Exercise is an important part of getting in shape, but the truth is, if you’re not following a healthy diet, you’ll be missing a very important piece of the puzzle. So, to help you with this particular aspect of healthy living, I put together this list of nutrition and healthy eating tips that I’ve formulated over the years based on my own research and experience.
Before you dive in, though, I want to say, diet — and I don’t mean diet in the sense of the word like, “I’m going on a diet; I mean it in terms of your daily eating habits — can be one of the most challenging aspects of healthy living. What I’ve learned is that, despite our lofty expectations for ourselves, it’s never going to be perfect, and that’s because there’s no such thing as a “perfect” diet.
The best piece of advice I can give is this: Read up on nutrition so you know what a nutritious, balanced diet should consist of (side note: this can vary from person to person), because if you eat well, you will feel GREAT and there’s hardly a better benefit than that (in my opinion at least). Take what you learn (including from my healthy eating tips below) and implement it on a daily basis. But other than that, DON’T stress about every morsel of food. Life is too short to count calories and pass up donuts, that’s what I’ve learned from my own journey.
I’m not saying eating a donut every day is necessarily the best approach (although, who knows, it could work for some!), but I’m saying, if it’s something that pops up every now and then, enjoy it!
OK, and I know that eating well can seem more complicated than this when you’re navigating through your daily routine, I’ll be the first to admit it’s not always easy, but the following guidelines are what help to guide my own eating habits on the regular and they might be able to help you too!
Healthy Eating Tips
1. Eat a Good Breakfast
The research on eating breakfast is actually mixed, but there’s some that shows eating breakfast can be a beneficial part of a healthy diet.
Generally, I think it’s a good habit to have because it starts your day off on a healthy note and, if you eat something nutritious and filling (see suggestions below) you won’t resort to answering to your hunger in the late morning with a less nutritious option (like a sugary granola bar or a pastry you grabbed on your way into work).
I’m not saying you can’t find nutritious options on the go, just that it’s easier to make less healthy choices when you’re super hungry and in a rush.
2. Only Eat When You’re Hungry
This might sound pretty obvious, but this idea is based off of something called “intuitive eating” and I don’t really feel that my relationship with food was sincerely healthy until I learned about this and started to implement it as part of my eating habits.
There are many layers to intuitive eating, but generally it’s about listening to your body and learning to decipher between cravings and true hunger.
It also includes learning to not overeat by stopping when you’re full, which I’ve found can be accomplished by eating slower, drinking plenty of water (through the day and with meals), and making an effort to eat mindfully.
3. Cut Back On Refined Carbohydrates
Refined carbs are in foods like white bread, white rice, white pasta, and anything with straight-up added sugar.
Let’s be clear, these foods are not “evil” and shouldn’t be feared (no food should be feared, actually), they should just be a part of your meals less often than other more nutritious options.
Why? Because refined carbohydrates (or “high-glycemic” carbs) are absorbed into the blood stream faster and as a result, your blood sugar spikes. According to Harvard’s Nutrition Source: “Simple carbohydrates are easily and quickly utilized for energy by the body because of their simple chemical structure, often leading to a faster rise in blood sugar and insulin secretion from the pancreas – which can have negative health effects.”
So, these things don’t have to be totally off limits (and in my opinion they shouldn’t because they are delicious!) but the more you can cut them out, the better.
For your regular diet, things like whole grain bread, brown rice, quinoa, whole grain pasta, etc. are better options and they offer more nutrients than refined grains.
4. Cut Back on Added Sugar
As I mentioned above, added sugar is a refined carb, so this is essentially a reiteration of everything I just explained, but I wanted to point out sugar specifically because it’s hidden in lots of unsuspecting items and is also the one thing I really had no idea can have such a large effect on your diet and health until I read up on nutrition.
Essentially, it’s a good idea to limit your intake of soda and other sweetened beverages, candy and snacks and condiments that have sugar in them.
Make a habit of reading nutrition labels, you’d be surprised at some of the things (like certain ketchups, milk alternatives, yogurts and cereals) that can be loaded with added sugar.
5. Snack Healthy
Snacking isn’t bad, but some snacks are definitely more nutritious than others. Also, snacking applies to the whole “intuitive eating” concept too. I’ve (mostly) made a habit of snacking only when I’m legitimately hungry between meals. (But hey! Sometimes you just want a snack, even if you’re not hungry, right? That’s cool sometimes, too.)
Anyway, I make an effort to keep the kinds of snacks that don’t offer lots of nutritional value out of my pantry and fridge. For example, ice cream.
Yes, it sucks when you’re craving ice cream and don’t have any in your freezer, but it also makes it so much more enjoyable to go out and get it and, at least for me, it’s been a simple way to limit my intake of these types of foods so that they’re occasional treats and not everyday staples.
Here’s some healthy snack inspiration for you:
- Healthy Snacks For On The Go
- Hungry Runner’s Favorite Healthy Snacks
- Healthy Snacks For Satisfying Your Sweet Tooth
6. Keep It Simple
Eat more fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and lean proteins.
The closer a food is to its original source is, the better. I make an effort to avoid packaged foods with lots of different ingredients I’ve never heard of simply because I feel healthier when most of my diet consists of whole foods.
7. Drink Lots of Water
Hydration is important for a lot of different reasons, but one of the main things research shows (and that I’ve found through my own experience) is that it helps with satiety and to curb cravings.
Sometimes if I’m like, “Oh I think I’m kind of hungry,” but then I stop to drink some water first, I’ll find that I wasn’t actually hungry, just thirsty and I’ll end up skipping the not-necessary snack.
Also, if you exercise a lot, you need to drink more water than usual. (Read more about how to find out how much water you should drink here.)
An easy way to build a healthy hydration habit is to buy a reusable water bottle and start carrying it everywhere you go. If you work in an office every day, get one to keep on your desk too.
8. Portion Knowledge
Like I said earlier, based on my own experiences, I don’t endorse calorie counting and think it’s too tedious and mind-numbing to measure out everything you eat.
That said, I think it’s helpful to learn about optimal portion sizes for different types of food. This helped me to embrace healthy eating armed with a bit of a practical approach and I use it as a guide so that I can at least eye my serving sizes instead of just guessing an appropriate amount or really overdoing it without really knowing.
9. Never Completely Restrict Yourself From Foods You Love
Restriction is bad. In my own experience, any time I’ve tried to tell myself some food was totally off limits it’s never worked out well.
Think about it, especially if it’s a food you really love, it’s so unrealistic to say you can NEVER have it. In my opinion, that’s no way to live.
My advice: Don’t deprive yourself of your favorite foods, even if they’re not so nutritious. I believe that if you follow the principals of intuitive eating, those things will fall into your diet in a way that’s balanced and that allows you to have a healthy relationship with ALL food — which is what I believe is the ultimate goal.
If you’re exercising a lot (e.g., 5 or more days a week) consider adding some supplements to your diet.