I need to go on a diet.
My diet starts Monday.
I’m eating cupcakes now because my diet starts tomorrow.
Have you ever said or thought something along those lines?
Those sayings used to be common taglines for me, but now I cringe when I hear someone else say them. Diet – the word itself seems to set boundaries, limitations and restrictions. I’ve experienced too much bad with dieting to ever think it’s a good idea for someone else.
But maybe you want to lose weight, have more energy, or sleep better at night, and you believe that dieting is the only way to achieve those goals. One of the problems with diets is that they typically come to an end, and you’re right back where you were. So, how can you reach your health goals without resolving to a calorie-counting, food-restricting diet?
The Seemingly Impossible Concept of the Healthy Lifestyle
I know you’ve heard before that you should be aiming to create a “healthy lifestyle,” and I agree – this idea of trusting what your body is telling you it needs for nourishment is the best way to maintain a healthy weight and have a kickass life.
But that concept seems so hard to develop when you’re stuck in a diet mentality. It took me years to stop restricting foods and stop counting calories, always thinking that this “healthy lifestyle” idea or intuitive eating thing was some kind of dream I’d never be able to grasp.
I can’t pinpoint exactly where the switch went off for me, how I dropped dieting for good and began to trust that I could eat healthy without all of the restrictions and rules. After I moved in with Kyle, it seemed to happen gradually. He did the cooking, and I wasn’t about to turn down a meal my boyfriend cooked because I didn’t have any calories left for the day.
Kyle seemed to have the lifestyle aspect down – every meal he made incorporated vegetables, protein, fat and carbs. He chose healthy options the majority of the time we were out, but there were also those random days when he splurged on double cheeseburgers. Yep, the good ol’ McDonald’s “double double,” as the Barichellos like to call them.
So, he’d get a double cheeseburger. And life would go on.
He wouldn’t wallow in guilt or shame for days (like I did after one of our impulsive late-night Zombie Burger outings). He’d go on eating healthy the rest of the day or week. Then it might be a few weeks or even months before he’d want another double cheeseburger.
It took some time, but eventually, I fully caught onto this healthy lifestyle thing. After years of dieting and restricting (and bingeing), I now enjoy eating pretty clean most of the time and having a nice sugary treat whenever I darn well feel like it (which isn’t that often now that I like healthy food!) without guilt or shame.
I don’t want it to take years for you, though. If you’re stuck in the diet mentality, here are my best tips for dropping it and adopting a healthy lifestyle.
1. Don’t count calories
Counting calories is a great way to hold yourself accountable and ensure that you’re on the right track for weight loss, no doubt. But it is in no way sustainable over time. It’s no way to live your life.
In fact, focusing on adding up the calories and macros of everything you eat takes you out of the present moment. How can you enjoy the experience of a new restaurant, the company you’re with, and, not to mention, your food when you’re trying to do math and determine what is best for your body based on a numeric value?
Again, not sustainable. Not fun.
2. Don’t restrict anything
I’ll be the first to say that cutting things like gluten and dairy out of your diet will most likely make you feel 10 times more awesome, but even so, those things should never be completely off limits. Ice cream on a hot summer day? Yes, please.
Swearing off entire food groups is also not sustainable. Instead, change your vocab to “limiting” certain foods. Thinking you’ll never eat cake or french fries again will surely set you on a path to depression.
3. Include a vegetable at every meal
No matter what is available to you, aim to include a vegetable with your meal. That might look like swapping fries for a salad, or having a salad in addition to your fries. Either way, as long as there’s a vegetable present.
Why? Because you need the essential vitamins and minerals found in those wonderful, colorful little plant-based foods. Even if you’re still eating crap, try this one tip at every meal and you’ll be living a much more healthy lifestyle.
4. Aim for protein
Even when I was dieting, I thought having pancakes for breakfast was healthy if they were under 300 or 400 calories. But pancakes are not a meal. Pancakes are fluffy pieces of carbs.
Throw some cottage cheese or greek yogurt in those pancakes and you have a more well-rounded meal. Fluffy pieces of carbs aren’t going to keep you full or do you any nutritional good. Adding the protein, whether it be in the form of cottage cheese, a side of eggs or my favorite breakfast item, ground chicken, will give you the energy you need to crush the day.
Just like vegetables, aim to incorporate a good source of protein at every meal.
5. Try new recipes and new foods
Eating food is a fun part of life. Cooking is also meant to be a fun experience, even stress relieving and relationship building. Have fun in the kitchen cooking up new recipes and finding new ways to eat healthy food.
6. Find a healthy food you become obsessed with
Sweet potatoes. Enough said.
7. Aid your digestion
Eat foods that are good for your gut. Gut health contributes to so much – our skin, our immune system, our moods, our energy, all that stuff you want to be working for you.
8. Fuel your workouts
Food is energy. Time your higher-carb meals or snacks around your workouts or periods of heavy exercise to properly use that healthy fuel. Recover with quality protein.
9. Get your zzz’s
A healthy sleep routine will help you make better food choices in general. When you’re sleep deprived, your body wants the quick hit of energy (aka donuts at the office). A well-rested body can give you better signals of what it actually needs.
10. Keep stress in check
Stress, sleep, happiness – these things all play a part in the healthy lifestyle. Not only do they factor into the food choices you make, but managing stress in a healthy way is key for managing a healthy weight, a thriving immune system and a happy gut.
11. See the whole picture
When you’re faced with a choice – whether it’s what to eat at a restaurant, whether to eat the cake at a birthday party, or whether to have that third piece of pizza – remember this is just one meal. Think of the bigger picture. Is one meal, one choice going to derail your entire lifestyle?
Also, consider what this one meal will do for your lifestyle.
If you feel that one off meal is going to set you up for more poor choices, then make a good choice at this meal! If you’re going out for wings later in the day, maybe choose something healthier for your breakfast. Consider the day and week ahead as well as what you need in the moment.
Happy, Healthy Lifestyle
Use these tips to help you let go of the diet mentality and transition into more intuitive eating. Ditch the calorie trackers and the restrictive habits and adopt new recipes and healthy taste buds. Instead of focusing on eliminating things, try adding more nutritious foods in.Give yourself permission to let go of the rules and embrace the freedom of a healthy lifestyle.
Give yourself permission to let go of the rules and embrace the freedom of a healthy lifestyle.
Which one of these tips will you start with? Let me know by leaving a comment or sharing on the Naturally Ever After Facebook Page!
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