A Dietitian's Top 10 Recommendations for Healthy Living
During my career as a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) and certified diabetes educator (CDE), many people have asked me to tell them how they can be healthier, plain and simple. So, in an effort to satisfy this request, here is a summary of my top 10 fundamentals of a healthy nutrition and exercise plan.
- Follow the rainbow. Food scientists use color to identify the many antioxidants in fruits and vegetables. Simply eat a colorful diet. Choose a variety of red (tomato, pepper), orange (tangerine, cantaloupe), yellow (banana, squash), green (spinach, green bean), blue (plum, blueberries) and purple (eggplant, grape) produce. Try to fill half your plate with fruits and veggies. Mix it up to get a wider variety of nutrients. This will also help prevent boredom. Look at your food records on MyNetDiary to see how much variety you actually eat.
- Move your body often. Sitting is the new smoking of our tech-driven society. Creatively work physical activity into your daily routine. Don't sit longer than 30 minutes at a time. Walk to the store, take the stairs, hand deliver a document, take breaks to stretch. The body is meant to move.
- Embrace your own food preferences. Don't fret over not liking Brussels sprouts. Enjoy the broccoli and spinach that you do like. We all have different tastes; find healthy foods that you enjoy!
- Set-up your kitchen for success. Make your kitchen work like a well-oiled machine. Are you stocked with items from all the food groups? Make your life easier by planning ahead so you can whip up a simple, balanced meal. Keep a running grocery list in order to jot down the items you need. Enjoy cooking. Use meal prep as a time to decompress and visit with family. Don't view it as drudgery. Save the complicated gourmet recipes for the weekend or times when you can play in the kitchen.
- Eat what makes you happy. You might think this sounds too risky because you'll find yourself living on pizza, chips and beer. Think more broadly about what happiness really means to you. Yes, you may get instant pleasure from eating a loaded pizza or a family-size bag of chips, all chased down with a few beers. But does happiness last when you then suffer from heartburn, bloating and a stomach ache, probably made worse by feelings of guilt and remorse? Think of happiness as feeling comfortably satisfied, but not stuffed, after a meal. Healthy eating can lead to a healthy weight and a happy body. As a result of good health, this longer-lasting happiness allows us to enjoy the happy moments in life, like walking on the beach or playing with grandchildren.
- Follow the 80-20 rule. Eat healthy the majority (80%) of the time, and allow yourself treats less often (20%). In other words, try not to live everyday as if it's your birthday. That would be the 20-80 rule. As a nutrition expert, I can tell you with confidence that there is absolutely no reason for eating a perfect diet all the time. Our bodies are amazing at storing many nutrients and utilizing nutrients efficiently, and as needed.
- Choose fresh, minimally-processed foods as often as you can. Try not to eat the majority of your foods from a can or box. You can have steamed fresh broccoli with your meal instead of fried onion rings. Choose a baked sweet potato instead of packaged seasoned rice. Look for locally grown and seasonal produce, or grow your own. Also, go more often to restaurants that offer fresh rather than highly processed foods.
- Be mindful: live in the moment. You may ask what this has to do with nutrition. Well, it may have everything to do with how you enjoy the food you eat and how you make food choices. Savor food: admire it, smell it, be grateful for it and really taste it instead of just going through the motions. If you are flitting around in hyper mode, you may be vulnerable to the influence of enticing food advertisements. Also, if you are not mindful, you are more likely to just grab and eat whatever is within arm's reach, whether hungry or not.
- Schedule your exercise. Prioritize and plan exercise just as if you would plan dinner for the family or pick up the kids from school. Make exercise fun; do something you enjoy. Track your minutes on MyNetDiary and give yourself kudos for your efforts.
- Hang out with healthy people. Sociologists tell us that it's human nature to act like the people around us. Seek out others who are active and eat healthy. Spend time with friends, hiking, playing sports, walking, etc. Do lunch or dinner with people who appreciate fresh, healthy food. Behaviors are contagious.
These are my top 10, not in any particular order. What are yours? Of course, there are other elements of a healthy lifestyle, like work-life balance, sleep, and stress management. Always make it a holistic approach.
Originally published September 9, 2017
Updated July 24, 2019
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