Want to Be Healthier? Pick One of These Simple Tips
As we start down the road to better health, or even if we’ve been on the road but are now encountering new intersections, furthering our progress can become overwhelming. If you have the mindset “I need to revamp my entire diet” or “I’ve never run a 5K, but my goal is to run Western States 100,” you can feel that there is no end in sight.
In an attempt to help you feel less overwhelmed, I’ve consulted friends and colleagues and asked them to tell me one simple thing you can do to be healthier. While the length of time it takes to create a habit can vary greatly depending on the person or the habit selected, I suggest that you select one of the following tips and stick with it for a month and see what happens.
There are many factors that go into making a person healthy and I’m not going to be able to cover them all. However, for ease of reading, I will be splitting this into three sections – fitness, nutrition, and lifestyle.
1. Commit to Moving Every Day
My wise friend Mary K. pointed out that for someone just getting started the idea of committing to exercise every day might be overwhelming. So instead of telling yourself you have to run for twenty minutes every day, tell yourself that you’re going to walk to the end of your street or walk to discuss something with your co-worker instead of sending that email. It doesn’t matter what you do, just get moving.
2. Find Something You Like to Do
Andrew T lost 160 pounds in the last year and is a big proponent of making sure your chosen exercise is something you enjoy. When he started his weight loss journey he tried walking and running. He stuck with it for a while, but he hated it. After that he found cycling, loved it, and his weight loss has been on a roll ever since.
As a running coach and a recovering endurance junkie, I know that just because I love running, doesn’t mean anyone else needs to. Find your passion and try new things. Maybe hula hooping, pole dancing, or weight lifting is going to be the thing that gets you going.
Andrew prepping for his ride.
3. Go Hard a Few Times Per Week
This tip is intended for those who are already exercising and have plateaued. If you’re new to exercise go ahead and ease yourself into it. If you’ve been at it a while, go ahead and push yourself. Chris “Boris” Marhefka, personal trainer and owner of Body by Boris, encourages us to lift heavy, add sprints to our runs, and challenge ourselves. What are the benefits of going hard? More and more studies are reporting that by increasing your intensity levels, you burn more fat and calories during and after the workout.
1. Eat Real Food
This was Coach Boris’ top tip. Basically, real food is anything that doesn’t come in a package. You most likely won’t see real foods in commercials or magazine advertisements. Philipp Hagspiel, Head of R&D at Freeletics, elaborated by saying, "Whenever you can't memorize the list of ingredients of a specific food, do not eat it." You don’t have to be a nutrition expert, but by keeping the ingredient list short and free of ingredients you can’t pronounce, you are more likely to be eating real foods.
2. Eliminate Soda, Both Regular and Diet
We all know soda is full of sugar and calories that our bodies don’t need. However, you are not helping yourself if you sub in diet sodas. Not only are diet sodas full of artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors, and chemicals, they might lead to weight gain and diabetes.
I know that when I was starting on my road to healthier eating, my Coke Zero habit was my hardest one to kick. I was definitely addicted and craved my morning can for about two weeks. It helps to have alternatives in mind. These can include herbal teas and fruit-infused water.
3. Keep a Food Journal
When you first start your journal, you don’t even need to alter what you put in your mouth at all. Simply write down everything you eat. Once you’ve been consistent at keeping your journal for a week or so, go back and look at it. Simply being aware of what you’re eating can lead to better food selections.
When I started keeping my food journal I believed that I was eating one dark chocolate Dove square a day. Um, no. It was more like three or four day on a fairly consistent basis. By journaling I minimized mindless eating.
Your food journal doesn’t have to be fancy – just write everything down.
Another trick with food journaling is to take a picture of everything you eat. You don’t have to post it to social media, it just helps you to be aware of your choices. This photographic evidence helps remind us of what we’ve consumed and can help us keep off unwanted pounds.
4. Ban High Fructose Corn Syrup and Partially Hydrogenated Oils
Does the idea of switching to real food still seems like too big of a change to make all at once? No problem. Start off by eliminating all foods that contain high fructose corn syrup. After you’ve done that for a month, go ahead and eliminate all foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils. Even though you will still be eating some processed foods, this is a great step to get you started reading nutritional labels.
