Since early February I've been on a big health kick. I've been trying to overhaul my diet/nutrition and have been getting serious at the gym. My short term goal is to look awesome in a bikini this summer, and to run a half marathon in May, but more importantly I want to make some overall changes that last a lifetime. I find that when a lot of people decide that they want to get fit they expect it to be easy, or they expect that changes will happen overnight, or they expect that they can 'cheat' often but still obtain the results they want. Unfortunately, in my experience none of those things are true. But adopting a healthy lifestyle does get easier and become far more 'second nature' the longer you do it. In the face of that, here are a few tips and tricks that I have used to cultivate a healthier lifestyle and to stay motivated:
Remember that You Get 20% of Results at the Gym and 80% in the Kitchen
I've been active for almost all of my life and I generally enjoy going to the gym. Now, I'm like anyone in that there are days when I'm not motivated and don't want to go, but for the most part if I can haul my ass into the gym, I know I'll enjoy it. Where I struggle the most is with food consumption. I like healthy foods but I also love sugar and I have a tendency to graze throughout the day. Those two factors combined can add up to a lot of excess calories. And regardless of how hard a person can train at the gym, what they are doing for themselves in the kitchen is going to have the biggest impact on their weight and ability to lose it! So I stick to whole, unprocessed foods and try to eat only when I'm hungry—not out of boredom or stress.
Cutting Out Sugar
Studies consistently show that sugar is the devil. It's terrible for you in all senses, not to mention the fact that it is highly addictive. Unfortunately I have the world's largest sweet tooth. Savoury foods and salty snacks don't call my name like sugary treats do. But as I started to track my daily macros with MyFitnessPal, I realized how truly obscene the amount of sugar I was eating on the reg was.
Knowing that this would be a major struggle for me, I simply stopped buying any processed foods with added sugars. No chocolate, no cakes, no yogurts (apart from plain Greek yogurt). I still eat fresh fruits and even dried fruits in moderation, however. And I have noticed that already my taste buds have totally changed. Things that didn't used to taste sweet to me at all now do, which is great. The first week or so was a struggle, but if you can make it past that one to two week hurdle, it becomes so much easier. And I have some recipes that I keep on hand when I have a major sugar craving. Check out these Cherry Tahini Balls and Paleo Brownies.
Preparing Meals in Advance
Everyone, and I mean everyone, is busy. But being healthy and eating well is more than worth the little bit of time it takes to prepare a few go-to meals in advance. For this purpose, I usually whip up a crockpot dish on a Sunday evening and portion out the meals in tupperware. I can eat these throughout the week for either lunch or dinner. One of my absolute favorite recipes for this is a Barley Risotto. It's a pretty foolproof recipe and the only tweak I do to make it more health-conscious is omit the butter. There are millions of recipes out there that you can quickly whip up to have on hand for when you don't have time to cook or when you are so ravenous that you are about to eat everything in your cupboard with reckless abandon. It's an easy step to make sure you don't fall into unhealthy patterns.
Increasing My Protein
I've been a pescatarian for a couple of years, but the only time I really eat fish or seafood is when I'm out at a restaurant. That is to say, not very often. Thus, for a long time the overwhelming majority of my protein was coming from eggs, cheese, nuts, and other high-protein foods like quinoa. But after seeing my macros on MyFitnessPal, I realized that my protein intake was too low. Getting enough protein is important to me on two levels: 1) it keeps you fuller for longer; and 2) it is necessary for building muscle. In making a concerted effort to get enough protein, I knew that I would not consider eating meat and certain high protein foods, like tofu, are really difficult for me to get where I am. So, I decided to dip my toe into the world of protein powders. So far my protein of choice is Syntha-6 Edge Protein Powder. The Vanilla Ice Cream and Chocolate Milkshake flavours are delicious, and they work well in shakes/smoothies and no-bake recipes (I throw these into energy balls and oatmeal on the reg) but so far they haven't worked when I've tried to bake with them. I'm going to order some 1Up Protein Powder (the Cinnamon French Toast flavour sounds amazing and is recommended by my latest YouTube obsession, Heidi Somers), because it's apparently good for baking. I will keep you posted on how that works for me!
Eating Whole Foods
This is a major 'duh' moment, but I think a lot of people forget this. In a world of '100 calorie' packs and reduced fat/sugar free/no gluten options, it's easy to fool yourself into thinking that you are eating a healthy diet. But ultimately, there's nothing like having a diet of fresh, whole foods that you have prepared yourself. They are more filling and more nutritious for your body. And while, yes, to some extent a calorie is a calorie is a calorie, there is now increasing evidence that your body will treat a calorie from whole foods (fruits, veggies, grains, fish, meats, etc.) differently from something that comes along with preservatives and other artificial additives. And to add to my argument to eat whole foods, I can attest to the fact that I simply feel and look better when I am eating them.
There you have it. Five things to keep in mind if you are trying to be a healthier version of you! Let me know what has helped you to adopt a healthy eating routing that you've been able to stick to in the long run!
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