Written by Dan Behnfeldt
Nutrition strategies to live a healthier life
Is nutrition an aspect of your life where you struggle to make good decisions? What if I told you there are a few simple principles you can adopt to live a healthier life? Whether your goals include losing or gaining weight or wanting to feel better physically and mentally, nutrition is one of the most important factors for living a healthier life.
The word diet has received a bad reputation recently. Many people believe a diet is a strict meal plan that you can’t stray from that also doesn’t allow you to enjoy your food. Diet actually refers to the kinds of food you consume regularly. Instead of thinking of diet as a negative thing, try thinking about it as a lifestyle change to help you live your best life physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Regulating eating behaviors
Regulating eating behaviors is so important when trying to live a healthier life. Creating more consistency with what you eat, and paying attention to your internal cues are a great place to start with changing nutrition habits.
- Eat slowly and mindfully – As you begin eating, your body releases the satiety (fullness) hormone leptin. Leptin takes roughly 20 minutes to work in your body, so eating slowly can actually help you consume fewer calories because you may become full before you finish eating. Habits you can work on for this include doing something between bites, pacing yourself as the slowest eater in the room, and “wine tasting” your food.
- Recognize physiologic hunger and fullness cues – Appetite awareness is one of the most useful and accurate ways to recognize how much food your body needs. Few people start eating when they are truly physically hungry and stop when they are physically full. It is very common for people to eat when they are bored or stressed. One habit that can help with this is when you begin to feel hungry, ask yourself if you are truly hungry. Wait 5-10 minutes and then ask yourself again if you are truly hungry. If you still feel hungry, then enjoy a meal or snack. Doing this can help you differentiate between being physically hungry, or just bored and stressed.
Choosing high quality foods more often
Choosing high quality food is a great place to start with changing nutritional habits. High quality foods are more nutrient dense, meaning they have more vitamins and minerals, they usually have lower calories, and are less processed.
- Eating less processed food – Eating less processed food can be tough for someone who doesn’t have time or energy to cook their meals. One way to approach this is to ask yourself “how can I make a better choice in this situation?” Finding healthier substitutions can be a great option. Some examples could be substituting sugary breakfast cereal for oatmeal with fruit, eating an orange instead of drinking orange juice, or even substituting fruit or nuts instead of chips as a late-night snack.
- Add more whole, minimally processed foods – Whole, minimally processed foods include fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, whole fresh cuts of meat or poultry, nuts and seeds, and much more. Typically, if the food you buy comes in a box or a bag, it tends to go through more processing before it gets on the shelf at the grocery store. Instead of buying boxed mashed potatoes you can buy whole potatoes, or fresh fruits and veggies instead of canned or pre packaged fruits and veggies. Fresh ingredients tend to have less calories, less preservatives, and can be more nutrient dense.
Consume adequate nutrients
Consuming adequate nutrients is probably the hardest of these habits. This includes eating a well-balanced diet with multiple food groups, eating the proper amount of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, and staying hydrated. A great place to start with this habit would be creating a list of lean proteins, fresh fruits and veggies, and healthy fats that you can buy at the grocery store. From there you can find recipes you enjoy that include all three of the macro nutrients listed above.
- Eat more colorful fruits and vegetables at most meals – Eating a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables ensures you are getting a wide variety of nutrients.
- Eat more lean protein – Lean protein has been shown to help with satiety and appetite management, body composition, recovery, and overall health.
- Choose healthy fats – Consuming healthy fats improves cell signaling and communication, regulates inflammation and hormones, and helps with satiety.
Working toward mastering these few principles can have a profound effect on your health. Regulating eating behaviors, choosing high quality food, and consuming adequate nutrients will help you consume fewer calories, ensure you get the proper nutrients to fuel your body, and regulate all the metabolic processes your body goes through every day.