We’re bombarded with information on how to eat better but how do you make sense of all the conflicting advice out there? In this post, you’ll learn one nutrition habit that ALL the experts can agree upon!
I sat there pushing my salad around with my fork, puzzled by how so many of its ingredients could be considered healthy and harmful to me at the same time.
The chicken was either essential for building muscle or it was going to lead to cancer.
That heaping spoonful of beans was either a nutritional powerhouse or was going to cause me to walk around in a state of chronic inflammation.
Then the salad dressing… what is a girl to do?
Are you confused about what type of diet is best for you? There is certainly no shortage of talk about what kind of foods we “should” be eating. It seems as though every magazine, celebrity, and best seller’s list are brimming with contradictory diet advice that will make your head spin!
The overwhelm alone is enough to make even the most hopeful healthy-eater throw their hands up in the air and order a pizza.
This post is the fifth installment of a series on simple changes. Week one, I touched on the biggest problem with diets and how you can get diet help.
Three weeks ago, we discussed one habit-based skill that could make a marked difference in your health and weight loss while remaining incredibly practical at the same time- healthy menu planning.
Then we discussed how eating only from a plate can be an effective way to streamline your nutrition plan.
Last week we talked about the benefits of eating slowly. Today we’ll wrap up with all things whole… healthy foods.
More specifically we’re talking about how to eat better by increasing your intake of whole foods. You want to do it, you just need more “why” and “how.”
DEFINING WHOLE FOODS
Let’s first establish what I am talking about when I refer to “whole foods.” While this term may be open to numerous interpretations, I like to think of whole foods as foods that are closest to their natural state. Foods that look pretty much like they did when they were harvested.
I doubt that I need to convince you that these so-called whole foods are something worth including in your diet. Good health is built upon a foundation of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, meats, nuts, seeds, legumes, etc. These foods are loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and other compounds even yet to be discovered.
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From a weight loss standpoint, whole foods deliver maximum satisfaction for fewer calories because of their dense nutrition and high water content. Now, don’t get me wrong– it’s completely possible to overeat whole foods (cashews, anyone?) but they tend to be easier to regulate than their processed counterparts.
Now we can make ourselves bonkers debating if cottage cheese or marinara sauce is “whole,” but that is not the desired outcome of this article. In fact, micromanaging would be incredibly unproductive if it detracted our attention from more obvious and impactful changes.
EAT the canned lentil soup, please, if it allows you to upgrade from chicken nuggets.
BAT YOUR OWN PERCENTAGE
If you have been doing this nutrient-dense eating thing for a while, eating mostly whole foods may be a piece of cake for you (sorry!). You may be able to swing 80% or even 90% whole foods, no sweat. If that’s you, awesome!
No doubt you have learned a lot along this road and I enthusiastically invite you to comment below with your favorite tips! Please, share the love.
However, if you are still relying on processed food, don’t fret. Any movement on the continuum from processed foods to whole, unprocessed foods IS progress. Don’t worry if you still have some convenience items in there. Keep it sustainable and you’ll keep it up.
Focus on the swaps you are making and watch how much easier it gets to continue making changes. This truly is progress, not perfection.
This brings up an excellent point- Many popular weight loss programs are based 100% on whole foods. While this is a way to see faster results, this may not be a realistic plan for most of us. And, you know what? That’s ok.
We do not have to make drastic changes to see our goals come to life. Our body and mind will benefit from even the smallest change because small changes have a way of adding up!
HOW TO EAT BETTER WITH WHOLE FOODS IN 3 STEPS
No matter where you are on the spectrum of healthy eating, there are simple tweaks you can make to increase the nutrient density of your meals. Here are a few tips to help your whole foods hoedown gain speed.
1. TAKE ONE STEP
If we graph a food on the processed foods <-> whole, unprocessed foods graph, we’ll see that drastic changes aren’t the only option. Choosing something just a little less processed is truly worthwhile. Several of these small changes made over time will really add up!
Here’s a great example using chicken. See how to eat better one step at a time?
fried nuggets <-> baked, whole grain nuggets <-> rotisserie <-> Homemade grilled
To put this in practice, look at the foods you eat regularly and look for an upgraded version.
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2. LOOK FOR EASY WINS
Are there whole foods you enjoy that you could add more often to your shopping and cooking rotation? Maybe you like oatmeal but you’ve been stuck in a sugary smack cereal rut.
Maybe you just grab the crackers because that’s what you always do, but you kinda like the idea of hummus and veggies instead. No matter how processed your meals are, there is likely quite a few unprocessed foods that you really dig.
Take a moment to think about your favorite healthy eats and plan how you can incorporate them into your diet more often.
3. SLOWLY INCREASE YOUR SERVINGS
No matter what your food intake looks like today, you can begin to slowly increase your healthy eats without causing a ton of stress. In fact, small steps preferred.
You see, when you change your diet or you start practicing a new habit, there are new skills that must be learned in order to successfully adopt the new way of life. By starting small, you give your skillset a chance to catch up.
Here are a few ways you can start to eat better minus any diet drama:
- Eat one-quarter, one-third, or one-half of your plate in whole foods. If you are completely new to healthy eating, begin aiming for one-third of one meal per day. Don’t let the sheer simplicity of this suggestion discourage you, anything above your baseline IS progress! Once the new percentage becomes your new normal, increase your portions.
- Eat a whole foods breakfast, lunch, or dinner. You may also start by focusing on one full meal per day, even choosing the one that is the easiest. Breakfast is often an easy swap with eggs and oats sealing the deal, but dinner may be nice if you are looking to serve your family more nutritious meals. For bonus points cook a larger portion for dinner and knock out lunch the next day with leftovers.
- Shoot for a specific number of servings. Survey your current meals and tally up how many portions of whole foods you are eating. Then, increase your daily intake by one or two servings. You can even make a game out of it or even have a competition with your spouse. Gold stars are awesome no matter your age!
To start increasing, choose ONE way to up your whole foods game. This is the secret of how to eat better.
A WORD OF CAUTION
Over the years, I have worked with numerous clients who were eating very healthfully but still struggling to lose weight. It is frustrating to feel like you are doing all you can do “right” and not see the results you are looking for.
Which is why I am sharing that just because one food may be more nutrient dense than another, it does not mean that the calories no longer matter.
We can overeat ANY food and gain weight or prevent weight loss. While processed foods certainly lend themselves to larger portions with their hyper-palatability, pushing past full is never good for our health or weight, regardless of the composition of the meal we are eating.
THAT’S A WRAP
I hope that you have found this series helpful and that you are able to see the value in small changes. When it comes to changing your diet quality, you don’t have to be perfect to be purposeful.
No matter what goal you set, don’t forget to multiply that goal by 7 days a week for 52 weeks a year.
For example, a seemingly “easy” goal of adding 2 servings of veggies to 3 meals per week will bring an additional 312 servings of vegetables into your life. That’s nothing to sneeze at! “Gesundheit.”
Be encouraged. Do what feels good and you’ll start feeling even better!
SEE ALL THE EMAILS IN THIS SERIES:
- The Biggest Problem With Diets and How to Solve It
- How to Create a Healthy Menu Plan from Scratch
- Are You Missing this Surprisingly Simple Diet Tip?
- How to Start Eating Slowly in 3 Easy Steps
- How to Eat Better Without Making Yourself Crazy
Brandice Lardner is a Certified Personal Trainer, Nutrition Coach, Author, and Jesus Girl whose mission in life is to help women ditch the diet mentality and find peace with food and their bodies so that they are better equipped to do the great things God has called them to do.