips to stock the refrigerator and pantry. More often than not, supermarkets offer to go options that are made fresh daily or use higher quality ingredients. When given the option, walk the extra block past your favorite chain and head to the deli section or salad bar of your local grocery store. Chances are, the quality and nutritional content of the selection will be far greater than what you would find at your favorite fast-food chain (especially if you’re choosing locally sourced and/or organic foods). There is a direct correlation between the distance your food travels from its original source and the nutritional integrity it maintains by the time it reaches your plate. As the distance from source to plate increases, the nutritional value diminishes accordingly.
- Drink more water. The amount of articles being published recently about the benefits of water is dumbfounding. Nothing about this advice is revolutionary. Simply consider the fact that your body is 75% water and this should explain why this simple step is important. Still not satisfied? Additional benefits include healthier, younger looking skin, improved digestion and nutrient absorption, increased energy, and improved brain function. Not to mention, if you’re drinking the recommended 8-10, eight ounce servings per day, you’ll find it far easier to avoid sugar laden fruit juice, soda, or energy drinks.
Hopefully in reviewing these tips, you noticed something different than the guidelines that generally accompany traditional dietary recommendations. No cutting out junk food? No restriction on sweets? No deprivation from bread and pasta? While these common themes often serve a beneficial purpose, you can begin applying the above changes tomorrow without much planning or derailing your current routine. You’ll also notice that this isn’t a six-minute, one-hour, week long, or month-long Band-Aid to lose weight and feel great. These are sustainable changes that don’t expire. Do them everyday and you’ll begin to feel the benefits in no time.