I started my first diet when I was around 11 years old. Looking back, I was a little on the chubby side, but I felt much larger than I actually was.
Since we live in a society that seem to cherish and idolize thin girls, I felt that the only way to gain more worth was to lose some pounds.
I wish I could say that I learned early on that body size was not correlated with what I had to offer the world, but I didn’t. Instead, I carried the belief that thin equals worthy for most of my adult life.
It wasn’t until after I turned 40 that I was smart enough to realize that these two things have absolutely nothing to do with each other. That said, it’s also hard to feel strong mentally when you don’t feel your best physically. And I feel better when I eat better.
The ways in which diet affect us mentally are complex and something I didn’t grasp more fully until I earned my Nutrition Specialist Certification from the ISSA.
I’m not going to go into all of them here, but suffice it to say that, when your body gets the nutrients it needs (and not a lot of junk it doesn’t), it functions more effectively and efficiently.
It’s like how your car runs better when you give it high-quality fuel that doesn’t contain a lot of water or impurities. The same is true for you too.
If you’re like most people, you also know that making changes to your diet isn’t always easy. But it doesn’t have to be difficult either.
In fact, here are seven simple ways you can improve your diet — and your health — starting today.
#1: Hide Your Salt Shaker
The problem with salt is that, when you take in more than you need, it increases your risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.
Salt also makes you want to eat and drink more, which is why a lot of bars put pretzels and peanuts on their tables. It means higher tabs.
Your body does need some sodium to survive, so you can’t just cut it out. But most people get too much. In fact, the American Heart Association reports that 9 in 10 people consume more than they actually need on a regular basis.
One way to one of the 10 that doesn’t is to hide your salt shaker in the cupboard. This keeps you from reaching for it out of habit and salting your plate before you even know if it needs it.
You may feel like your food tastes more bland at first, but if you give it a few days, you’ll also notice that — maybe for the first time ever — you’re actually able to taste the things on your plate versus only tasting salt.
I also noticed that I ate less when I started using less salt. So there’s that too.
#2: Aim for 1 More
Unless you absolutely love eating fruits and veggies, you likely need more of these foods in your diet to meet your minimum daily recommendations on vitamins and minerals.
Though many of us know this, knowing simply isn’t enough. We need to find ways to “do.”
ChooseMyPlate, which is run they the USDA, suggests that most people need 1-2 cups of fruit daily and 1-3 cups of veggies per day.
If you don’t typically eat much of either, this can feel like an impossible amount. That’s why it helps to just aim for one more serving than you normally eat.
For example, if you’re not really into vegetables (which is admittedly one area where I struggle), aim to eat a small salad with your dinner or a side of veggies with your lunch.
You can always add more later. In the beginning, just focus on adding one serving so you don’t feel overwhelmed.
#3: Reinvent Your Favorite Foods
One of my favorite foods is pizza. The problem is, it’s not exactly good for you.
In the past, I would simply tell myself that I couldn’t eat pizza if I wanted to be healthy. If you’ve ever done this to yourself, you already know it doesn’t work because you wind up craving it even more.
Now, I let myself have my favorites, I just reinvent them so they’re a bit healthier.
In fact, I just my first cauliflower pizza crust the other day and I have to say that I actually prefer it to a dough crust. Who would’ve thought? (This is the recipe I used, if you’re interested: Cauliflower Pizza Crust.)
What are some ways you can make your favorites healthier? Can you remove the skin from your favorite chicken wings and bake them instead of fry? What about swapping out vegetable oil for applesauce in your dessert recipes?
Eating healthy shouldn’t feel restrictive. It should feel like an adventure.
#4: Drink Up
Sometimes we think we’re hungry when we’re actually thirsty. Think of all the calories you can save then just by knowing the difference!
This is a huge one for me because last year I donated a kidney. As a result, I must make it a priority to drink at least 6 glasses of water a day, to make sure my remaining kidney stays in good health.
Look, I’m not gonna lie. There are some days I struggle to get my water in. Days when I just want something to drink that has flavor.
But here’s the thing about drinking more water: it makes you feel more full, gives you more energy, and even clears up your skin. What can you do to drink more?
I set specific times to consume my water so I make sure I get in. Since one of my glasses holds 16 ounces (two 8 ounce glasses), I know that I need to drink one in the morning, one around noon, and one at night. The rest of the day, I can drink my two favorites: iced tea and coffee.
And if you struggle with drinking more water because it’s so bland, add things to it to give it some flavor. Cucumber is great for hot summer days, as is a little fresh basil.
Fruit chunks work well for this purpose too.
#5: When You Eat…Eat!
When you eat, do you multitask? Maybe you always check your social media while eating your breakfast or always eat dinner in front of the TV?
When you multitask while you eat, your body has a harder time registering that you did, in fact, eat. So, you tend to eat more.
If you’ve ever bought a huge tub of popcorn at the movie theater, only to reach into it halfway through and notice it’s empty, you know what I’m talking about.
Keeping this type of situation from happening to you requires that, when you eat, just eat! Don’t do anything else that will prevent you from enjoying your meal and realizing when you’re full.
I’ve found that it helps when I eat at the kitchen table, facing away from the TV (preferably it’s turned off). I’ve also noticed that I eat less when I eat mindfully, which is an added bonus.
This one can be tough to get used to if you’ve never really done it. But it’s also one simple change that can make a huge difference, so try it out!
#6: Keep Healthy Go-To’s on Hand
Look, there are times when we all get busy and don’t want to prep all day in the kitchen. For times like these, it’s helpful to have some healthy go-to’s on hand.
For instance, just this week, I was working on a huge editing project for a client, which meant that my work day started between 2 and 3 AM and didn’t end until about 5 PM. The last thing I wanted to do when I stepped away from my computer was spend an hour fixing dinner.
Nights like these, it isn’t uncommon to quickly fry up some ground turkey, add a can of mixed beans and a little bit of ketchup and BBQ sauce, giving me a quick, mainly healthy (and filling) meal.
Another one of my healthy go-to’s is fish tacos. I can take the fish out of the freezer in the morning and it’s thawed by that night. Fry it with a little bit of olive oil and dice up some tomato, onion, and cilantro and I’ve got a fast, tasty meal. (Don’t forget the lime!)
What are some of the quicker healthy meals you don’t mind making if you’re crunched on time? Keep those foods on hand so you have them when you need them.
#7: Lose Your All-or-Nothing Thinking
I don’t know about you, but I tend to be an all-or-nothing thinker. This means, if I do one thing that doesn’t fit into my idea of a healthy diet — such as eating a dessert or having fast food — it’s very easy for me to just give up.
I’m basically either all in or all out. There’s not much in between.
While this benefits me because I am typically pretty determined, one little slip and I can slide right back to square one. Since no one is perfect 100% of the time, this is not good.
That’s why I’m working really hard to lose my all-or-nothing thinking. Though I didn’t think it was possible, I’m happy to report that I’m actually making progress.
In fact, last time I ate a sweet, I was tempted to drive right to the store and get a whole bag so I could make the most of my “slip.” But I didn’t.
Instead, I continued on with my healthy eating and am proud to say that I got over it and moved forward.
Developing healthier habits isn’t easy (thus, the title of this article is “7 Simple Tips” versus “7 Easy Tips”…there’s a big difference!).
It also isn’t something that you have to do all day every day to have a healthier life.
As long as you continue to work on them and make better choices over time, you’ll get there.
And if there are any tips you use to be healthier, feel free to share them below. I’m always interested in learning what works for others, as are some of my readers!