Are you ready to learn how to start eating healthy, but you don’t know where to begin? Did a healthcare professional tell you to begin living a healthier lifestyle and lose weight? Or are you not happy in your skin because you are overweight, and many of your family have gotten sick from poor lifestyle choices related to food? No matter what the reason, you are reading this article, we can help!
There are many considerations that play into living a healthier lifestyle: however, the two that make the biggest impact are getting adequate sleep and ensuring you have healthy eating habits. Our main focus of this article is to learn the basics of how to start eating healthy.
What Is Eating Healthy?
Despite how simple it may sound, knowing where to start with healthy food choices can be quite intimidating. Searching on Google “healthy foods”, “healthy diet”, or “healthy eating” is extremely confusing because there is so much conflicting information out there.
Some “experts” say gluten is bad; some say it’s great. Others say meat causes cancer, and some say if you don’t eat meat, you will die an early death. Dairy is horrible for you if you ask some providers, but others say we have been eating and drinking dairy since the time we were conceived, so why would we stop now?
Our point of view is that unless you are allergic to certain foods, eating a diet that is balanced and well-rounded is the best choice. In our minds eating healthy is eating a variety of foods that include the macro and micronutrients necessary to fuel our bodies, give us the energy to get through the day plus workout, and leave us feeling good overall.
Why Should I Begin Eating Healthy?
- Provides energy to fuel your daily activities
- Helps protect us from chronic disease
- Promotes a healthy weight and deters weight gain
- Improves mental and physical performance
- Lowers risk for stroke or other cardiovascular diseases
- Reduces stress and boosts our immune system
- Eating a nutritious diet will provide essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other vital nutrients that are necessary for good health.
By taking the time to understand how our diets affect us, we can become more aware of how what we eat impacts our overall well being both physically and mentally, thus living in a state of optimal health.
As a general rule of thumb, not eating highly processed foods is going to set you up for the most success. Sometimes processed foods cannot be avoided and can provide health benefits; however, most of the time, unprocessed foods are going to be a much better choice than processed foods.
Processed food such as canned beans, frozen vegetables, whole grain bread, and brown rice all have a ton of fiber and micronutrients. However, processed food like frozen pizza doesn’t have as many macro or micronutrients.
At my gym, where I see clients, nutrition coaches suggest not cutting out foods from your dietary intake but adding in foods that are going to provide more bang for your buck when it comes to having a high nutritional value. Labeling foods as good and bad can wreak havoc on your mental health.
Without further ado, let’s get into how to get started on our healthy eating journey!
Tips On How To Start Eating Healthy & Recognizing What A Healthy Diet Looks Like!
These tips are not in any certain order, and they are all important when considering beginning to learn what healthy foods and healthy eating are.
Tip #1 – Learn The Basics About The Macronutrients
The foods we eat are broken down into 3 categories called macronutrients. Macronutrients are necessary for all vital functions in the body and include proteins, carbs, and fats. Knowing what these “macros” do for your body can help you understand why you need to consume them.
Macro #1 = Protein
- Provides our body’s structure & components of enzymes, and helps build muscle
- Regulates body function & immune system health
- Aids in hormone regulation
- Calories from protein should comprise around 30% of our daily calorie intake*
Choosing protein low in saturated fat is going to set you up better for staving off heart disease.
Some examples of protein are fish, chicken, pork, beef, eggs, tofu, tempeh, edamame, and quinoa.
Macro #2 = Carbohydrates…
- Our body’s main source of fuel
- Keeps protein from being used as energy
- Is a source of fiber, a VERY important carb that cannot be digested but passes through the body aiding in getting rid of excess cholesterol, regulating blood glucose, and keeping you “regular”.
- Aid in the oxidation (breakdown) of fat
- Calories from carbohydrates should comprise around 30-45% of our daily calorie intake*
Carbohydrates oftentimes get a bad rap, but that is because things like Oreo cookies, Twinkies, and baked goods all fall under this category. These ultra-processed foods have very little nutritional value and contain little to no fiber. They could be considered “junk food” because they have very little nutritional value.
Sauces or toppings are a lot of times carbohydrates. Things like ketchup, mustard, BBQ sauce, and marinades all contain sugar which is a carb. Reading food labels and understanding how much sugar is in these sauces can help you control your intake of added sugar.
Truthfully, carbs are a necessary macronutrient that provides a ton of value to your life, and they shouldn’t be avoided. Just make sure to be adding in the nutrient dense carbs to your plate more often than not.