5. Drink More Water
We’ve all heard that water is important, but some of us still might not know why. Water is vital for absolutely every bodily function. Plus, it can help you control your appetite and keep your skin looking good. According to the Mayo Clinic, men need approximately three liters of water per day, while women should consume 2.2 liters.
6. Prep Some Meals for Week Each Sunday
Patrick Gallagher, certified running coach, high school teacher, and Thunder Rock 100 Miler finisher, preps all of his lunches on Sundays because he knows that makes it easier to make good food choices throughout the week. By spending a few hours in the kitchen on Sunday you can save time throughout the week and avoid the fast-food temptation.
Typical Sunday meal prep.
1. Build a Network of Positive People Who Love What You Do
Are your family and friends not on the same page with you when it comes to getting fit? That’s okay! While you are searching for your real-life community, you can build your own virtual community online and with social media. Find blogs you like, Skype with a friend who lives halfway around the world that relates to your journey, follow people on Instagram that you find inspirational. Use the fact that we are constantly connected to your advantage.
2. Be Honest With Yourself and Forgive Yourself
My friend Jamie is on his own health journey and when I sent out a request for some words of wisdom Jamie replied, “Know your limits and how much you can push them, recognize excuses as excuses, confront challenges realistically, know what you're getting into, and most importantly, keep clear in your mind why you're doing it.”
Besides thinking that Jamie could be writing this post, this was a great reminder to me to respect the person I see in the mirror. I remind myself every day that I am choosing to make these healthy lifestyle choices to improve my quality of life. You’ve got to put yourself first in this journey. It’s okay to fall, just make sure you get back up!
3. Visit a Mental Health Professional
No, going to talk to someone doesn’t make you crazy or weak. Talking to a professional even when things are going smoothly can provide you with coping techniques and an outlet for the times when things get messy. As my friend Jason reminded me, “You don’t only go to the dentist when your teeth are about to fall out, right?” A little preventative maintenance can go a long way. The Mayo Clinic has some tips on finding the right mental health professional.
4. Meditate for Five Minutes Every Day
All of us are busy and we can’t slow the world down. Luckily, we can slow ourselves down. Besides finding our zen and not flying into fits of road rage, taking the time to meditate can increase our immunity and lower our blood pressure. Read this article for more on how to get started with a simple and short meditation.
5. Practice Positive Self Talk
While you can excuse yourself from social situations filled with party poopers and escape to your cubicle to avoid Negative Nancys at work, you are stuck with one person - yourself. We are our own harshest critics and the way we talk to ourselves can cause lasting damage. If we tell ourselves we can’t do something or that we are a terrible person for eating that brownie, we are limiting who we can truly be.
Running coach Patrick Gallagher reminds us to talk to ourselves the way we would talk to our friends. We would never tell a friend what a loser she because she didn’t set a record on her last 5K and we shouldn’t beat ourselves up either. For some great ways to banish negative self talk, check out Operation Beautiful’s post on this topic.
6. Practice an Attitude of Gratitude
There are different ways to show your gratitude. You can keep a journal or you can give thanks in your nightly prayers. Find something that works for you. I keep a journal by my bed and jot down three to five things before falling asleep. Sometimes I am grateful for the fantastic things that happened to me that day and sometimes I’m grateful that a cruddy day is coming to an end. No matter how bad your day is, there is always something to be thankful for.
And not only will being grateful improve your relationships, it also improves your physical and psychological well-being. Plus, it just feels good!
As you begin your healthy life journey, don’t be scared. You don’t have to do everything all at once. You will be more successful and able to maintain your success if you start with some baby steps. We all know that while slow and steady might not win the race, it dang sure gets us to the finish line.
Find one thing from this list to focus on and go for it. Whatever you choose stick with it and then take another step towards your healthy future. Let us know in the comments below which one you picked so we can all support each other.
Photos 1 & 5 courtesy of Shutterstock.