There’s a lot of confusion about how and what to eat in this country. It’s no wonder. If you type in “nutrition books” into the search engine at Amazon.com, you turn up with over 50,000 books! Are there really 50,000 ways to to eat? Maybe, but more often than not, solid nutritional programs tend to have more commonalities than differences.
Let’s forget about all the fancy rules of all the different diets out there and get back to the basics. Here’s a list of basic nutritional tips that I use:
1. Drink More Water
No…not juice, not coffee, and not diet soda. Water. Plain and simple. Start out your day with drinking a glass or two of water, then drink water throughout your day. How much water should you be drinking? Expert opinions vary on this but I personally use half my bodyweight in ounces of water as a guideline. I weigh 185 lbs so I shoot for drinking around 90 ounces of water a day. Am I saying you shouldn’t drink anything else? No, I’m just saying it’s what is optimal. I think of other drinks (soda, juice, etc.) as a treat on top of the water I drink.
2. Eat Balanced Meals
There’s a lot of different expert opinions on this: the Zone diet, Atkin’s, Pritikin, Metabolic Typing, the government’s food pyramid…so on and so on. I like to keep things simple. Have some meat (lean beef, chicken, fish, or eggs), have some starch (brown rice, quinoa, whole-grain pasta, etc.) and some vegetables (spinach, chard, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, bell peppers, etc.). My personal belief is that we are all individuals with an individual biochemical metabolism that is affected by our genetics and lifestyle. Nobody out there has the definitive answer on this short of getting genetic testing and having it adjusted for your lifestyle. Nutritional Genomics is the future of this but getting in all the above mentioned foods will put you on the right track until the scientists figure it out.
3. Eat Breakfast
I run across so many people that start their day with coffee or coffee and a bagel then finish of the day with a huge meal before they go to bed. This is the exact opposite of what they should be doing. When you wake up in the morning, your blood sugar is low from going without food during sleep. Make sure you start off your day with a breakfast following the guidelines that I listed above about eating balanced meals. You’re not hungry in the morning? No problem, just eat whatever you can and gradually increase the amount until you’re eating a full breakfast. After a while of doing this, you will find that your body CRAVES breakfast. This is a good thing. You should also find your energy levels and mood get better as you start giving your body what it needs at the beginning of the day.
4. Eat Multiple Meals Every Day
Not only should you be eating a balanced breakfast, but you should be eating 3-5 meals/snacks per a day. These meals and snacks should be eaten every 3-4 hours. How many should you have? This is a complex question that should be addressed with a professional. A more general answer would be: eat if you’re hungry. Some people have metabolic or psychological issues that cause them to be hungry even when they have eaten recently. Most likely you’re not one of these people so don’t starve yourself. Eat when you’re hungry.
5. Minimize Processed Food.
I really want to say never eat processed food, but let’s face it: some of this crap tastes good. It is still crap though so keep that in mind. How do you identify processed crap food you might ask? Easy: READ THE LABEL. I don’t care what the marketing on the package says, ingredient labels have to list certain things and meet government standards. Ingredients are also listed from the largest component to smallest component. For example, if the ingredient list has: water, high-fructose corn syrup, sugar, orange juice…you know that the product is really made up of water, high-fructose corn syrup, and sugar; there’s probably not too much juice in there. Also, if you read the label and the product has words that you can’t pronounce or sound like agents of chemical warfare, there’s a good chance it’s processed food. This stuff is to be eaten at a minimum.
6. Eat or Prepare Your Meals at Home
This is a pain in the butt, especially if you don’t consider yourself a decent cook, but I find preparing your own food is a necessary key to getting your eating regimen in the right direction. Most restaurants, even expensive ones, keep costs down by buying the cheapest ingredients they can find. It’s the simple economics of running a business. In most cases the food is prepared to taste good, not to help you with your nutrition goals. Tasting good to some chefs requires adding things that you might not if you were cooking your own food. You don’t know how to cook? I didn’t either until I learned a few things. You don’t have to win culinary awards or get on “The Iron Chef” reality show. Just learn a few basic concepts to get the job done. Cooking eggs and making salads are a great way to start.
7. Follow the 80/20 or 90/10 Rule
Everyone is busy and we all have lapses in will power. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Don’t place unreasonable expectations on yourself either. Instead try to follow good eating principles 80% or 90% of the time. Even if 80% is too much “good behavior” for you, try 51/49. Eventually you can increase the percentage but start with something that is reasonable for you. The point is that as long as the “good” outweighs the “bad” eating habits, you’re doing alright.
8. Listen to Your Body!
I had to put an exclamation point on the end of this one. Human bodies are super complex. There are systems in place to give you feedback if something isn’t right for you. You don’t have to think about whether putting your hand in a fire is bad for you; your body let’s you know pretty quick. A more nutritionally oriented example would be eating a gallon of ice cream. It might taste pretty good when it’s going down, but the stomach ache and general feeling of discomfort you get after is your body letting you know that you screwed up. If you read some expert advice or follow some crazy diet book and you start getting stomach aches, headaches, diarrhea or other “bad” feeling, that’s a pretty good indication that you’re body isn’t appreciating it too much. I believe that if we tap into our body’s intuition it’s hard to go wrong.