Baby Steps to Healthy Eating
If getting healthy or losing weight is at the top of your New Year’s Resolutions, you are not alone. According to Nielson, nearly 70% of us made health-related resolutions last year.
Top New Year’s Resolutions of 2015
Stay fit and healthy 37%
Lose weight 32%
Enjoy life to the fullest 28%
Spend less, save more 25%
Spend more time with family and friends 19%
Get organized 18%
Will not make any resolutions 16%
Learn something new/new hobby 14%
Travel more 14%
Read more 12%
You’d think we’d all be fit, healthy and thin with those stats (and also organized, debt-free and well-travelled), but it turns out, there’s a disconnect. Because, while we are resolved to be healthy and lose weight, a whopping 91% of us admit to snacking all day on candy, ice cream and chips! Source
Most of us want to take control of our health, but few of us do the necessary things to get there.
Why is that?
I’m not a dietician, a nutritionist, a statistician or a wellness expert. But I’m a healthy person from the U.S. who is fighting all the same temptations as you. And while this is not an exhaustive list, I have some thoughts as to why we fail:
1. People are creatures of habit, and habits are hard to break. If you have a Coke and a Snickers every day at 3 pm, it’s difficult to quit that. Your body adapts and tells you that you NEED a Coke and Snickers at precisely 3 pm, and if you don’t have it every single day, YOUR BODY WILL SCREAM LIKE A TANTRUM-THROWING TODDLER.
2. People like junk food. Junk food tastes good. The end.
3. People can’t get away from junk food. Go anywhere (work, school, church, gas station, drug store, sporting events, your neighbor’s house) and there is junk food available. Kids think they need a snack wherever they go. My kids have never missed a meal in their lives, but if a certain Cooper kid thinks she won’t get a snack during the 15-minute car ride or the 90-minute church service, she claims starvation.
4. People are overwhelmed with information. Thank you, Internets, for information overload. Never, in the history of mankind, have we been simultaneously so well-informed and, also, so obese.
5. People have an all-or-nothing mentality. They think if they screwed up breakfast, they screwed up the whole day. They think if they can’t overhaul their entire diet, they won’t make any changes at all.
This all-or-nothing mentality is where I want to focus today. I want to encourage you that small changes are better than no changes. Some people can wake up tomorrow and cut out all processed food, all sugar, all refined flours, all grains, all legumes and all dairy. If that’s you, YOU ARE A ROCK STAR. GO FOR IT. For real. You won’t regret making a clean break from an unhealthy diet. #goals
But the rest of us…we won’t do that. We need to take Baby Steps.
Sure, it sounds so wonderful to chuck all the bad stuff and start over eating all new healthy whole foods tomorrow. But that is a recipe for exhaustion. (Heh. See what I did there? Stuck a food metaphor right in the middle of a post about food). You’ll quickly decide all this healthy eating is not worth the trouble or the expense. You’ll miss your Coke and your Snickers, and no amount of fresh fruit will satisfy your sweet tooth. Pretty soon, you’ll be all, “Forget this!” and you’ll be back to the 91% of people eating candy, chips and ice cream every day, all day.
I’ve been eating as healthy I know for most of my married life. I say “as healthy as I know” because I didn’t always know I was making poor choices. My desire to be healthy was always there, but I didn’t know where to make changes. I believed all the labels and health claims of every processed food.
“Healthy” to me used to mean
Gatorade (because: electrolytes),
Hot Pockets (Good source of protein, made with “real” cheese),
frozen breaded fish in a box (fish is good for me),
Berry Berry Kix (Kids like Kix for what Kix has got, Moms like Kix for what Kix is not)
and Taco Bell taco salad (it’s salad, and salad is healthy).
Gradually, over the last 20 years, I’ve eliminated every one of those foods from our family’s diet (plus, dozens more!) and replaced them with real, whole foods. I didn’t do it in a day. I did it over YEARS.
If you are just starting out your journey to healthy eating, don’t be discouraged. Just take a few Baby Steps, and do those until they become habit. Then take a few more. And a few more. And before you know it, you will have overhauled your entire diet…and your life.
Here are some Baby Steps that worked for our family:
Baby Step One: Limit sugar. The more studies done on sugar, the worse the story gets. Sugar consumption has been linked to dozens of bad things like cancer, weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, and depression. If there is one change you make, I would suggest it be this one.
If you eat dessert nightly, decide you’ll only eat dessert on Saturday. If you add sugar to your coffee, add half the sugar, then wean completely. If you drink soda: just stop. It’s one of the best things you can do for your health.
Baby Step Two: Substitute crappy processed food (pretty much the entire center of your grocery store) with organic/all natural processed food. If your kids live on fruit roll ups for snacks (full of artificial dyes and preservatives), switch to an all-natural version. Buy the Newman’s Own version of Oreos. Get Cascadian Farms or Kind Bars instead of Quaker.
Yes, it’s still processed, and no, you don’t want to eat this way forever. But just cutting out some of the mystery ingredients will benefit your health. It’s not a huge change, but it’s better than no change.
