Updated: Jul 1, 2021
People often feel overwhelmed when it comes to their diet and making healthy choices. It may feel like there are a million things to do better and you have to do them all at once. As a personal trainer and Nutritionist at Pro Push Fitness, clients frequently approach me with these concerns. Where do I get started? What should I focus on? How can I begin clean eating to improve my health? We decided it would be beneficial to outline five easy ways you can improve your eating pattern today. These are five simple steps you can start doing immediately. As you read, decide which steps you can add to your routine now. I recommend picking one or two steps and focusing on them until you have it mastered.
Step #1: Cut sugary drinks out
The very first thing anyone should prioritize is cutting out any sugary drinks. Sugary drinks, refers to any drink with an excessive amount of added sugars or even artificial sweeteners. We recommend referring to the nutritional facts on the package. If the daily percent value (or DV%) is higher than 10-15%, it is considered an excessive amount of sugar and should be avoided. Many people don't realize just how much sugar these types of drinks really do contribute to the average American diet. According to Harvard Medical, sugary drinks are defined as, "soda, pop, cola, tonic, fruit punch, lemonade (and other “ades”), sweetened powdered drinks, as well as sports and energy drinks," and that these beverages, "are the single largest source of calories and added sugar in the U.S. diet." (see citation 1).
Step #2: Eat more vegetables!
Okay, I know you're probably rolling your eyes at how obvious this step is. But the truth is that it is highlighted so much by doctors and health professionals because of how important it is. This is a step that we feel strongly about and cannot emphasize enough. Most people approaching healthy eating only focus on cutting out the bad food, and do not focus enough on including the right food! Vegetables are one of the richest natural sources of vitamins and minerals, which our bodies so desperately need. Additional benefits are: increased fiber which regulates GI health, increased immunity, and increased antioxidants and phytochemicals which can help prevent cancer (see citation 2).
How many vegetables should we eat? The USDA and most dieticians typically recommend a target goals of five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. For variety and maximum health benefits, aim to make your plate as colorful as possible. Diversifying the types of fruits and veggies in your diet will also diversify your vitamin and mineral intake.
TIP: If five daily servings seems overwhelming, start by increasing your veggie intake by one serving a day, and increase as you go. Increase daily or weekly until you are at your daily goal.
Step #3: Cut out fried foods and limit saturated fats
"Fat," is widely misunderstood and sometimes stigmatized. A lot of people think that all types of fats are bad and should be avoided. Essentially, many foods contain healthy fats that the body needs, but other foods contain something called saturated fat which is a bid contributing factor in heart disease and high cholesterol among so many Americans today. As described by WebMD, saturated fats, "raise bad (LDL) cholesterol levels, lower good (HDL) cholesterol levels, and raise your chance of having heart disease." (see citation 3).
Fried foods contain an extreme amount of fat and, ideally, should be excluded from your diet. Additionally, many animal meats (especially red meat), contain an excessive amount of saturated fats and should be limited in our diet unless you have been told differently by your doctor. When buying meat at your local grocer, seek after cuts or packages that are more lean (ideally 90% lean, 10% fat) and try to implement poultry or fish to get your protein needs.
Step #4: Pay attention to calorie intake and expenditure
This is a practice known to nutritionists and dieticians as energy balance. Essentially, it is the practice of balancing how many calories you eat with how many calories you burn throughout the day. This important concept is utilized for many health goals including weight loss, maintaining healthy weight, or gaining weight. If calorie deficits or surpluses are new to you, consider talking to your doctor, personal trainer or Nutritionist. These professionals can help ensure your eating the right amount of calories for your personal goals. In the reference area of this article you'll find more information from Heathline that we found very helpful.
While we recommend working directly with a Nutritionist who gets to know you and your needs, you can start monitoring your food on your own now. One resource we recommend is a USDA's issued website: www.myplate.gov . Start by take their quiz to find out your daily calorie needs. Once you know what your daily caloric intake should be, start tracking your food to see how your doing. We typically recommend www.MyFitnessPal.com for daily tracking. It's free, has a large data base of food pre loaded and user friendly.
Step #5: Find an effective way to implement these goals
Reading is not doing. Changing habits takes time and calculated effort, this can be especially true with food. One strategy is to consider how you've been successful in achieving goals in other areas of your life. Apply those same strategies to your health. For instance, how did you do well in school? How did you excel at sports? How did you get your promotion? Another strategy is writing your goals down and letting someone else know about them. This builds in an accountability partner and can be quite influential to staying on track. It is no longer just yourself that's aware when you succeed or fail.
Lastly, set a realistic timeline to achieve any tip your taking today. Choose one or two of these principles and make a plan. But don't wait to prioritize your health! Get started right now. You can do this!
Cited Articles and Links
#4: (Healthline Article about energy expenditure): https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/calories-in-calories-out#beyond-the-model%E2%80%99
#5: USDA MyPlate Calculator: https://www.myplate.gov/