That’s the question I posed to a group of my colleagues – registered dietitians and nutritionists – in the trenches coaching and counseling people in the science, and art, of eating better. Rather than focusing on huge overhauls that may not be sustainable (i.e. no carbs, no gluten, no dairy, no alcohol, etc.), I wanted to look for keystone eating habit changes that could have a butterfly effect through the rest of your daily routine and get you the health and fitness results you want.
I was amazed — within 24 hours I had over 60 responses. As I began sorting through the feedback, I realized that many of the recommendations fell into a seven broader categories, which I’ll be summarizing and presenting in two posts.
Buckle up, here are the first four:
Eat more veggies and fruit
• “Eat your veggies first. Because they are so low in calories, veggies fill you up not out!” – Marisa Moore, MBA, RD, LD
• Have a fruit or vegetable with every meal or snack. – multiple experts
• Fill half your plate with veggies at lunch and dinner. – multiple experts
• “Try one new, healthy food every week. Try a mango or a new, healthy recipe.” – Michel D. Harris, RD, LDN, CDE
Eat more frequently to avoid becoming too hungry
• Whether eating every three, four or five hours, “Never let yourself get too hungry.” – Danielle Omar, MS, RD
• “Have a mid-afternoon snack to control hunger levels later in the day and avoid eating too much at dinner.” – Sarah Koszyk, MA, RD
Reconnect with the process of cooking and eating
• Only eat real food that your grandma (or great-grandma) would recognize. No ingredients that you can’t understand or pronounce. – multiple experts
• “Become more aware of what you are eating by checking the ingredients list when choosing packaged foods.” – Karen Marschel, RD, LD, CDE, CLT
• “It’s so helpful to plan a menu for the week in advance and then organize your shopping list and prep in advance…It makes such a difference in eating healthier and more home-cooked food.” – Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RD, CDN
• Eat at home more often, with people. Prepare one more home-cooked meal each week. – multiple experts
Exercise and lifestyle improvements
• Whether it’s 10, 15 or 30 minutes, “Make an appointment with yourself daily to move, just like a shower or a meal.” – Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN
• Exercise one more day per week. — multiple experts
• Whenever possible, choose to walk or take the stairs. — multiple experts
• Get some sleep! The stress on the body from being sleep-deprived can lead to overeating and fat retention. — multiple experts
Review the habit changes recommended here, choose the one that works best for you and give it a shot for three to four weeks. Research shows it takes about that long for a new action to become a sustained habit. If one recommendation doesn’t work for you, try another one; different approaches work for different people. Or hang tight for next month’s post for the other three categories!
Do you have another habit to share? Tell us!
In addition to the quotes above, I’m so grateful for all of the wonderful feedback I received from the following nutrition professionals: Tammy Lakatos Shames, Tara Todd, Jill Weisenberger, Erin Palinski, Jackie Newgent, Alexandra Oppenheimer, Michelle Dudash, Kim Kulp, Lisa Stollman, Penny Wilson, Keri Gans, Kerriann Jennings, Emma Fogt, Rachel Begun, Anne Mauney, Jill Castle, Marilyn Jess, Lisa Dixon, Maryann Jacobsen, Beth Lutton, Rebecca Horsman, Denine Rogers, Alexandra Black and Sarah-Jane Bedwell.