Until recently I had always considered myself as being a healthy person. I never ate fast food, white bread, or drank soda. During my weight loss journey I learned that healthy eating means much more than just buying a loaf of whole grain bread. Healthy eating is a lifestyle. It’s really about educating yourself on health, exercise, and nutrition and then gradually incorporating positive healthy changes into your life. The operative term in that last sentence is the word gradual. It is important to gradually take out bad habits and replace with them with better ones. Many people fail at any type of weight loss strategy or healthy lifestyle change because they use a method that is too drastic and too quick. Good habits take time. Eating healthy is not a race, it’s a journey.
Here are some things that I learned about healthy eating while changing my eating habits:
1. Calories do count. The first week I started counting calories I lost 8 pounds. After that, I lost on average 1-3 pounds a week. The foundation for my weight loss is knowing exactly how many calories are going into my body. Some people shutter at the thought of counting calories. In all reality, it is a necessity for anyone wanting to lose weight permanently. You must know what is going into your body. The great thing about building healthy habits is that most likely you will not have to count calories forever. It is a great skill to have and one that I always come back to when I find myself getting off track.
2. Fresh, minimally processed foods are better. Our country is filled with highly processed and nutrition deficient foods that are heavily marketed specifically to busy parents and kids. These foods may seem harmless but there is plenty of evidence that shows these foods contribute to numerous health problems. It’s no secret that millions of Americans today suffer from obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer as the result of a poor diet. I was completely ignorant of how critical my diet is to my body’s overall wellness. Given the ubiquitous nature of processed foods in our society, it’s impossible to expect people to give up processed foods completely. However, I do feel that reducing your family’s consumption of processed foods will have a positive effect on their health. Learn to read labels and the ingredients list. If you see a lot of ingredients that you never heard of or can’t pronounce, then you may want to pass and find a less processed, natural version.
3. Just because a food says it is low-fat, low-calorie, and/or diet does not mean it is healthy. Many of the foods that claim to be better for you may not even be healthy. Often these foods are filled with harmful additives and other chemicals to make up for the loss in fat and sugar. This reduction is usually only a difference of a few grams and thus, making the original version much healthier.
4. Eating healthy does not cost more money. I was one of the many people who thought that eating healthy was going to cost me a fortune. I was wrong. My grocery bills have actually gone down since I started buying healthier foods and cooking at home. Controlling the portions I eat has also helped bring the cost of eating down. Usually, the difference in cost between a healthy food choice and an unhealthy food choice is small. It’s all about making health a priority.
5. Cooking homemade meals from scratch can fit into my busy life. At this point, many of you may be thinking, “When in the heck do I have time to cook a homemade meal?” Well, I work full-time outside the house and my family eats a homemade meal for dinner every night. “How is this possible?” you ask? I rely heavily on meal planning and freezer cooking as my key strategies for feeding my family healthy meals. I spend about 8 hours twice a month cooking meals for the next two weeks and then freeze them. You can read more about these strategies here.
6. Healthy eating does not mean sacrificing or giving up completely “bad foods”. I would be a total hypocrite if I said I never ordered a pizza or ate Doritos. They are delicious! I can honestly say that the times I eat these foods are few. Since I changed my diet to include more nutritious food, I do not having cravings for the less healthy choices.
In a nutshell, healthy eating to me means filling your body with wholesome, fresh, minimally processed foods everyday without exceeding the number of calories your body needs. It is about learning what habits you need to change and slowly replacing them with ones that will enhance your health. In time, you will see the benefits of these positive changes and they will become a part of who you are.