Whether you’re trying to hone your ideal beach body or just want to lose a few pounds and get through the day with a little more energy, the most important factor in your health journey will be what you eat. Exercise is vital, and things like healthy sleeping practices and stress management can have a major impact on your health but nothing will make a difference like taking control of your nutrition.
Unfortunately, this is also an area many of us struggle with! Between hectic schedules, convenient but unhealthy fast food, and a dependency on sugar and caffeine for a much-needed boost, too many Canadians have an unhealthy relationship with food. Many of us know we have to eat better, but it’s overwhelming to know where to start. Do you begin with calorie counting? Do you need a kitchen scale? What about macro nutrients, is that a thing?
Slow down. If you’re looking to eat a little better and make a positive change in your life, don’t feel like you have to dive headfirst into intimidating major changes and complicated diets. A few simple adjustments can make a world of difference!
1) Eat at home
The simplest and most impactful diet change you can make is to simply curtail the number of restaurant and coffee shop visits you make. Generally, the less you eat on the go and the more you make and prepare at home, the healthier you’ll be!
Why? Well, there are multiple reasons. The first and most important one is simply the ingredients used. As Julia A. Wolfson, a researcher at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and lead author of study on the impact of at-home cooking on health puts it “When people cook most of their meals at home, they consume fewer carbohydrates, less sugar and less fat than those who cook less or not at all – even if they are not trying to lose weight.” Even without a conscious effort, you’ll generally be eating healthier at home than in a restaurant booth.
Secondly, cooking at home also means you total control over what is going into your body. When we say restaurants are less healthy, we are not just referring to obviously unhealthy fast food joints or lavish deep-fried menu items dripping with cheese. In many restaurants, even seemingly healthy options such as salads and grilled items are loaded up with sugars and excessive oils. When trying to eat healthy on the go, you might order the salad and still wind up eating the caloric equivalent of a burger. This isn’t even getting into restaurant portion sizes which are often needlessly large. How many times have you been stuffed, look down, and still see a half or a quarter of a plate and thought “well, I have to eat it all to get my money’s worth” then regretted it later?
Making your own meals at home will let you know exactly what your eating and how much of it. This is a powerful tool in its own right and only becomes stronger the more you pay attention to it. Starting with simple home cooked meals is a big net positive to your health, and if you want to be more selective and health conscious in the future by watching things like your protein intake and limiting carbs, all the better.
Sadly, there is one major downside to cooking at home – the time sink. There is no use shying away from it or trying to sugar coat it, cooking at home takes serious time. Between meal prep, cooking time, and all the clean up, cooking can chew up hours an evening if you’re not careful — hours you don’t have to waste.
That’s why our next tip is so important if you want to stay consistent and make the majority of your own meals.
2) Prep meals and snacks in advance
We know cooking takes a lot of time, but what is the time difference between making a chicken and wild rice dinner worth two servings versus one with four or six servings worth? You already have all the ingredients out, the knife and cutting board ready to go, the stovetop heated up to the right temperature. How much longer would it take to slice up a little more chicken and add another half cup of rice? Either way you’ll be washing the same dishes when you’re done.
This is the secret to eating home cooked meals consistently – prep and cook in advanced. Many recipes can be easily scaled to offer more servings without significantly increasing the actual time it takes to make them. Whatever you don’t eat that night can be packed into containers and stored in the fridge for easy, portion-controlled lunches and dinners that last for another day or more.
There are plenty of recipes out there that make great storable meals. From roasted chicken with veggies, to chickpea curry, to homemade breakfast burritos and BLT wraps. A little extra effort one night of the week can set you up with breakfasts, lunches, and dinners to see you through the week. Combine prepping and storing with judicious use of a slow cooker to make cooking a more hands-off event, and you can regularly enjoy delicious, healthy, homemade meals without breaking a sweat!
If you want to really take it to the next level, try prepping out some snack treats in advance as well. Prepping a few healthy snacks like grapes and almonds, granola mix, or some homemade cinnamon oatmeal cookies might just save your diet efforts when your feeling peckish. Instead of hitting up the office vending machine or convenience store candy rack, you can just pull out something already made and ready to enjoy.
Of course, this is all fine on a theoretical level, but how do we deal with those random cravings we all get sometimes for some fast and easy junk?
3) Eat more fiber and drink more water
There is no foolproof way to combat specific cravings or the siren song of a favourite treat. However, you can help avoid those situations where you suddenly feel hungry and need a bite with a simple addition to your daily meals: Fiber.
It might sound strange given fiber’s other famous effect, but on a chemical level, fiber slows the rate at which food enters your bloodstream. It helps keep your blood sugar levels on an even kneel, meaning it will help you avoid those random spikes that result in cravings and help keep you full longer. Combined with protein-rich foods that are released slower into your system, regular fiber intake can help you feel satisfied and motivated all day.
Also, remember to drink plenty of water. Thirst is often confused with hunger, especially for those of us with a taste for dehydrating caffeine drinks like coffee. The combination of dehydration from only drinking coffee all morning and the natural desire to help balance out the bitter flavour with something sweet is a sure-fire way to encourage unhealthy snacking. If you’re a coffee addict and can’t see yourself getting through your shift without your fix, a very simple “hack” is to simply drink one glass of water to every mug of coffee you go through. It will slow down your coffee consumption and help keep you hydrated.
Obviously there are many more ways to improve your diet and get healthier, but just adopting these three simple tips will make a huge difference in your life.
Think of them like the first steps to a healthier you.