I’m a big fan of lists. I find most people are. When things are clearcut and straightforward, it’s just easier. Adopt one or two behaviors and you’ve made a significant difference. Adopt them all and you could change your life.
So here we go!
1) Salad dressing on the side
We all know that salads are “good for you.” Well, if they aren’t drenched in high-fat or sugary salad dressings, full of cheese and a fist-sized portion of guacamole, this may be true. How can we moderate those calories? Well, obviously, by omitting them in the first place. But without those flavors, salad loses most of its appeal to all but the most eccentric plant-eaters (like me!).
So here’s what you do: have the salad dressing (oil-and-vinegar-based is best) on the side. For each bite of salad, dip your fork into the dressing, and then go for some greens. Just enough flavor, and a lot more control.
2) Eat before you go out to eat.
This sounds crazy. “I’m going to a restaurant to enjoy delicious foods! Why would I want to fill up beforehand?” The answer is simple: restaurant food is bad for you and it will disrupt your progress 99% of the time.
Why? Because most restaurants add salt, fat, and sugar to everything in order to make it taste better. One such meal can ruin an entire week of otherwise good eating, let alone more than one. Why do this to yourself?
So here’s what you do: eat your healthy foods (you are eating mostly healthy foods day-to-day, right?!) before you go to the restaurant.
That’s right! Your chicken breast, brown rice, and broccoli, or tilapia, sweet potato, and broccoli rabe, or your tofu scramble, chickpea, avocado, and arugula salad, and whole wheat toast with nondairy spread. Get ’em all in there. And then, go to the restaurant and order something healthy. Week: saved!
3) Use cooking spray instead of oil.
Generally, it’s great to eat chicken breast, broccoli, asparagus, or portabello mushrooms, but what about when it’s coated in oil? Is it still healthy?
One tablespoon of olive oil contains 119 calories. let’s say you had one cup of broccoli containing 31 calories, 6 ounces of chicken with 276, and 1/2 cup of brown rice clocking in at 109. Without any oil, that’s about 416 calories.
Let’s say you added one tablespoon of oil to each thing. Your slim-and-trim under-500 calorie meal rises to 773 calories.
So here’s what you do: use cooking spray instead of oil. A 1/4-second spray of Pam contains 0 calories. That’s right. (As you add spray, the calories may rise above 0), so count how long you’re spraying for. But at least there’s a chance.
4) Eat predominantly complex carbs
What is all this chatter about “simple” carbs versus “complex” carbs? In a nutshell, a simple carb has no (or very little) fiber, is less filling, and is more quickly broken down and absorbed by the body.
A complex carb, on the other hand, does contain significant amounts of fiber, is more filling, and is slowly digested by the body. Based on these criteria alone, you can see why complex carbs are more complementary to calorie control.
So here’s what you do: white bread becomes wheat bread. Breakfast cereal becomes oatmeal. White potato becomes sweet potato. White pasta becomes whole wheat pasta. White rice becomes brown rice. Don’t complain about it! Just do it! (or just don’t eat bread, cereal, pasta, potatoes….your choice!)
5) Keep a food journal
Just knowing that you’re going to have to relive all of your food choices can make a difference. If you don’t want to see it in your book, keep it off your plate!!!
Here’s what you do: use a notebook, your phone, apps like MyFitnessPal, whatever it takes. Do it at every meal, at the end of the day, or whenever works for you. Just write it all down, somewhere, somehow, right here, right now!
6) Avoid alcohol
Alcoholic beverages contain 7 calories per gram of alcohol. A “standard” drink—12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, and 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits—each contains 14 grams of pure alcohol. That’s 98 calories per drink. Ok, not that big a deal (unless you have five of them….)
But what may be even more impactful about alcohol is its effect on metabolism. Your body has a harder time absorbing nutrients from food when there is alcohol in your system. Your metabolism can also slow, contributing to weight gain and undermining your hard work in the gym.
So here’s what you do: follow Number 7.
7) Drink water, and more of it
Sooo many empty calories come from beverages. Soda, juice, beer, sweetened ice tea….there is very little nutritional benefit to drinking these with any regularity. Let’s say with breakfast, you have a glass of OJ: 112 calories. Then, with lunch, you have a glass of soda: 140 calories. Then, with dinner, a glass of 2% milk: 122 calories. Then, after dinner, a cocktail: 150 calories. That’s 500 calories!!!
Nowadays, we hear more and more about how often thirst is mistaken for hunger. And guess what? It’s true! Also, stress becomes more pronounced we’re dehydrated, which compounds this effect.
So here’s what you do: buy a portable water container, or buy bottled water (just make sure to recycle!) and drink water all day, everyday!!!
8) Drink black coffee or tea
Caffeine addiction is no picnic, but at least it can boost productivity, if only temporarily and with certain downsides associated with it. But if your daily caffeine jolts are also contributing to your caloric intake, that’s a double whammy that you can do without.
So here’s what you do: drink black coffee! If it’s too bitter, there are a few options to choose from. The first is to drink better-quality coffee. Grind your own and try a few different kinds. Colombian is a great place to start!
The next option is sweeteners. Sucralose and stevia are the go-tos. Both are calorie-free and sweet as heck. And if you want to avoid the health hazards associated with sucralose, go with stevia. Bingo.
9) Use sweetness and saltiness to satisfy cravings, not hunger
When we’re hungry, sometimes the go-to is something sweet or salty. There is a biological reason for this. Sugar is a source of quick energy in the body. Salt is an electrolyte that controls blood pressure and allows our muscles to work properly.
When we’re low on either one, it produces a craving, which creates stress. Of course it does; we’re hungry! We’re not thinking clearly. The natural reaction is to make a beeline for the chips or Oreos. “I’ll just have one,” you say. A little bit later, the whole container is gone.
That’s because you used salt or sugar to satisfy not just your craving, but your overall hunger. Whoops!
So here’s what you do: eat more regularly. Get your healthy meals in, and have healthy snacks on hand to deal with cravings. Try fruit for sugar cravings and nuts, seeds, or carrots and hummus for salt cravings.
10) Exercise more
There are two ways to cut calories: eat less and exercise more. If you’ve ever used the Assault Bike, you know how long it can take to burn calories. While it’s true you can’t out-exercise a bad diet, what exercise can do is complement a good diet. Ideally, your food should fuel your workouts and your workouts should fuel your hunger. Good habits in one area complement them in the other, and keep you accountable, help you keep your eye on the prize.
So here’s what you do: take the stairs. Park far away from stores and walk there. Get a standup desk (and research it). Take regular walks throughout the day. Play with your kids more. Join an exercise class. Ask your trainer for more exercise routines to do at home when you’re not training together. Squeeze a stress ball. Chew gum. Fidget. It all adds up, trust me!
So, Long story short….well, not too short anymore. Ten is a lot!
Execute changes that build towards a healthier lifestyle. When you grow in one area, whether it’s fitness or nutrition, try to grow in the other area as well. It doesn’t have to happen all at once, and it may involve some trials and tribulations. Having a trainer or nutrition professional can make it much easier because you have guidance and accountability.
But as you move forward in your mind, you’ll find your body moving forward along with you, towards a healthier future of your own making. And that is what we’re after.