"What's the one change I should make to my diet to be healthier in 2015?"
New Year Resolutions are often abandoned by the end of January. If you are really dedicated, you may last until March. This time of year numerous articles and interviews are dedicated to the creation of an effective resolution to ensure that this year is different from year’s past. In my experience, the biggest challenge to maintaining long-term diet change is a lack of appreciation for how complex food is and how little value our society places on nourishing foods.
Our Unsupportive Food Environment
Let’s face it: our world is full of processed foods and it is incredibly difficult to consistently eat unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods. Yet, eating a diet that is mostly whole foods is what we must all strive for. No matter what dietary approach works best for you, the common thread between all humans is the need for ample amounts of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and food-based anti-inflammatory compounds from unprocessed foods. The balance of nutrients that is right for an individual is created with a diet made up of lots and lots of colorful vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, fish, legumes, intact whole grains, and poultry, eggs and meat from healthy animals that have not been administered antibiotics or hormones.
The reality is that we must go out of our way to access unprocessed foods. Nutrient-dense foods are not the most accessible foods in our food environment. We are faced with processed foods at every turn, thus planning ahead to shop for and prepare unprocessed foods is necessary.
Don’t Leave It Up to Chance
What happens when you go through your day without having given any thought to the food you will be eating? Some people can ‘wing it’ without any problem and successfully achieve feeding themselves and their family with nourishing foods. However, reactive eating is what most often occurs. This refers to eating in environments in which you are reacting to the options rather than taking charge of your health by seeking out the right foods for your body. In the best-case scenario of reactive eating, you are in the proper mindset to choose the best option; but at the end of a “best option” day you may have successfully avoided fried food and too many sweets, but vegetables, essential fats, adequate protein and antioxidants may still be sorely lacking.
While it is unrealistic to cook all of your meals and snacks, strive to cook at least 80% of your own foods. By intending to plan, shop and prepare the majority of your meals, reactive eating will be minimized, nutrient intake will increase and your energy and mood will soar.
The Art of Meal Planning
Shopping for and cooking unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods is the key to long-term health and fitness. While there may be tricks and strategies for eating out, the number one goal is to gain control over your food environment and this starts with a weekly meal plan. With a well thought out plan for the week, you will be in the driver’s seat, and rather than reacting to the situations you find yourself in.
First, consider your schedule for the coming week and when you will have time to prepare food. This may also involve coordination with other family members or roommates. Then brainstorm your favorite meals and snacks that you feel work well for your body and that are based in whole and unprocessed foods. Make a list of these ideas to start the process, and add to this list as you try new things. Using your list of favorites, along with one or two cookbooks or recipe blogs, begin to write down the meals and snacks in your plan including where you find recipes so they are easily accessible when it comes time to cook. Be realistic when picking recipes considering your cooking abilities and time availability.
For recipe ideas, click on the Recipe Index of my website. There is also a list of cookbooks and recipe websites on the bottom right side of the homepage.
Next, write your grocery list specific to the recipes and meal ideas you have chosen for the week. To reduce waste, write your list with the precise amounts of food to buy, for example, 3 tomatoes, 4 apples and 1 pound chicken rather than simply listing tomatoes, apples and chicken. To save time and money, write your list in order of the path your grocery store takes so that you don’t zigzag across the store.
Meal Planning Is An Essential Skill
The key to maintaining a healthy diet is creating a menu and grocery shopping once a week. Quite literally, you cannot achieve good health without shopping and cooking unprocessed foods for yourself. This is also the best way to get out of a food rut. If you are bored with what you always make, create a weekly meal plan to give yourself the opportunity to incorporate new ideas.
There are many different ways to plan meals for the week, and like any new skill, it takes time to develop your preferred approach. Be patient with yourself but prioritize development of this skill. You can read my menu for this week by clicking here. Reach out for a consultation if you feel lost in this process. For many people this is the missing link and one of the hardest steps in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Hana A. Feeney, MS, RD is an open-minded, progressive dietitian that blends evidence based nutritional science with intuitive eating and cutting-edge functional medicine. Hana specializes in sport nutrition, digestive health, fertility, hormonal health and eating disorders. Visit http://www.NourishingResults.com to explore, read, cook and reach out! Contact Hana directly by phone at 520-429-3418 or via email at Hana@NourishingResults.com.
Please remember that the information contained in this article is provided for informational purposes only. It is general information that may not apply to you as an individual, and is not a substitute for personalized nutrition advice or healthcare. Never disregard medical or nutritional advice or delay seeking medical care because of something you have read or accessed through this article.