Healthy to me means eating lots of fruits and vegetables (at least 5 a day), drinking a lot of water, exercising and getting enough sleep (at least 8 hours). It doesn't mean starving yourself or punishing yourself for eating poorly.
The important thing is to be consistent.
I also don't think it's hard to create good eating habits. It just takes a little practice. And just as Caitlin always says on healthytippingpoint.com (another blog I love), lots of small changes can really add up to something great.
So herein, are my top 10 easy ways to be healthier, everyday.
1. Drink lots of water
This one really goes without saying. Water is so important because your body is mostly water and you need to stay hydrated for everything to work right. Now I know that's not very technical, but trust me. You will feel better. Your skin will glow and most of the time, when you think you are hungry, you are actually thirsty! Make a habit of drinking a glass before and after meals, as well as in between meals. I carry a Klean Kanteen with me at all times (it is stainless steel and BPA-free). BPAs are the bad things in plastic water bottles that can leech into your water. If I have water on hand, I find myself drinking a lot more of it. I think it was Dr. Junger who said if you aren't peeing every hour at least once, you aren't drinking enough water:)
2. Eat a lot of fiber
Fiber is what keeps you full. A lot of processed foods are stripped of fiber, so the more natural foods you eat, the better. There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. According to healthcastle.com, insoluble fiber 'moves bulk through the intestines and controls and balances the pH (acidity) in the intestines', while soluble fiber 'promotes regular bowel movements, removes toxic waste through the colon, and helps prevent colon cancer'. What are some foods high in fiber? Legumes (beans, peas, soybeans), oats, rye, chia seeds, fruits and vegetables. You know what doesn't have fiber? Animal products. That's why it takes a long time for meat to move through your body. So if you are planning on eating meat, make sure you also eat a bunch of grains or vegetables.
3. Follow the 50% rule
This one is easy but really makes a difference. Try to fill half your plate with vegetables, either raw or cooked, at every meal. This can mean salad, roasted, sauteed or steamed vegetables- whatever really. The idea is that if you fill half your plate with veg, and the rest with whatever you want, you'll be consuming a lot more good for you stuff, and on fewer calories too. This is especially important when dining out- if you order pasta, serve yourself a reasonable amount, and maybe share a salad with someone. That way, you won't only fill up on the calorically dense foods. Which brings me to my next point...
4. Eat nutritious foods
Now this rule might sound obvious, but foods that are nutritionally sound will help you eat less. The body works in mysterious ways: did you know that if you don't get the right phytochemicals and vitamins from your food, that your body will remain hungry all day? I was shocked when I found this out. According to vegan Ironman Triathlete Brendan Brazier, 'eating the nutrient-dense foods that turn off your hunger signal, so that you're not chemically hungry, that primal signal telling you to eat will only be shut off when you have the nutrients, the micronutrients, the phytochemicals, the antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, trace minerals...' (nomeatathlete.com). So if you want to eat less, you need to eat well.
5. Stay away from sugar
Sugar is the devil. I know that may sound extreme, but it's true. In so many ways, sugar just messes with you. I remember reading about a study done on lab rats, where the rats actually preferred sugar to cocaine! There are legitimate sugar addicts. And the funniest part is, it actually only takes 2 weeks of no sugar, for your cravings to go away. I know because I have experienced this. If you really like your sweets, try to bake with more natural sugars such as Agave, or even better, use a natural sweetener such as dried fruit or ripe bananas. And don't forget nature's candy: fruit. Fruit is the best sweet you can have because it also has fiber in it, so it won't cause your blood sugar to spike so much.
6. No white stuff
This is a big one for me. In addition to sugar, I find that refined carbohydrates do a number on my blood sugar and mood as well. I say no white stuff because refined carbs are mostly white (white rice, white bread, white flour). It's an easy rule to go by. Try to choose whole-grain whenever you have the option. And this is an opportunity to get creative because there are really great grains out there such as quinoa and barley that aren't refined and can easily replace processed carbs.
7. Read labels
Once I started reading labels I realized just how crappy most packaged food is. I'm not sure what the regulations are here, but in the States, ingredients must be listed by what occurs most to what occurs least in the product. So, if the first ingredient listed on something is sugar, put...it...DOWN! That means that sugar is the most highly occurring ingredient in the product. You also don't want anything that has more than 5 ingredients, and definitely nothing that you can't pronounce. This rule illustrates why I advocate...
8. Cook more often
Up until 1 1/2 ago, I never cooked or baked. I ate take-away almost everyday and was not interested in cooking at all. It seemed like a waste of time. Then when I became (mostly) vegetarian (and at the time vegan), I realized if I didn't cook, I would have to subsist on pasta and french fries and I'd most probably quickly gain weight. I took it slowly, buying cookbooks and trying out easy recipes. And it became an obsession. Cooking at home means you can control what goes into your food (oil, salt) and it is almost always healthier. Also, when you make an effort to make something at home, you don't want to rush through the experience of eating it after. Finally, baking at home is something I've come to love because I am a pastry person. I love baked goods but as I've said before, baked goods in shops are usually loaded with butter and sugar, and I can usually make a healthier version that still satisfies at home. Baking at home means you can have your cake and eat it too!
9. Implement evening relaxation
Most of my friends who struggle with bad eating habits find evenings the hardest time to remain on track. They eat well all day, and then at night, after dinner, find themselves munching mindlessly in front of the TV. I've been guilty of this on many occasion as well, and I've found that the best way to nip this habit in the bud is by implementing a healthier option. For example, I like to drink a cup of tea in the evening a half hour after dinner. It gives me something to linger over and is cozy for me. I also like to have a grapefruit about an hour or so before bed, usually while watching TV with my fiance. Peeling a grapefruit takes time, and so you can't rush through it. These are just examples, but they work for me. I think oftentimes at night, we stressed out about work, or bored and turn to food. But if you find another way to soothe yourself (that might be taking a bath or reading a good book), you won't resort to mindless munching.
10. Accept imperfection
I would say the number 1 diet downfall is trying to be perfect. I see a lot of people who make these unrealistic strict rules (no chocolate, no bread, no soda, no alcohol EVER), and then inevitably fail because they can't stick to them. I have a been a victim of this as well. I'm not saying eat chocolate and bread and drink alcohol everyday, and in fact, I think a cleanse every once in a while is a wonderful thing to do for your body, but in general, moderation is key. If you do happen to slip off the wagon and eat too much or whatever, you have to move on- immediately! The 'oh, I've ruined my diet, to hell with it!' mindset is terrible and will just make you feel hopeless. One bar of chocolate doesn't ruin a diet, 10 of them does:)
So here are my tips. You might be thinking, 'what makes you qualified to give advice?' Well, I used to be 20 pounds overweight with a serious fast food addiction (not to mention a daily cocktail+ ciggies habit). These are the tools I followed to become healthier, so I know they work, and I hope they work for you too.