Baby Step Three: Substitute organic/all-natural processed food with whole food. Instead of fruit roll-ups, try actual fruit. Instead of cookies, try home made trail mix with nuts and raisins and dark-chocolate bits. If you want a cookie, make a batch at home with quality ingredients. One-by-one, eliminate the processed food from your pantry.
Baby Step Four: Substitute your family’s favorite meals with healthier or homemade versions of the same meal. If you currently eat boxed shells and cheese with Velveeta sauce, try a mac and cheese recipe you can make from scratch with real cheese and whole milk. If you love sugary cereals for breakfast, try a bowl of oatmeal and fresh fruit instead. Make pancakes from scratch instead of a mix. Make homemade vinaigrette instead of a bottle.
I was shocked to discover making these things from scratch took only slightly more time than opening a box and mixing it with water. And homemade tastes so much better than processed!
Baby Step Five: Concentrate on one meal at a time. Decide you’re going to only change dinners first. (Or lunches. Or breakfasts.) And leave the rest of your eating alone for now. Once you have a good set of dinners in place that you and your family enjoy, start overhauling the next meal.
If you try to transform every meal from the get go, it will quickly become overwhelming, and your family will revolt. Having to think through and cook each and every meal will feel like a chore, your kids won’t recognize a thing on their plates, and it won’t be long before the Chick Fil A drive through will be calling your name.
Baby Step Six: Add a fresh fruit or vegetable to every meal and snack, and eat it first. Before you try to “remove” anything from your diet, maybe you just need to add the good stuff. Decide you won’t eat the bad stuff until you’ve eaten the good stuff first. I use this method with my kids all the time.
Kids: “Mom, can I have a cookie?”
Me: “Sure, but eat an apple and peanut butter first.”
About half the time, they don’t want cookie because they are too full.
And speaking of Chick Fil A, the other day, I took Elliana and her little friend there for dinner. They both wanted nuggets and fries. I agreed to the fries, only if they’d first split a large order of fresh fruit.
Both were full after eating the fruit and chicken, and ended up leaving their fries altogether, while they frolicked off to play on the giant slide.
(So there I sat, alone, with two orders of waffle fries staring me in the face. Calling me. Saaaaannnndddyyyyyyyy.)
(This story does not have a happy ending.)
(For the girls, yes. For me, no.)
Baby Step Six: Speaking of Chick Fil A again, limit eating out. Even if you are eating at “healthy” restaurants, you have no control over how the food is prepared or portion sizes. Besides that, it’s insanely expensive to eat out all the time.
On a normal week, we eat out about 2-3 meals per week. That means mid-week pizza (not always delivery, sometime we make our own), dinner on Saturday and lunch after church on Sunday. The rest of the time, we eat at home.
Baby Step Seven: Streamline one or two meals. I eat the same healthy breakfast and lunch almost every day. Breakfast is two scrambled eggs, half an avocado diced, topped with salsa.
Lunch is a smoothie.
I don’t even think about it any more. Sometimes I’ll add a piece of bacon, toast or fruit to breakfast. Sometimes I’ll eat leftovers for lunch. But rarely does this change.
Simply streamlining these two meals frees up my brain to concentrate on making good dinners. (One thing I did for years is make a giant pot of soup on Monday for dinner and then eat it every day for lunch the rest of the week. That works too. For my favorite soup recipes, click here.)
Baby Step Eight: Make a meal plan for the week, make a grocery list from the meal plan, and shop off your list. This is such a good thing to do for a million reasons. Every time I don’t do this, I regret it. Every time.
It is possible to reach your health and fitness goals this year. Every step in the right direction matters. Don’t be discouraged. Just make one small change. Then add another. And another. And another.
You got this. *fist bump*
Do you know, reading your list makes me realise we’re not doing too badly. I like the idea of ‘eat something healthy first’. I might try that for myself, let alone the kids! I have been baking some parkin this afternoon, which uses coconut sugar, cornflakes, plain flour, spices and molasses. It’s got sugar in it but a good whack of iron too. I just had some with some plain soya yoghurt. So it’s a treat but healthier than something bought from the supermarket. I cook mostly from scratch, but it takes time and energy to do so. We’re going to be making our own pizzas later (kids love that) because my daughter’s friend is coming. I’ve done the same thing several times when children have come for tea. What astonishes me is that not one of them had ever made their own pizzas before! I consider myself ‘lazy’ if I buy the pizza bases ready made. Maybe I should stop being so hard on myself. Perhaps that’s part of the solution. Oh crumbs! I’m late for the school run…
First, you should NOT be so hard on yourself.
And second, I love that you said, “oh crumbs.”
You are adorable.
Thank you for this information. I am able to take home the following Baby Steps that worked for our family:
Baby Step Two: Substitute crappy processed food (pretty much the entire center of your grocery store) with organic/all natural processed food.
Step Six: Add a fresh fruit or vegetable to every meal and snack, and eat it first.
Step Three: Substitute organic/all-natural processed food with whole food.
Step Four: Substitute your family’s favorite meals with healthier or homemade versions of the same meal.
Step Eight: Make a meal plan for the week, make a grocery list from the meal plan, and shop off your list.
Step Five: Concentrate on one meal at a time.