Some options for healthy carbs are brown rice, beans, whole grain bread, sweet potatoes, yellow potatoes, and any fruit or vegetable.
Macro #3 = Fat
- A component of our membranes
- Aids in the absorption of fat soluble vitamins
- Is used as a source of energy
- Calories from fat should comprise around 30% of our daily calorie intake*
- Plant based fats are healthy fats and should be chosen over animal fats when possible to avoid a diet high in saturated fat.
A common misconception is that fat doesn’t need to be consumed if you are going for weight loss. This isn’t true. Fat is necessary for your body to function. That being said, focusing on adding more healthy fats and eliminating unnecessary saturated fats would be considered as eating healthier.
Great sources of fat are nuts, nut butter, avocado oil, flaxseed oil, grape-seed oil, hemp seeds, hemp hearts, olive oil, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and walnut oil.
*Individual needs may vary – consult with an R.D. or doctor for specific needs
Tip #2 – Learn The Plate Method
Using the plate method to learn how to eat healthier will leave you with a better understanding of how to choose your macronutrients! It’s quite simple in theory, the only challenging part could be deciding which type of macronutrients or particular food you feel like eating for that meal. The sky is the limit, and using some of the examples above in each macronutrient category can help.
The plate method can be used at any meal or snack of the day to create a healthy plate of food. Our clients love it because they can also use it when going out to eat. It helps to create a balance of all three macronutrients, and if you are choosing mostly unprocessed foods you will be getting in a great source of micronutrients as well.
Implementing the plate method means using a diagram of a plate (see below) and filling half your plate with non starchy veggies such as greens, fresh fruits, broccoli, spinach, peppers, mushrooms, or zucchini, 1/4 of your plate with starch such as whole grain bread, quinoa, potatoes, brown rice, or beans, and the other 1/4 of your plate with a protein such as fish, eggs, beef, pork, or chicken.
To make sure you get in all 3 of the macros, you must have a fat source. If the protein you choose has a lot of fat naturally, that fat can be counted as your fat source. However, if the protein is lean, you will need to add in additional fat. That could be an olive oil based salad dressing for your greens, a bit of cheese on your potato, or a serving of butter for whole grain bread.
Tip #3 – Learn How To Meal Prep
Meal prepping is our 3rd tip when it comes to starting to eat healthy!
This simple and effective approach helps you save time, money, and effort while ensuring that you always have nutritious meals on hand. Meal prepping can also help you stay organized and motivated when it comes to sticking with your health goals.
It allows you to strategize how much food to make ahead of time based on how much time you have during the week so that you can avoid the stress associated with last-minute meal planning. In addition, by making healthy meals in bulk, you are more likely to stick with your plan since there’s less temptation to purchase unhealthy food options. Eliminating any excuses for unhealthy eating due to lack of time or resources is also a benefit of meal prepping. With all these benefits in mind, meal prepping is a great way to jumpstart your journey to healthier eating habits.
Our goal is for your nutrition not to be complicated. In our mind using the simple approach we have laid out to get started narrows things down. Now we want you to take action!
After reading this article, email me for a diagram of the plate method! I will send you one! Go to the store and pick out some macronutrients so you can begin to form your plates! Writing down some options for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks is a great place to start! When your menu has been formed, you can begin prepping your meals using the link we provided in Tip #3.
Remember… don’t try to go gangbusters right out of the gate! We still want you to enjoy some of your favorite foods! Start with prepping and planning for two days of the week until you are successfully doing that every week for two weeks. Then move to three days and so on. Healthy habits build on each other over time, and trying to change too many things at once can lead to failure.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Much Water Should I Drink Daily
A lot of our clients struggle to drink water. Our dietitian recommends drinking 60-80oz of water per day. If water doesn’t taste good to you, flavor it with some crushed fruit, lemon juice, or cucumbers.
How Important Are Micronutrients
Micronutrients are extremely important. Think of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. All these micronutrients can be found in fruits and vegetables, which is why they are listed in the food options for carbohydrates. You will be much healthier if you eat more fruits and vegetables. It’s VERY important to consult your doctor for ways to supplement micronutrients if you do not feel like you are getting enough.
What Happens To My Body When I Start Eating Healthy?
Healthy diets are beneficial for heart health, stroke, obesity, and type two diabetes. When you change from unhealthy eating to healthy eating your body will be more regular. You will feel less tired, sluggish, and sore. Unhealthy foods cause inflammation and water retention. You may pee a lot at first and begin to feel less bloated or puffy. Your appetite may also increase as you body craves more nutrients and your taste buds change.