One of my favorite parts of sharing my journey is how many questions I get about how I started eating better and exercising. Most people think I started running to lose weight. I wish I could say I did, but at 400 pounds there was no way my body was going to let me run at all. (I had enough pain just performing daily tasks) I started with small changes in my eating habits. After a couple months I noticed my eating habits were giving me more energy. My wife and I started walking together and over the course of about a year we finally were able to start “running”. As much as I love to run, I would not be where I am now without changing the way I ate. I believe the way we eat is the #1 factor in the way we feel.
Here are ten simple steps toward a healthier lifestyle.
- Food is Fuel. I heard this from a sales trainer of all places and it clicked. I had been eating for all the wrong reasons. The food tasted good or to meet with friends or just because it was there. Eating the right food to produce as much energy as possible to help you accomplish your goals was not a concept I was taught growing up. Remember that what you eat will propel you toward your goals or hold you back from taking the action necessary to accomplish them.
- Portion Control. When I first started my journey, I ate out of a salsa bowl for six months. I had to control my habit of overeating. I would start with less food and I noticed that I would feel full faster. I had been eating 4 to 10 times the amount of food I needed to be satisfied. This made an immediate impact on my attitude toward eating. I started finding it easier to control my urge for a second helping of food and dessert.
- Simplified Meals. When I started eating less, I noticed it was easier to eat more simplified meals. The fewer ingredients, the less I ate. Why? There have been studies showing that we look to eat an “even” amount of food we’re presented. If we have two options, we’ll eat about the same of each option. When we’re presented 10 options, we’ll eat about the same of each option. Think about the last time you were at a buffet. I’ll have a little of this and that and the other thing. Next thing you know you’re headed for another plate because you couldn’t get everything you wanted the first time.
- Don’t eat out. I used to love eating out. When I was growing up, every Friday was family night and we’d go out somewhere special. What I didn’t realize is we were eating out a couple times a week as a family and I was eating out every day during the week for lunch. Not only is the food processed and full of chemicals, but it’s nearly impossible to portion control when you’re at a restaurant for many reasons. Don’t forget about dessert! And did I mention I used to love “All you can eat” restaurants? I look back and think to myself, no wonder I had gotten so big…
- Cut out added sugar. This has been one of the most difficult steps for me. I grew up not knowing how bad sugar was for me. I thought a Coke was good for you because there was no fat in it… It’s ok, you can laugh- I really deserve it. I had no idea the process our body goes through when sugar is ingested. I could go on and on about my distain for sugar, but I’ll make it simple. I believe added sugar is killing us. I get a majority of my sugar and carbs from fruits and veggies. Since I have made a conscious effort to cut out added sugar, I have seen positive changes in my body and mind I can’t explain. Yes, I still have some ice cream or a “mini” candy bar every now and then. But, I you better believe I read the labels to know what I’m eating. You’d be surprised how many products have added sugar. If it’s packaged, there’s a good chance it has added sugar…
- Read the label. This has been huge for me. Read the label before you buy the product. There is nothing worse than starting dinner and seeing what you’re about to cook for the first time… It makes me sick to see some of the ingredients that are in “healthy” foods… A couple rules I follow- if sugar is in the top 3 ingredients, it’s probably not good for you. The few ingredients the better (and you should be able to pronounce all of them). If you can eat food without a label, you’re probably better off. I can’t remember the last time I bought a piece of natural fruit and had to the read the ingredients.
- Be flexible and try new things. Let’s face it, if we eat the same thing every day we’re going to get tired of it and we’ll go back to the same unhealthy habits we’ve always had. We live in the age of “unlimited information”. There is absolutely no reason for you to get bored with healthy food. There are thousands of people who have taken the time to make healthy food taste good and they’ve put their recipes online for free. And believe it or not, eating healthy is actually cheaper than eating unhealthy. Yes fruit, veggies and meat cost more upfront, but think about all the money you spend on snacks, candy, soda, eating out, over eating etc. Not to mention the extra doctor bills for living an unhealthy lifestyle.
- Develop a “diet” that you don’t have to cheat on. Don’t give up, replace. Pick your favorite recipe right now and find a healthier way to make it. If you feel deprived, you’ll go back to your old ways. But if you feel satisfied and don’t get bored because you’re trying something new all the time, you will stick to your new way of eating. I have bad eating days like everyone else, but I don’t plan a “cheat day” because I’m miserable with the next fad diet I’m trying this week.
- Don’t give up! Just because you had a bad day doesn’t mean all your progress is gone. If there is one thing I’m extremely good at, it’s persistence. I have had more bad eating days in the last three years than most people would believe. My rules for getting back on track. Don’t dwell on a bad eating day, don’t have two bad eating days in a row, and don’t have more than three bad eating days in a week. You can’t go forward if you’re looking in the rear view mirror. You also can’t out run a bad diet. (You can justify eating bad because you exercise!)
- Take a walk. “Motion creates emotion” Sometimes all you need is to get your blood flowing to change your mood. There are days that I want to sit at home and eat everything in the fridge and pantry. My best remedy is to get out of the house! It doesn’t matter what I do as long as I can get my mind off eating. You’d be surprised how many calories and how much guilt can be avoided by simply walking away from the kitchen!
The steps to eating better are fairly simple- eat less, eat healthier and take a walk. But as Jim Rohn says, “What’s easy to do is also easy not to do”. No one has control over what you put in your body except you. You are the only person who can hold yourself accountable. The best advice I can give you is to make up your mind you want to change and take action right now to move you in the direction you want to go. If you wait until tomorrow to start, you’ll never accomplish anything today.