Note: this post regarding the top 10 ways to eat healthier is adapted from a podcast done by Ben Bergeron, the owner of CrossFit New England and coach of extremely successful CrossFit athletes including Katrin Davidsdottir, and Cole Sager.
Nutrition is the starting block for any fitness improvements. The truth is I've worked with a few athletes at our CrossFit gym who never change the way they eat, and therefore never truly see the improvements they want in their health and fitness. I don't think it is because people don't want to be eating healthier; it is because the world has told you nutrition is complicated and eating healthy doesn't taste good. Both are lies. In this post I'm going to give you the top 10 ways to eat healthier with concrete examples for how to apply these in your life.
I've broken these down in order of most important to least important. Tip number one is going to be low hanging fruit, and as we work to tip number ten they will become harder and harder to implement. If you can knock out
I don't think anyone goes to McDonald's, orders a burger and milkshake, and thinks they're making a healthy choice. So that first part is easy. The harder part is avoiding added sugar. Sugar is in EVERYTHING. Next time you buy a loaf of bread, look at the ingredients and I almost guarantee your loaf has added sugar. There's no need for this addition - except to make it last longer and line that company's pockets. Check the label on everything you eat, and avoid everything with added sugar. One thing that makes this difficult is that sugar hides under other terms. The most common terms are brown rice syrup and pure cane juice. Keep an eye out for these in all of the food you buy.
Apply to your life: Next time you go to the grocery store, read anything with a label and see if it has added sugar - in any of its forms.
If you tackle tip one and avoid added sugar, you're going to automatically have to cut out many of the processed foods you are regularly including in your diet (bread, pasta sauce, many condiments, etc). Include meats and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and fruit in your diet. Keep the other things out.
Apply to your life: Shop the outside of the grocery store. This will keep you to the produce section (buy vegetables, starches such as potatoes and sweet potatoes, and fruit), the meat department, and the refrigerated section where you can pick up dairy options if you eat those, and eggs.
This is my biggest complaint with macro counting, and one of the reasons it is not the best plan for every person; macros predetermine how much food you're going to eat, regardless of how you feel. For some people, they actually need to not follow their hunger cues because they drastically under-eat. However, this is an extremely low percentage of the population. In general, you should follow your hunger cues. Don't eat if you're not hungry, and don't starve yourself if you are.
Apply to your life: Slow down your meals. Your body needs between five and ten minutes to realize that you are full. Put down your fork between bites, and try to increase each meal by one minute, then two, then three, etc etc.
Your body doesn't care if you eat or drink your calories - it will respond the same - but you absolutely can drink calories quicker than you can eat them. For this reason, one of the top 10 ways to eat healthier is to simply not drink calories. Keep soda, flavored coffees, and even smoothies out of your normal diet. Smoothies, while full of fruits and vegetables, still go down the hatch pretty quick. It is better to eat the fruit than blend it up.
Apply to your life: Drink water, tea, coffee, and milk if you tolerate it well and nothing else. Keep calories out of everything you drink!
Ideally, you include vegetables at every meal. But, somedays breakfast gets crazy and you struggle to find the time for a vegetable omelet. Shooting to include produce (fruits, vegetables, or both) at every meal is an attainable goal we all can handle.
Apply to your life: Each time you eat a meal, be sure you have fruit or vegetables on your plate. Have an apple or berries with breakfast, a salad for lunch, and roasted vegetables at dinner with a cup of fruit for dessert. This schedule will more than cover your bases.
Understandably, the first goal in eating healthier is to include protein and produce in your diet. After we've done that, however, considering where your food comes from is a great next step. Whenever financially and logistically possible, choose organic produce, wild caught fish, grass fed beef, and organic poultry.
Apply to your life: When you're out to eat, following this part of the top 10 ways to eat healthier is going to be hard. So, make up for that by being extremely consistent in choosing the best sources for the food you eat at home. Organic and wild only, whenever you can!
Restaurants are in the business of making your food taste great - they regularly use margarine, vegetable oil, sugar, and copious amounts of salt in order to make your mouth happy - not to help you stay healthy. Control what goes into your body by cooking your own food.
Apply to your life: Make going out to eat a special occasion again. Try to eat at home for 90% of your meals, and leave a little space for date night or that crazy day when your only choice is dinner out of the house.
Fat makes your cells function, so supplying our cells with the best fat would seem to be in our best interests. Put simply, good fats are anti-inflammatory and found from sources like olive oil, salmon, avocado, nuts and seeds, and grass fed butter. Bad fats are pro-inflammatory and are things like vegetable oil, margarine, and anything with trans fats.
Apply to your life: Cook with avocado oil, grass fed butter, or ghee. Top your salad or vegetables with olive oil, and have a handful of nuts for a snack. Again, choosing the best source is important. Regular butter, while not necessarily bad, is not nearly as good as grass fed butter.
One of the errors I see people make as they get more interested in nutrition is trying to simultaneously follow trendy diets and stick with their old habits. The best example of this is the keto diet. With the keto diet, you are fueling with fat. You're literally using fat storage for energy. Under every other diet, you will prioritize carbohydrate (glycogen) for energy.
You have to choose one. Going back and forth leads you to a high fat, high carbohydrate diet which immediately puts you on track for most of life's chronic diseases.
If you are playing a high-intensity sport such as football, lacrosse, hockey, basketball, soccer, or baseball/softball, or if you are working out in a CrossFit box, the strong recommendation is to fuel with carbohydrates. If you are an ultramarathon runner, or have specific medical reasons for following a keto diet, choose fat.
Apply to your life: Don't get caught up in fads. Keep your food an even balance of whole grains, meats (or other lean protein options), vegetables and fruits. This will fuel you appropriately. If you want to do the keto diet, FOLLOW IT COMPLETELY. 70-75% of your calories MUST come from pure fat.
Another way to say this is to be mindful of what you eat. How many times have you scarfed down an entire sandwich in four minutes and felt like you didn't eat? Take the time to be present with your meal and to actually recognize the food you're putting into your body. It will make you healthier and make your food more delicious at the same time.
Apply to your life: Eat without distractions. Have dinner at a table with your family. Eat your lunch in the break room at work - without checking email or staring at your phone.
If you cannot conquer tip number one, don't try to be a hero and focus on mindfulness around your food. Follow these steps in order, and watch your health dramatically improve.