When I recently asked my friends what precluded them from making healthful dietary changes, their responses included everything from lack of time and laziness to pickiness and thinking change would be too difficult.
The good news is making dietary changes doesn’t need to be drastic to be effective. In a perfect world, we would all make mostly healthy food and fitness choices to prevent weight gain. But life sometimes gets in the way. No matter what your current diet, it’s never too late to tweak your eating habits to improve your overall well-being.
Here are eating tips to help you stay energized without feeling unsatisfied:
1. Take shortcuts.
Buy pre-cut, canned or frozen fruits and veggies (with no added sugar or fat) that aren’t drenched in cheese, sauce, oil or excess salt to boost your nutritional intake and save you time in the kitchen. Making meals ahead of time or freezing leftovers in single-serve portions can also help.
2. Make a compromise.
Instead of banning certain foods altogether, allow yourself to eat what you like without the guilt. For example, rather than eliminating bread, opt for 100 percent whole-grain bread or just have one slice of French bread instead of downing half of the bread basket. Instead of eating ice cream from a bowl or straight from the carton, portion out some in a small cup. Instead of banning alcohol or decadent desserts from your diet, plan ahead so you can indulge in them mindfully. Just be sure to keep an eye on portion size—especially when you choose items like these that pack in calories but offer few nutrients. Although limiting your intake of sugary, fatty foods can make you desire those foods less, some studies suggest dramatically cutting calorie intake and overdoing exercise slows metabolism and makes it difficult to keep weight off long term.
3. Be open to change.
I’ll admit I don’t typically embrace change. I often choose the same few meals at a restaurant or make the same dishes when cooking at home. Lately I’ve been trying to be more adventurous in my food selections and have learned to love some foods I used to avoid. For example, while eating dinner out, a friend offered me a bite of her side dish—roasted brussels sprouts with cipollini onions. After realizing how delicious brussels sprouts and cooked onions were, I subsequently made the dish at home and enjoy it often. Even adults’ food preferences can change if we are open to new foods and find appealing ways to prepare or eat them.
4. Pay attention to the pattern.
As emphasized in recent federal dietary guidelines, it’s far more important to focus on the big picture—the totality of your diet—than on any one meal or food choice. No single food will make or break your diet. As long as you incorporate multiple nutrient-dense foods such as fruits and vegetables, protein, and whole grains and strive to meet your quotas most of the time, you can easily plan for small portions of less-nutritious options. Remember to be mindful of your overall pattern and plan indulgences to stay on a healthy track.
This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
Elisa Zied is an award-winning New York State certified dietitian nutritionist and the author of Younger Next Week (Harlequin Nonfiction) and three other consumer titles. A past spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, she received a bachelor's in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania and a master's in clinical nutrition from New York University. For more than two decades, she has garnered millions of media impressions through her TV appearances, articles and blogs. Having recently discovered her passion for reading and writing fiction, she is currently working on her first novel. She lives in New York City with her husband of 24 years and her two sons. When she’s not reading, she enjoys long walks and hikes, hula hooping, seeing Broadway shows and movies, attending book signings and festivals, and interviewing her favorite authors for her Food, Fitness & Fiction blog.