For most people, diets just don’t work. The strict rules about what you can and can’t eat tend to make you feel tired, more hungry, and completely deprived. Once we feel those sharp pangs of deprivation, it isn’t long before we’ll make bad decisions, cheat, and break our diets- all the while bringing us further and further away from our goals. It’s a stressful pattern of behavior that leaves us seeing food as the enemy- when the food we eat can actually be our greatest ally!
Think of your body like a car. Your heart, brain, nervous system, metabolism, and all of your other components are necessary parts that keep your systems running. Like any well-oiled machine, your body needs fuel to ensure that it functions as efficiently as possible; when you don’t get enough fuel- or don’t get enough quality fuel- your machine won’t run at its peak…..or worst of all, you’ll end up broken down on the side of the road!
The way you fuel-up your body can help make you more productive, more energized, and more content. Here are a few tips on what to eat and when to keep your systems running at peak performance:
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day! Start each morning with 16oz of water to kick start your metabolism and wake-up your brain. According to a Rochester University examination on healthy eating habits, eating a nutritious breakfast in the morning will decrease excess snacking and binging throughout the day.
Eating protein-rich, high-fiber foods for breakfast will help you feel fuller, longer. Trade in your regular or low-fat yogurt (10g of protein) for a Greek yogurt with a whopping 30g of protein! Throw in some blueberries for an antioxidant boost, and round out your meal with a piece of whole-grain, high-fiber toast to fuel your body and mind helping you stay full throughout the morning. Slow-release carbohydrates such as oatmeal or bran are another great morning option. Unlike refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, these slow-release carbs won’t spike your blood sugar keeping your insulin levels down and helping you torch fat throughout the morning.
While 75% of your nutrients should come from the meals you eat, the remaining portion should be made up of snacks. Smart snacking can help you stay energized and may even help you lose weight. After a meal, it takes your stomach about 4 hours to empty, and, at this point, your blood sugar levels begin to drop. This decline can be linked to that tired, sluggish feeling we sometimes get mid-morning or mid-afternoon: if you’ve failed to prepare, this can be the most dangerous time for wrecking your healthy habits. While it may be easy to grab a muffin or a bag of chips, those types of snacks can leave your hunger cravings unsatisfied.
Pack a baggie of carrot sticks, high-protein nuts, trail mix, or a piece of fruit….and, don’t dive in without savoring your mini-meal. Eat your snack slowly while being mindful of the present moment and that satisfying crunch and texture will send a signal to your brain announcing that you’re full.
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The secret to a healthy, nutrient-filled lunch is the 3-prong approach: vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. Because vegetables are naturally super high in fiber, make veggies the largest portion of your lunch- at least 50% of your plate! Fiber is the “feel-full” nutrient, and, alongside the other fantastic vitamins and minerals you get in a big, colorful salad, almost any veggie combo is a healthy option for lunch. Whole grains add fiber while lean proteins provide an energy boost to help you feel fuller longer and survive the afternoon.
For a winning lunch, have a salad with grilled chicken or shrimp. Avoid any creamy dressings that can add unnecessary, saturated fat; instead, try a combo of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. No healthy dressing options in your pantry? Skip the dressing completely, and toss in a sliced avocado for a source of good fat that will help to fuel your body and keep your brain sharp. If salad isn’t your thing, opt for a deconstructed burrito with shredded chicken, beans, salsa, and brown rice served over a bed of sautéed veggies!
For a healthy dinner without the guilt, a great trick is to start with a cup of soup or a small salad. A Penn State Study found that starting your meal with fiber-rich or water-based foods can reduce your overall calorie intake by 12%. If your main meal is under 500 calories, you will keep your portions moderate while still feeling satiated. And remember, one-quarter of your dinner plate should be lean protein, (i.e., chicken or fish) and, like lunch, one-half should be vegetables or salad. The last quarter can be good carbs such as a small, baked sweet potato or pearled barley.
Dessert gets a bad rap, but you can indulge in your favorite foods once in awhile as long as you don’t go overboard. The name of the game is moderation! If you want a chocolate square, a cookie, or a scoop of gelato, then have one…..just don’t have ten! You don’t want to ruin all the healthy choices you made during the day, but a small treat can be good for your soul!
Eating right is a journey, but it doesn’t mean you have to live in a constant state of deprivation. A little meal planning goes a long way to help healthfully power your body and keep you feeling energized and satisfied all day long!