As a nation, we know that our health is a mess.
More than 70 percent of adults ages 20 and older are overweight, according to the 2015 health status of the nation report compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics. Nearly 40 percent of adults are obese. Roughly 20 percent of youth ages 6 to 19 are obese.
Preventable chronic diseases account for seven of the 10 leading causes of adult deaths per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Data on how these diseases are manifesting in children and teenagers is also becoming more available. The SEARCH for Diabetes in Youth Study found that the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes in youth ages 10 to 19 increased by 30 percent from 2001 to 2009.
And yet, there is one major reason for this mess that we continue to ignore: food. Our society is eating itself into obesity, sickness and death.
It is time for us to take responsibility for our health. It is time to clean up our nutrition.
The Power of Habits:
I am not going to tell you to change your entire diet today. If your diet does not have a strong foundation, drastic change is not where you start. But I will tell you to establish cleaner habits.
Our bodies are like our homes. Healthy eating habits vacuum, sweep, mop, scrub and dust our interiors so that our bodies can glisten every day that we inhabit them. Poor eating habits accumulate junk and filth, trapping us in an uncomfortable existence and delivering us to an early grave.
Habits, whether positive or negative, are learned. This means that you can strengthen or can overcome them, depending on whether they serve you.
Changing our habits can be difficult at first but becomes easier with time. When we develop strong habits, they take less energy and effort to achieve because we have completed them countless times.
For example, if you brush your teeth every morning, it does not take effort. You do not even need to think about it. It just happens. Your teeth get brushed, and your day moves along.
But, if you have not flossed your teeth in years, the opposite is true. There initially can be discomfort, pain, bleeding and resistance – all of which take energy and effort to conquer.
The same goes for developing positive eating habits. The more resistance you have to eating well and the longer you put it off, the harder it will be to achieve. But, once you develop these habits, they will become natural.
Five Easy Habits to Clean Up Your Diet:
1) Replace rather than remove.
Removing foods from your diet can be disastrous. Instead, replace poor options with better choices.
Instead of eating white bread, shift to wheat bread. If you have to eat dessert after dinner, replace it with a bowl of fruit. If you still need dessert afterward, you likely will consume less of it.
Eventually, the craving for the less healthy option will dissolve, and the healthier choice will become second nature.
2) Do not drink calories.
This may be the easiest and most impactful change that you can make today. Liquid calories add up – fast.
How many calories are in that latte you drink every morning? Let’s say 300. What may not seem like a lot at first adds up over time. That one daily latte will total 9,000 calories in just one month. Did you know that 3,500 calories equal 1 pound of fat? This means that your one daily latte amasses to more than 2.5 pounds of fat per month!
Stop drinking calories today. Stay with water, shooting for 3 liters per day. Your waistline and health will thank you – quickly.
If you need another beverage to mix it up, tea or coffee will do. Just be sure not to overdo it on the caffeine.
3) Keep your fats and carbohydrates separate.
This one is a little technical but will change your metabolism forever. Eating a high percentage of fats and carbohydrates together is a digestive disaster.
Carbohydrates take the shortest amount of time to digest: about an hour. Fats take the longest: around three hours. When you eat fats and carbohydrates together, the carbohydrates bond with the fats and your body digests them at a slower rate. This does two things: slows metabolism and prevents your body from properly digesting the carbohydrates’ nutrients.
If carbohydrates constitute more than 40 percent of your meal, limit fats to less than 20 percent. The inverse also applies.
I love the line, “Nature never made a sandwich.” Apparently that is because we cannot digest the one-two punch of carbohydrates and fats well.
4) Prepare your own food.
When you make your own meals, you know exactly what is in them. You get to choose the ingredients, the amounts of them, the preparation methods and the portion sizes.
Restaurant meals or premade foods may appear to be healthy, but we cannot know for sure because we are not in the kitchen to observe their creation. Instead of buying your meals, prepare your own using these guidelines.
5) Clean out your kitchen.
Remove all processed foods from your cabinets and refrigerator. Decreasing access to unhealthy foods decreases the likelihood that you will consume them.
If this feels too challenging, invite a friend over to clean out your cabinets and fridge for you. Then, refrain from buying these foods again. Instead, fill your kitchen with foods that will nourish you.
You also can clean out your internal cabinets through fasting.
Bonus tip: Maintain your nutrition habits.
Cleaning is a process. It requires daily attention and never ends.
It takes time and effort to clean our homes – and then to keep them clean. Over time, they get dirty, and we have to clean them again.
Eating well is another habit that we must do consciously and continuously. First, we must develop the habits that will support our health. Then, we must maintain them.
Take steps today to start cleaning up your diet and, as a result, your health. The habits that you create today will create a healthier and happier you now and in the future.
A Maur Unity collaboration, edited by Maura Bogue
Nick Palladino-King teaches students and clients how to reduce stress, to increase happiness and to elevate health through yoga, wellness coaching and strength training.