Who wants to eat broccoli when you’ve got Hot Pockets in the freezer? Someone who wants to look hot in a bathing suit, that’s who! But I know it’s hard to make those choices at first—the best way to change your diet is to start small. From 1 Year, 100 Pounds: My Journey to a Better, Happier Life.
Sugary kid’s cereal for breakfast? Switch out the Cap’n Crunch for a more grown-up cereal, one that has less sugar and more fiber. Fiber keeps you feeling fuller longer and can also help lower cholesterol and control blood sugar levels. Oatmeal and other whole grain cereals (especially if they are organic) are a better choice because they contain more fiber and usually less sugar. Check out the nutrition labels on the back of your cereal box. If it has less than 3 grams of fiber and more than 5 grams of sugar per serving, it’s probably not your best option.
Speaking of cereal… What kind of milk are you drinking? If it’s whole (4 percent fat) milk, switch to 1 percent or skim milk instead. Or (especially if you’re lactose intolerant), choose from the many dairy-free milk substitutes like soy, almond, rice, or coconut milk (my favorite is So Delicious coconut milk—yum!).
Ditch the Wonder Bread. Besides the fact that white bread is filled with HFCS (it’s true; check the ingredients!), white bread would still be low on the real food scale. Switch to whole grain bread, which has plenty of fiber, less sugar, and more nutrients that will satisfy your hunger, making you less likely to overeat. Whole grain bread is what white bread was before it was processed and had all of its nutrients bleached out of it.
Drink water, lots of water. Soda, as you may have guessed, is a definite no-no. Water is all the hydration you need and has way fewer calories (0, in fact) than a Coke. Fruit juice is healthier than a soft drink, but you’re better off eating the actual fruit. On top of all the naturally occurring sugars, most carton juices have more sugar added to them for a sweeter taste. All that sugar equals calories, which equals fat. Besides, a glass of apple juice won’t fill you up. An apple with all its fiber will. Eat calories—don’t drink them!
Drink before you eat. Always down one or two glasses of water before you start to eat. Water will make you feel fuller. If you curb your appetite a bit, you won’t feel the need to stuff yourself like a ravenous hamster!
Stop mindless snacking. A small snack in between meals is fine, but snacking four, five, six times a day is not. Sure, it may not seem like a few chips here and there or a couple candy bars are all that bad, but they are. Those calories add up! Stick to only one healthy snack between meals.
Keep away from the Junk Food Monster! The more you think about food, the more you’ll want it. So stay as far away from unhealthy foods as you can. For example, if your parents bring home Burger King for dinner one night, make your own healthy dinner and eat it in another room. Don’t even enter the dining room until your family is done eating. If your parents have a problem with this, explain to them why it is important for you to not be around unhealthy food. Tell them that you appreciate the fact that they bought you a meal, but Whoppers and french fries are not supportive of your health goals right now.
Homemade simple. How many times do you eat out in a week? Two, three, four, five? Stop! Fast food and chain restaurants add so much fat and sugar to their entrées that you can never be sure what you’re really getting. The same goes for your lunch at school. This means stay away from the chicken nuggets and mac ’n’ cheese line. Eat your meals at home and start packing your own lunch. This way you won’t be stuck eating your cafeteria’s daily special (instant mashed potatoes and half-frozen meat loaf—yuck!).
Butter your toast every morning? Not anymore, you don’t! There is nothing good to say about butter because it is pure fat. Think about that. What you are putting on your bread is pure, unhealthy fat! Instead, try healthier alternatives to butter like coconut butter, avocado spread, or jam (look for reduced-sugar varieties). These butter substitutes contain fewer calories and have way less saturated fat (remember that’s the bad fat!) than regular butter. Another healthy option is to use a little bit of almond butter or peanut butter.
Easy on the oils. While some oils, like olive oil, are good for you, too much of a good thing is just too much. Oils have a lot of calories and cooking with them only adds those extra calories to your food. Be aware of ordering foods from restaurants that are cooked in heavy oils (such as stir-fry and fried foods) and try to avoid them whenever possible. If you’re cooking with oils at home, use them sparingly. Measure out your oil by the teaspoon to be sure how much you are really adding into your meal.
Measure out your portion sizes! I can’t say this enough. You need to be aware of what you’re really taking in. Always read serving sizes on nutrition labels for packaged foods. Before you dig in, know what a tablespoon of peanut butter or three-quarters of a cup of cereal looks like by using measuring spoons and measuring cups. Use suggested serving sizes as a guide for when you eat other, similar foods. Or use the palm of your hand as a guide. When eating foods like nuts, dried fruits, and lean proteins, try keeping your portions no bigger than the size of your palm. As for fresh fruits and vegetables, don’t worry about eating too many of them. It’s almost impossible to overeat apples or spinach, so eat up!
I know, I know. All of this looks a bit overwhelming. It’s OK, though, to try just following one tip a week. See if you can make one change and stick it out every day for just seven days. Add on another tip the next week or keep working on the first until you become comfortable with the change. Aim to fit all of these tips into your daily life. I promise you will see big changes if you do! Soon they will become second nature and won’t be such a challenge anymore.