March is National Nutrition Month, which means that it’s probably a sign to actually start doing all the healthy diet things you’ve been promising you’d get to eventually.
As someone who has tried multiple diets, mostly for health reasons and weight loss, I’ve now learned that the healthiest way to improve your diet is by slowly implementing small changes that can lead to big improvements and by ignoring those Fad Diets that have a slim chance of working.
The hardest part of changing, though, is usually that first step. Many people may be under the impression that eating healthy means avoiding foods you love, like pizza and ice cream, which isn’t necessarily the case. Incorporating your favorite foods into your diet every day is possible and will allow for realistic, healthy changes. Instead of making a complete 180 and making drastic changes, try these few small changes that will help you eat better and improve your diet in fun, realistic ways.
One of the easiest ways to improve your diet is by cutting out excess sugars. Before you close this article thinking, “I can’t read another article that tells me I can’t eat Oreos,” I was referring to water. If you’re like me, you forget to drink water and feel dehydrated on a daily basis. Not only will water keep you hydrated and healthy, but substituting water for sugary drinks like soda and juice can be an easy way to cut out excess sugars. Try opting for sugar-free iced teas or coffees (and a little tip, Starbucks offers sugar-free syrups that can be added to your iced coffee so you can still feed your addiction).
Another easy way to improve your nutrition habits is to incorporate more vegetables and fruits into your diet. Keeping half your plate filled with vegetables is the perfect way to ensure that you are eating enough vegetables. However, I know that as a college student, it may be difficult to keep fresh produce in your refrigerator because it always seems to spoil so quickly. Some products that don’t spoil really quickly are apples, bell peppers, carrots and cabbage. And of course, pantry staples such as onions, potatoes and garlic also last a long time.
Another easy and affordable option is to purchase frozen vegetables. As opposed to canned vegetables, frozen vegetables are equally as healthy and nutritious as fresh vegetables. They also last months and can be easily pulled out for any stir fry or new Instant Pot recipe. If you do choose to purchase fresh vegetables or fruits, you can always wash and cut the excess produce and store it in a Ziploc back in the freezer for easy access in the future. And the best part about vegetables? You can use them as your excuse to purchase that air fryer you’ve had your eye on for a healthy spin on your favorite comfort foods.
One of my food “weaknesses” is wheat: bread, pasta, muffins, you know it. There’s nothing better than bread fresh out of the oven or a pasta dish with homemade marinara sauce. I also tend to drown my problems in mixing bowls, baking new recipes or my favorite homemade chocolate chip banana bread. Before I continue, I want to say one thing — I am NOT saying that these foods are unhealthy or should be avoided. Every food is neutral, neither negative nor positive. However, opting for products that are made with whole grains are much healthier and nutrient dense. Products made with refined grains and white wheat are stripped of all bran, fiber and nutrients. Choosing whole grain breads and pastas are much healthier than refined wheat products. Substituting whole wheat flour in baked goods can be an easy way to keep your favorite baked goods part of your daily diet while still incorporating essential nutrients into your diet.
While this next option may not be an easy one, it could be both fun and beneficial. I know that as a college student, balancing work and a social life and school leaves little time for cooking. However, preparing your own meals is a really good way to monitor what you put into your body and ensure that you are eating nutritious foods. That doesn’t mean that you can never eat out or go to restaurants, it simply means that cooking your own meals as often as you can will allow you to be more conscious of the nutrient, saturated fat, sugar and sodium content of the foods you eat. Additionally, this may make you feel less guilty of indulging in your favorite foods like muffins or pizza because the homemade stuff is healthier (and honestly tastier) than the store-bought stuff that’s most likely very processed.
Lastly, something simple yet seemingly difficult is to listen to your body. Your body is the relationship partner you’ve always wanted — always communicates with you and will never cheat on you. Every feeling you feel is your body trying to send you a message. If you’re feeling really dizzy, your body may need water. If you’re craving a juicy steak or hamburger every minute of every day, you may be low in iron. But most importantly, if you’re hungry, your body needs food, and if you’re full, your body is saying, “please, no more!” Many people have gotten into the mindset of needing to finish everything on their plate, even after filling their plate with large portions of food.
If you’re feeling full after one plate, that’s probably your body telling you that you’ve eaten the necessary amount of food your body needs. You can always pack up the leftovers for the next day — you don’t need to force yourself to eat more than your body needs. The same thing goes for hunger. If your body is hungry, eat! Many people thrive off smaller meals during the day rather than three really big meals, and snacking is always allowed, as long as you’re making good choices. Listening to your body’s cues will help you make good choices that will keep you healthy and happy.
Notice how nowhere in this article did I say not to eat a certain food or to avoid a certain food group. That’s because, unless you have a food allergy that will send you into anaphylaxis, all foods are okay to eat and are allowed to be in your diet on a regular basis. Labeling foods as “good” or “bad” can create an unnecessary toxic relationship with food. Simply being mindful of what you put in your body and trying to make small changes as often as you feel comfortable can lead to a healthier lifestyle.