Many of those fitness magazines at the checkout line have it all wrong. If you want to drop pounds or pack on the muscle, you need to change what you're eating more than your routine at the gym.
Changing your body composition is 80% your food choices (and quantities) and only 20% exercise. Eating well has a much bigger effect on your waistline or bicep bulk than you think. Eating well also helps you feel full, focused, and give your body the fuel it needs to work and recover.
Though more restaurants, food companies, and services are popping up with "healthy" food, cooking for yourself is one of the best ways to ensure your success in healthy eating. Cooking healthy meals helps you know exactly what's in your food and how it's being cooked. It's also a great way to save some money, and who doesn't like having a little extra money in the bank these days?
Write It Down
Before you go to the oven, the stove, or the cutting board, you've got to see what you're eating right now. Every person eats and cooks differently, so it's helpful to pause for a moment to take stock in what the current situation is.
To do this, start by food journaling for three to five days. Write down everything (yes, everything!) you're eating and when you're eating it. Take note, this journal is not about calorie counting. This log is to bring awareness to what and how often we eat. You can mention portion sizes if you know them, but the focus on this exercise is awareness.
This is just something to help you observe and learn how you eat. Don't feel judged by it. If you're hungry and you need a snack, but you've had a few other snacks today, write it down. Everyone's bodies need something different. Don't let the log stop you or change your eating habits yet. You need to find the baseline first before you make changes.
Learning From the Journal
After your three to five days is over, look at your journal. Do any patterns appear to you? Are you a creature of habit, eating the same things almost every day? Do you eat a lot of snacks? Do you eat more than you realize? Do you eat less? There's a lot you can glean from this list.
Grab some pens, markers, or colored pencils. Go through your list again and circle all of the vegetables you ate in green and all of the fruits in blue. Then, circle all of the grains/carbs/treats in black and all protein sources (meat, fish, beans) in red. Star all of the packaged/processed food on the list.
Look at your (now a little crazy-looking) list again. Do you have more circles of one color than another? Are you light on the vegetable circles and heavier on the grains/treat circles? Do you have a lot of fruit circles? Is your list covered in stars?
One Step at a Time
Now that you can see what you're eating and what kinds of foods you're eating, you can start to see where you can make adjustments. If you had more bread/treat circles than fruit or vegetable circles, it's time to start introducing more fruits and vegetables to your diet and cut down on the bread/treats. If you have more fruit circles than vegetables, consider adding more vegetables to add some more balance and nutrients. If you've got a lot of stars on your list, see if any of those can be swapped out with whole or minimally processed foods. Are you eating the same thing almost every day? Changing up what you eat can give you a better variety of nutrients.
If you're feeling overwhelmed, that's normal. It's not often you look at your diet at this level of scrutiny. This is also a great starting point for change. Break it down into small steps and consider one small change to start. Look at what's in the food you're eating before your next meal. Try adding a vegetable to every dinner, or eating fruit for a snack. Ask yourself when you're about to eat something, "Am I really hungry?" Whatever you decide, know that one small change can set you up for success.
Healthy Eating 101 continues with discussing food and nutrition labels, food additives and preservatives, what those long, unpronounceable words are, and what to avoid having in your food entirely.Aimée Suen is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who shares nourishing, gluten-free recipes and nutrition wisdom at Small Eats. She is driven to help others enjoy whole foods and empower them to find their own healthy in all aspects of life, one small step at a time. When she’s not in the kitchen, she’s practicing yoga, in the gym, or learning something new. You can find Aimée on Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest. In addition to writing down the foods you're eating, you can use Argus to take pictures and create a visual catalogue of your meals. Simply go into Argus, click the food button, snap a photo of your meal, map it to the provided food groups - fruit, veggies, protein, dairy, grain, fat - and you're done!