Think about it this way. Everyone around you is talking about New Year's resolutions, this diet, that diet, new workouts they are trying, new supplements that are magically transforming their lives, and here you are. Feeling defeated because for whatever reason you have been feeling a bit “blah”. And probably overwhelmed with everything when it comes to wellness. At the same time, you know that it is time to take control of your health and once and for all just feel good. But where do you start? Well, let’s figure that out together.
What does it mean to be healthy and feel good? Before you jump into another diet craze and attempt the same thing your friend and neighbour are doing, think about what the definition of health means to you. It is not a shame to want to look good and lose weight. However, this time besides looking better I`d like you to focus on symptoms you are possibly experiencing. Low energy, sugar cravings, afternoon crashes, digestive issues, poor sleep, etc. Eliminating these symptoms will be the non-scale victories that will make you feel amazing.
Let`s take some time to explore these questions.
How do I feel now?
How do I want to feel?
How do I want to exercise?
Do I need to sleep more?
Do I like how my clothes fit?
What type of clothing do I want to wear?
Do I want to do more with my family?
And don’t forget - how did I get here?
In order to move forward you must address how you got here. Otherwise, you will be masking symptoms with quick weight loss and stress your body even more. When addressing unhealthy behaviours it is important to reflect on factors like work (space and hours), support (friends and family), as well as time management, desire to cook, commute to and from work plus other responsibilities. All of these factors have some effect on your life and it is important to figure out how to come up with a plan around them. A sustainable diet needs to fit your lifestyle not the other way around.
While finding and creating optimal health takes time, I wanted to offer five things you can do to get started:
1. Eliminate added sugar.
The enemy of all and most often culprit of many diseases. I will not spend much time explaining why sugar is simply the worst because I do hope that you already know this. It is plastered all over the Internet and TV but somehow we all have trouble listening. It is very important to differentiate between natural and added sugars. Natural sugars are found primarily in fruits and some vegetables. However, added sugar is in pretty much all packaged foods. From obvious sources like cookies, cakes and ice creams to not so easily detected ketchup, pasta sauce, yogurts, and deli meats. When choosing your food it is imperative that you not only read nutrition facts on packaged foods but also read the ingredient list. This way you can detect if sugar is used as one of the staple ingredients in the food you are about to eat. You don’t want to see sugar listed in the first five ingredients. Now, you may be saying “ But I cannot avoid sugar 100%”. True! That is a very unrealistic goal. And the answer is not that simple. An acceptable amount of sugar daily varies based on multiple factors. But if I was to suggest a ballpark that would be:
● Men: 150 calories per day (37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons)
● Women: 100 calories per day (25 grams or 6 teaspoons)
2. Drink more water
Our bodies are 60% water and our blood is 90% water. So, our bodies use water in all its cells, organs, and tissues to help regulate their temperature and maintain other bodily functions. When dehydrated, you can experience unexplained fatigue, cravings, poor physical and mental performance and long term dehydration seriously affect our health. Water has a big role in your digestive health as well as in removing waste from your body. The amount of water you need daily depends on a variety of factors, including the climate you live in, how physically active you are, and whether you are experiencing an illness or have any other health problems. Without overthinking it is safe to say to start with half of your body weight in ounces. So for someone weighing 150 lb. that would be about 75 oz of water per day.
3. Start cooking more and rethink your take out game.
I understand that it is time-consuming and daunting to cook dinner every night and have to clean up. It is also hard to have to deal with all the prescription medications as a consequence of unhealthy take out food. I am sorry! I am being real here. There is no sugar coating when trying to help someone. When cooking meals at home you have full control over what goes into these meals. How much oil you use, salt or any other condiment that restaurants usually don’t hesitate to drench our food in just because it is a cheap way to bring out the taste. I am not suggesting that you start cooking every single meal. Pick one meal a day and start there. Research recipes and pick up all ingredients ahead of time. In the beginning, this also doesn’t have to be every single night. While you are teaching yourself how to cook, think about also how you can eat healthier take out foods. Yes, pizzas, pasta and Pad Thai are very tasty but they are not the only take out choices out there. I would suggest reading through your favorite menus and highlighting items that include lean proteins and vegetables. Sometimes these choices are not obvious and may be hiding in “side dishes” so don’t give up easily. Every restaurant offers a grilled chicken and a salad. And while it may not be the most exciting thing to order it will most certainly support your goal to eat healthier.
4. Establish a sleeping routine.
If I was to tell you to start with only one of these goals, it would be to get enough quality sleep. I can not stress enough how important sleep is. It is the only time your body is recovering, improving and growing. No matter what age, quality sleep is essential for good health. When you don’t sleep enough your body has a very difficult time processing everything that is going on and working efficiently. Poor sleep will cause stress eating and overeating, fatigue, lack of concentration, anxiety, poor energy, and sugar cravings. How much sleep you need depends and I often recommend experimenting but not dipping below 6 hours or going above 9 hours. Generally, 7-8 hours of sleep is enough for many individuals. If you need to adjust your sleeping routine it is usually best to start with going to bed earlier. Instead of jumping ahead and moving your sleep hour from 12 am to 11 or 10 pm, start slower and adjust only in 15min increments. Be consistent and move your bedtime 15min every week. In one month, you will gain 1 full hour of extra zzzs.
5. Move more.
While you cannot out-exercise a poor diet, you most certainly can improve your mood, mobility, and health by implementing a regular exercise regimen. This is one of those goals where you need to start slowly, especially if you are new to exercise and/or if you simply don’t like the idea of it. There is no need to all of a sudden run a marathon or schedule boot camp style classes. Simply start by walking more. I am serious. Schedule a 30min walk three times a week and get your steps in. Gradually increase that time to 45min and start adding in bodyweight exercises. Keep track of your progress and acknowledge your efforts. Without even trying you will find how amazing you feel and how much stronger you are getting.
My intention with this post is to offer you an introduction to simple steps towards better health. Don’t let these five steps overwhelm you. Start with one goal and implement the second one when the first goal becomes a habit. Consistency is the key. Put the work in and reap the benefits one day at the time. I would love to hear where did you start and what else can I help you with.