Weekly Challenge: Small Changes Bring Big Rewards

14 Jan

So you’ve been tracking your food intake for a week now. You’ve probably noticed things like certain foods you gravitate to, times of day when you make poor choices, times of day when it is easier to make better choices, food groups you avoid or food groups you dwell on. Regardless of what you’ve recorded in you food log, there are usually things we can improve on. The good news is in our lifestyle choices including food and fitness, small changes can bring big rewards.

This week I urge you to visit ChooseMyPlate.gov. The United States Department of Agriculture has created a website that makes learning about their guidelines for healthy eating easy. They offer food and activity trackers, menus and recipes, and more tips and advice than I can count.myplate

Once you’ve had a chance to look at your food log and compare it to what the USDA recommends you eat, choose one or two areas to improve. For instance: the USDA recommends as a general rule we eat 60% of our calories from carbohydrates (vegetables, fruits, and whole grains), 30% from lean proteins (fish, chicken, low-fat dairy), and 10% from healthy fats (olive oil and the like). How are you doing on that?

There was a time in my life when I got 70% of my calories from carbohydrates–a large portion of that from refined flour. I ate very little protein and restricted my fats. I felt awful. My skin was dry and red and I had no energy. After learning about nutrition and analyzing my weekly intake I realized I needed to make some changes. I started by adding more vegetables and whole grains. The result? I lost six pounds and began to feel better. I started eating more balanced meals including chicken and low-fat dairy or dairy replacement like soy and almond milk (protein added). What happened? My skin softened and cleared up. It wasn’t difficult. I made one change at a time, but those changes proved hugely beneficial.

Are you eating whole grains? Bumping up your whole grains can be as simple as switching out your breakfast cereal or choosing whole wheat bread at lunch. Just make sure you’re choosing whole wheat, not wheat. Read the label. If your bread’s ingredient list does not begin with 100% whole-grain or whole-wheat flour, you are getting refined flour and caramel color. You’re missing out on beneficial fiber that will help you feel satisfied and, well, keep you regular.

This week as I logged and looked over my food intake I realized I’m getting too much sodium, due at least in part to convenience food and diet soda. I know I can change this and that reducing my sodium intake will banish my belly bloat and help me feel more energized and less puffy and sluggish. I’ll start by cooking more foods from scratch and, even though I’ll hate this part, cutting back on my daily diet soda consumption.

But just saying we’ll make a change is too vague. We have to be specific about our changes or we limit our chances for success. So just saying that I’ll reduce my soda habit is too vague. I mean, reducing my daily soda intake could mean I take one less sip. Still, that would be progress, right? Well, yes, but I know I need to be more specific and push  myself a little harder to get the outcome I want. So–and hold me to this, I am going to be accountable–this week I will limit my diet soda intake to one 12 oz. serving per day. Notice I’m not cutting diet soda out altogether. Remember, I believe in balance and enjoying what we eat. I enjoy a diet soda at the end of the day. I will simply choose moderation.

And you can do the same. That ice cream you love? You can still have it. Measure your portion and remember to keep your serving right around 1/2 cup. And you can eat your ice cream, but not every day–okay? K. Instead of buying a large or full-size bag of chips, buy the individual or lunch-size single-serving bags. And eat just one bag. True, in the short term that may cost you more money, but in the long run you’ll save money and your health. Love cookies? Try making your own instead of indulging in store-bought or bakery prepared varieties full of hydrogenated fats and refined sugars. Try this recipe for low-fat, whole-grain cookies.

If you’ve been doing the weekly challenges, you’re on your third week. Well done! Are you still putting in at least one mile per day? I am, though in this cold weather it’s not always easy. Be careful in the cold. Bundle up, layer your clothing, and watch the ice. You may not be able to stay out long, but maybe that will make you move a little faster. Remember, work stronger, not longer!

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