When I graduated high school, I weighed 175 pounds. At 5'2", that weight landed me firmly in the obese BMI.
For a while, I was dating this guy who was very into nutrition and eating healthy. The relationship didn’t work out, but an interest in nutrition stayed in my life even when he didn’t.
I started reading all the nutrition books I could get my hands on, and some of this made it into my life.
And even though I still haven’t figured out how to consistently work exercise into my routine, I’ve switched to healthier eating habits. I’m down to 133 lbs, the lowest, healthiest weight I’ve been at my whole life.
So what does it take to start eating healthier? Here are the biggest changes I made, and how you can start eating healthier too.
1. Stop Drinking Your Calories
I never really loved soda. But I definitely had a soft spot for A&W root beer, root beer floats, and sugary lemonade. I liked the fancy kind you get at restaurants with real fruit in it and simple flavored syrup. I really liked Dairy Queen Blizzards.
But when I stopped drinking sugary drinks and switched to water, I lost 20 pounds without changing anything else.
The truth is, all these things were high calorie treats with no nutritional value. I could eat them mindlessly and in a matter of minutes, each with 250–1000 calories, depending on the treat.
It’s no wonder cutting these out helped me lose weight.
I want to add that I still like these treats. But instead of getting one every day or even several times a week, it’s a once a month thing, or even less frequently. I don’t miss it, and I don’t feel like I had to sacrifice anything.
2. Eat Real Food, Mostly Plants
Processed foods are horrifying. They’re soooooo delicious, but jeez at what cost?
Most processed foods are specifically designed to make you crave more. That’s part of the reason why most Americans can eat an entire family-sized bag of chips in one sitting.
As much as possible, I try to eat real foods, and mostly plants. Ideally, food shouldn’t come out of a container, and if it does, it should have as few ingredients as possible.
3. Snack on Fruits and Veggies
This is something I picked up from my glorious sister. She’s a hot-yoga, mountain hiking queen. She’s way better at eating healthy than I am, so it’s awesome to learn from her.
When I went to visit last February, she dumped a bunch of veggies in a bowl, and that was our snack. There were broccoli and cauliflower and bell pepper slices, and maybe some snow peas.
And it was delicious! It was filling and flavorful, and it filled my need to munch on something without consuming an obscene amount of calories. On top of that, the vegetables were loaded with fiber and added nutrients that you can’t find in processed foods.
So instead of reaching for a bag of chips, I get a case of grape tomatoes, or slice a cucumber, or much on some cherries. It’s tastier and healthier, and I feel better about myself when I’m done.
4. Follow the 80% 20% Rule
There’s an old adage that 80% of the results come from 20% of the work. But this is a good rule to apply to your diet too, and it was one I realized I wasn’t applying.
It’s okay to eat sweets and indulge in your favorite comfort foods, no matter how junk they are. After all, life is short and we’re here to enjoy it as much as we can. It just can’t be your diet every day.
So when you want to switch your diet to healthier choices, don’t have off-limit foods. Instead, make healthy choices at least 80% of the time, and enjoy your indulgences when you decide to indulge.
5. Learn to Listen to Your Body
I remember I was at work a few years ago, when I reached into the drink cooler, debating between whether I should take a can of coke.
I did, and immediately from somewhere in my brain came these three damning words: I hate you.
Where did that come from? I don’t talk to myself like that, I don’t talk to anyone like that. But something in me was rejecting that can of coke.
I could have just ignored it and enjoyed my treat, but I decided to listen to myself instead.
To eat healthier, we need to listen to what our bodies are trying to tell us. Most of the time in America we eat subconsciously, not really knowing why. Most of the time we aren’t even hungry.
So to eat healthier, learn to recognize why you’re hungry. Instead of munching mindlessly, ask yourself whenever you’re snacking, “Why am I eating this?”
If you’re hungry, eat away, hopefully on a healthy choice. If you’re bored, find something else to occupy your hands. If you’re eating socially, switch to a low-calorie choice, or something that will slow you down like pistachios.
It’s also easy to mistake thirst for hunger. If you think you’re hungry, try drinking some water instead and then see how you feel.
6. Lettuce Tomato Pickles and Onion
Anytime my man starts a garden, I always make sure we’re growing these 4 key vegetables. They’re the most versatile, and you can use them in endless combinations of healthy dishes.
Make a salad with lettuce tomato and onion, and add a salad topper of nuts and dried berries.
Make a sandwich with some high-quality deli meat and add lettuce tomato pickle and onion.
Make a wrap with cream cheese and lettuce, tomato, pickle, and onion.
Make a burrito with a tortilla, a can of refried beans, and top it with lettuce, tomato, and onion.
The combinations are endless. If you don’t buy any other produce, make sure you always have these 4 things stocked in your fridge to add healthier foods to your diet.
Nutrition Isn’t Complicated
The truth is, nutrition isn’t complicated. Diet books want you to think it’s complicated because that’s how they make money.
Even still, it takes work to switch to a healthy eating style. The changes I made happened gradually, and I’m still working on most of them all the time.
But the rules are simple. Avoid processed foods, limit sugars, drink mostly water, and eat mostly real foods. You’ll start to feel better, and you’ll probably start to lose weight too. At least that’s what happened to me.