The First Steps to Healthy Eating.
Today will be the last day of week 7 on my journey to healthier eating habits. There was no bright, dazzling light drawing me with inspiration into this journey. It was more like shouldering a heavy pack and hitting the road for a 5,000 mile trek. Alone. In the rain. In the dark. Barefoot.
Really, though, the heavy pack is the weight I’ve been carrying around and adding to for years.
I think ahead to retirement in less than ten years (I’m better at forward looking than present focus). I’m saving for it. I can’t think of much that will make me angrier at myself than if I get there and am not healthy enough to travel and live without serious, avoidable illness.
No matter what the diet industry wants you to believe (and spend billions of dollars on), there really is nothing new about successful weight loss. I know it and you know it. Here’s the secret: eat less, exercise more. Brilliant. There are different tools to help you if you choose to take the first steps. It works the same as trying to get your personal finances in order. Assess where you are, monitor your daily habits, make changes necessary to achieve your goal.
Assess Where You Are
The usual disclaimer applies. You should always check with your doctor before making changes to be sure you are getting guidance for your personal medical situation. This is actually a plus, for several reasons. You tell someone that you are committing to a change; and then your doctor can weigh you. Yes, the dreaded scale may be a bummer. If you feel you will be too discouraged to hear what you really weigh, have the doctor write it in your records and not tell you. For now. Later you can hear how much you’ve lost. When I told my doctor that I had set boundaries at work, was working less overtime and generally feeling less stressed, his response was: “Great! Now you have more time to exercise.” Not the pat on the back I was hoping for, but true.
After that, here’s what I suggest. These steps are working for me. They will help you understand your current eating habits and develop new, healthier ones. Again, these are not new ideas. Use a notebook, journal, spreadsheet or phone app to write down what you eat and drink. Everything. Your morning coffee. What you put in it. How much you eat or drink. Every sauce. Every snack. Every meal. Every taste of the food you are cooking for yourself or your family. It’s okay to start by estimating the size of your portion – a cup, a piece, a quarter lb.
The purpose of this is to raise your awareness of what you are consuming and how much. Writing down when you eat is also helpful at understanding whether hunger is triggering your eating or if it’s just habit. It’s about owning your current behavior because you know you want to change it. Trust me, I know how easy it is to be in denial about how much I am eating. This will be the beginning of the next step in creating new habits.
Monitor Your Daily Habits
Continue to write down your daily food and drink choices. Start to weigh and measure your food so that you are accurately estimating the number of calories you are eating every day. If you eat at work, packing your lunch really helps with this. Look up the foods you eat and record the calories. Read the labels on boxes, cans and jars. Notice the amount of fat, protein, carbohydrates and sodium in your choices. If you are eating out, most restaurants will post or provide the nutritional information for their servings. You can write down what you eat and look up the calories at home on the computer, if this works best for you. You can find all the nutritional information you need through a simple internet search for “calories in food.” When you do this you will start to see a change in your choices. Maybe you will say “Hey, that plate of pasta I just ate was really 4 servings and 1,000 calories. And it wasn’t worth it.” You can have that glass of wine at the end of the day. But you have to account for it in your total.
Make Changes Necessary To Achieve Your Goal
Setting a weight loss plan is as easy as determining how many calories you can eat daily at your current weight to lose a target number of pounds each week. This information is also available online, as well as how different forms of exercise can add to your weight loss. It will differ for each person. I have opted for a slow and steady weight loss goal, in order to be successful and not get discouraged. One more note about staying positive. I am against scales and weigh-ins, except every few months. If it helps you stay accountable, then do it. But for me watching the ups and downs can be demotivating. I prefer to watch and see how my clothes fit. I can tell I’m losing weight. And I can see it. For me that’s motivating.
Once you have set a daily goal for your calories, you can make choices that work for you. There may be foods to avoid because you cannot control your portions once you get started. There may be times of the day that you are normally more hungry. There may be emotional triggers or habits that make you want to snack when you first get home or every evening. If you understand them you can divert yourself or make a better choice.
Finding Foods that Work in Your Life
By continuing to record what you eat all day, you can make adjustments for what you plan to eat later in the day. The first two weeks are the hardest, as your body adjusts to eating less and you adjust your habits. Wanting to eat as soon as I got home and nightly snacking were my hardest challenges. And fewer carbs too. I love potatoes, pasta and rice. Prepared portions for those have helped me enjoy them without blowing my calories for the day. And I love salad and steamed vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, so those are my “fill up foods” if I need them. I prefer less breakfast as long as I can have my morning nonfat latte. For me, I know I can stick to a very healthy plan for breakfast and lunch, and need to conserve calories for the evening which is much more challenging. A portion controlled, healthy snack in the car on the way home – like apricots or almonds – helps me to eat a more reasonable dinner.
The reason I chose my salmon photo for this post is that for the first few weeks of my healthier eating, salmon was in season, readily available and affordable. I ate it more frequently than usual because it felt healthy, full of calcium and a good choice for satisfying my sense of taste. That is what you need to do. Find out what you can eat that doesn’t feel like a deprivation, keep track, mind your portions and be aware of your choices. And if you have a day when you don’t eat the best things or overdo it, forgive yourself and start over the next day. You didn’t get overweight overnight. Slow and steady wins the race.
Are you on the same journey? What works for you?
All my best,