It’s the dawn of a new year, which means ’tis the season for resolutions. How many of you have resolved, yet again, to lose weight, eat healthier foods, or any number of other food-related pledges? If that sounds like you, I think you could find this article really helpful.
Sometimes, trying to make drastic food or lifestyle changes all at once can seem overwhelming, and even if you do get off to a good start, trying to keep it up for any length of time can be overly difficult and frustrating.
When that’s the case, the odds of you following through and actually reaching your goal can start to plummet.
Rather than trying to make huge, drastic changes in 2015, what I recommend is trying to make a series of small changes throughout the year. Over the months, all of those small changes will really start to add up to something pretty impressive.
Whatever your goal may be, using this method you will be much more likely to stick with your plan and reach that goal than, for example, cutting out all of your favorite foods all at once. Here, I will list a few small changes that will be easy to do but can make a big impact on your overall health.
Drink More Water
This is probably the easiest change you can make in your diet that can make the biggest difference in your life. Your body is made of up to 75% water, so you can imagine how important it is to keep replenishing this vital liquid.
To maintain bodily functions like digestion, circulation, and even maintaining your body temperature, you have to drink plenty of water every day. It’s also essential for good skin, proper kidney function, and normal bowel function.
If your New Year’s resolution is to lose weight, water should be your new best friend. If your problem is overeating, drinking a full glass of water before a meal will help you to eat less.
Sometimes, you may think you’re hungry when in fact what your body is really telling you is that it needs more fluids. Drinking that glass before you eat can actually cue your body in to the fact that it doesn’t really need food right now.
You probably already know that you need to drink more water, but what happens when you really don’t like the taste of water at all? Baby steps, my friends. Start small by replacing one drink a day with a glass of water.
Once you feel comfortable with that, get rid of another soda or juice by substituting that with water. Over the course of a few weeks or months, you will have switched to drinking mostly water all day long with only the occasional soda or other beverage, and you will definitely notice a difference in how your body feels as every part of your anatomy will function better.
Benefits of Lemon Water
Growing up, we were not big water drinkers in my family. My dad drank super-sweet coffee all day long, my mom always had a diet Mountain Dew in her hand, and I loved juice boxes and soda with the occasional Yoo-hoo thrown in.
Well, you know how some restaurants bring a glass of water with a lemon wedge to the table before they take your drink order? For some reason, as a teenager I decided one time to actually squeeze that lemon wedge into the water and drink it. To my surprise, I loved it!
Of course, to begin with I only drank lemon water when we would eat out, but over the course of a year or two, I gradually started drinking more and more water at home, even without the lemon juice.
I still almost always ask for water with a bowl of lemons every time I’m at a restaurant, and my daily liquid intake is 80% or more water every day. For someone who, as a child, would never in a million years ask for a glass of water when thirsty, I think this is a pretty impressive change, and this proves that anyone can develop a taste for water.
I use this as an example to show how a little lemon juice was the only catalyst I personally needed to drink more water, but as an adult I have also come to learn that lemon water is actually super healthy for you and think that everyone needs to drink at least one glass of lemon water every morning.
Drinking it first thing in the morning before you eat anything has been proven to jumpstart your metabolism. If you’re trying to lose weight, add a dash or two of ground cinnamon and another dash or two of cayenne pepper to further heighten this effect.
Not only will your metabolism get revved up, but lemons are also high in pectin fiber which will help you fight hunger cravings for the rest of the day.
The vitamin C in lemons is also highly beneficial for feeling healthier. It boosts your immune system, helps decrease wrinkles and blemishes, and can even help you feel less stressed as vitamin C is quickly used up by your body when you are dealing with a lot of stress, making you feel even more stressed than ever.
Getting a good dose of it with lemon water every day can help keep your stress levels lower since your body will have more to begin with.
Additionally, lemons are high in potassium, which is great for brain and nerve function and also helps control blood pressure.
Lastly, while water in and of itself is a great detoxifier as it helps push toxins out of the body through urination, lemon juice is a diuretic, which further increases urination to help flush those toxins out at an even faster rate.
With all of that being said, I want to also point out that all of the sources encouraging a morning dose of lemon water all state to drink the water warm. I can’t really find a scientific reason that it would be more beneficial that way, so I can only assume that it’s because cold water can be a bit of a shock to the system.
Drinking the water warm might make it easier for the body to absorb all of its healthful properties. Read more about the health effects of lemon.
Eat More Frequently
As you can see, I feel like water is of supreme importance to a healthy lifestyle, but there are a few other small changes you can make that will lead to a new and healthier you.
Being told to eat more frequently might seem counter-intuitive if you want to lose weight, but hear me out. Going longer than 3 three hours between meals forces your body to start producing the cortisol hormone, which is the body’s signal to start storing fat (particularly in the abdomen).
By eating 5-6 smaller meals throughout the day, you will be keeping your cortisol levels down while at the same time keeping your energy levels stabilized.
Feeding yourself more frequently can boost your metabolism, which in turn helps you manage your weight.
Additionally, this can also help you to keep your patience better throughout the day (a huge plus for this mother of three, ages 5 and under), help you to maintain your focus all day long, and help you to avoid food cravings.
Switching to this type of eating could be as easy as eating the same size meal as usual only breaking it up into two servings that you eat a few hours apart. This gets even easier if you plan each of these small meals ahead of time, with help from some quick and healthy lunch ideas or a great list of easy, healthy snacks to choose from.
Alternatively, serve yourself a smaller portion than you normally would at lunch and dinner, but make sure to eat a larger sized snack between once in the mid-morning and once in the afternoon. This one small change can have a big impact pretty quickly.
If you’ve ever gone to the grocery store without a shopping list, you know how quickly you can fly through your food budget only to get home and realize you still have nothing to cook for dinner. It will save you so much money if you sit down and plan out what you are going to eat for every meal of every day of the week.
Other than being a big money-saver, I promise that planning out your meals will lead to much healthier meals and snacks. There are a few different ways this is the case.
First, if you have a meal planned in advance, you will be much less likely to eat out. If you are eating home-cooked meals instead of restaurant food, 9 times out of 10 you will be eating healthier food as well. Not only can you ensure you are cooking with healthy ingredients, you can control your portion size as well.
If a server brings you a huge plate of food, and the food itself is perfectly cooked and super yummy, are you really going to stop eating when you’re full? Or are you going to continue to eat because it’s just that good? Sadly, more often than not I will fall into the latter category.
Another way that meal-planning makes for a healthier you is that it’s easier to stick to a whole food diet when you plan in advance what you are going to cook and buy everything you will need beforehand.
In a previous article, I examined why you should switch to a whole foods diet and how to do it, which you may want to take a look at if you’re not familiar with this type of eating. Also, Marla’s article on Paleo baking techniques is a good read if you can’t give up your bread and pastries.
In addition to these examples, meal-planning ensures you have a healthy lunch to enjoy every day (and if you are a work-from-home deadline cruncher, you know just how challenging that can be!).
If you work outside the home, you may be used to buying your lunch every day. I can tell you from past experience that this is the fastest way to gain weight (other than pregnancy), and that is NOT a good thing.
Several years ago I worked in a physician’s office where a different drug rep brought us lunch almost every single day. After just a few months, I was the heaviest I have ever been in my life (barring pregnancy), and I had to make the decision to stop eating the catered lunches and bring my own.
It was the best decision that I could have made, and soon I was back to a much healthier weight.
Meal-planning is such a simple thing to do, and yet it can have a drastic influence on your weight (not to mention your bank account!).
It only takes me about 30 minutes each Sunday to sit down and plan out what recipes I want to cook over the course of the next week and put together a shopping list (remember to always shop from your pantry first). I never run out of healthy things to feed my family, and it also takes the stress out of having to come up with dinner every night when I already know exactly what I can cook.
Best of all – I can work around my family’s dietary preferences including my somewhat picky children.
Eat More Color!
Mother Nature is a true artist and makes food in every color of the rainbow. Each hue actually signifies the presence of certain vitamins, antioxidants, and other natural chemicals. The more varied the colors on your plate are, the more nutrients you are taking in.
Orange foods will give you a healthy dose of beta carotene which is great for your eyesight, boosts your immunity, and can protect against certain types of cancer. Purple and blue-hued vegetables and fruits contain anthocyanins, compounds which help reduce your risk for high blood pressure and low HDL (the good kind) cholesterol.
High levels of antioxidants, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids in green leafy veggies are responsible for reducing the risk of developing type II diabetes, heart disease, and are typically very high in fiber (making you feel fuller and helping you to not overeat).
Omega-3’s can even help to improve your mood! Red fruits and vegetables contain lycopene, hesperidin, ellagic acid, etc. These nutrients have been shown to cut your risk of developing certain cancers, can help lower blood pressure, and support healthy joints.
Everyone I know likes at least a few fruits or veggies. Aim to have at least one serving with each meal, and try to have a different color each time to get the full array of health benefits. Berries at breakfast, carrot sticks with hummus as a snack, or a big salad for lunch.
For dinner, switch out crunchy fried meats or Chinese food with lightly pan-fried, tasty breaded vegetables instead, such as you’ll find in this delicious recipe.
Focus on adding just one fruit or vegetable to your plate at each meal. Your goal is to work up to having 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
A serving size is generally one cup, and that’s really not that much to eat at one sitting. It’s as easy as eating an apple for your dessert. Keep in mind, though, that if you’re watching your weight, you should limit your starchy vegetable intake (think peas and potatoes) to just a few servings a week.
To Sum It Up
A couple of last things to keep in mind: First, make sure to keep an eye on your saturated and trans-fat intake. This is as simple as cutting back on fried food, if that’s your downfall. If you love fried chicken, try cutting back to once a month or even every two weeks instead of eating it every Sunday after church.
IF you make it more of a special occasion food, when you do allow yourself that indulgence, it will seem like that much more of a treat.
Secondly, and this may sound silly, but chew your food. Really chew it up well. The better you chew your food, the easier it is for your body to digest it. This can prevent upset tummies as well as heartburn later.
Moreover, we’ve all heard that it takes your brain a while to register that your stomach is full. It actually takes up to 20 minutes before your body will get the signal to stop eating, so if you’re practically inhaling your food, before you know it you’ll have eaten twice the amount of food than you really needed.
Chew each bite at least 10 times before you swallow, and then take time to really savor that bite before you take another one. Enjoy good conversation with your meal to further slow the process. This is sure to keep you from eating so fast that you overeat.
Both of these tips are so easy to implement into your routine, and the other tips and tricks are simple, too. I hope some of these ideas will get you into the right frame of mind to really make a change for the better in this New Year and help you to realize the goal of a healthier and happier you.
About Ashley Martell
Ashley has enjoyed creative writing since she was six years old, when she wrote her first short story. She majored in English literature at the University of Montevallo. After years of professional work, she is now a stay-at-home mom of three, who uses her craft to write about her life and adventures in and out of the kitchen.