Eating healthy and exercising may seem like a fairly simple and straightforward goal. However, there are many different components to a healthy diet and fitness program. For example, you’ll need to think about when and where you’ll exercise, what foods to eat, how much, and how to prepare them. Starting with a more specific goal and detailed plan can help you make the changes you need to help you eat healthier and be more active.
improve your diet
Remember what you eat. Trying to eat healthier is a good goal, but a broad one. To help you personalize your goal and figure out exactly what you need to do differently, start by remembering what you eat for a few days.
Remembering what you eat involves writing down a few detailed notes of what you eat and drink in a day. It includes all meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), any snacks throughout the day, and anything you drink (or add to your drinks).
Be as detailed as possible. If you’re not good at remembering what you ate the last few days, try keeping a food diary instead. It might even be advisable to use a smartphone app to help you.
After you have your notes, review them and see where you can make changes. This will help you set goals for yourself and design an appropriate meal plan.
Examples of things you might want to change include: eating breakfast regularly, drinking less soda, eating more vegetables, or eating fewer snacks.
Make a meal plan. A meal plan will go a long way when trying to make changes to your eating pattern and style. This will be a guide or outline for all your food choices.
A meal plan can be very detailed or just a few notes. But take a little time and write down your ideas of what you will eat and drink for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.
Having a week or two of scheduled meals can help you visualize if you’re making the right changes to your diet. You can see if: you are going to eat a vegetable at every meal or if you have a scheduled breakfast every day.
Use your meal plan to guide you through the week. You can also use it to help you draw up a shopping list to make sure you buy everything you need at the supermarket.
Eat a balanced and varied diet. One of the main components to “healthy eating” is having a balanced and varied diet. Without it, it’s hard to make sure you’re eating a nutritious diet.
A balanced diet means eating the right amounts of the right kinds of foods for you. For example, it is not recommended to eat mainly grains and forget about fruits and vegetables.
Also, make sure you have a varied diet. This means eating a wide variety of foods from each food group. For example, don’t just opt for an apple every day. Choose apples, oranges, berries or pineapple.
A combination of both a balanced and varied diet will provide the foundation for a nutritious diet that provides you with all the recommended vitamins and minerals you need.
Make half your plate a fruit or vegetable. One of the ways to make your meal balanced and nutritious is to fill half your plate with a fruit or vegetable.
Both fruits and vegetables are low in calories and rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. These foods are one of the main sources of many essential nutrients.
Include 1 to 2 servings of either fruits or vegetables at each meal and snack. A serving of fruit is ½ cup or 1 small piece and a serving of vegetables is 1 cup or 2 cups of leafy green vegetables.
If you can, try to choose the fruits and vegetables that have the most nutrients. These foods are incredibly nutrient dense compared to other foods and are usually darker and brighter in color. For example, spinach or kale are much higher in vitamins (especially vitamins A and K) compared to lettuce.
Choose lean protein. Lean protein is another essential component to your diet. Protein provides the building blocks your body needs to function every day.
To meet your recommended daily needs, include a serving of 3 to 4 ounces (85 to 113 grams) of protein with each meal. One serving is about the size of the palm of your hand or a deck of cards.
Lean proteins are lower in calories and fat compared to less lean proteins and are an important part of a healthy diet.
Choose foods like: poultry, eggs, pork, lean beef, seafood, tofu, and legumes. Limit fatty protein sources like hot dogs, bacon, processed meats, and high-fat beef.
Opt for whole foods. Grain-based foods make up a large part of many diets. Foods like bread, rice, and pasta are delicious and can be part of a healthy diet.
To help you meet your goal of a healthy diet, it is recommended that you make most, if not all, of your grain choices 100% whole grain.
Whole grain foods are minimally processed and contain every part of the grain (the bran, the endosperm, and the germ). This makes them higher in fiber, protein, and other nutrients that are beneficial to your diet.
More refined grains like white bread or rice are stripped of these vital nutrients. You should limit these types of foods in your diet.
Stick to ½ cup or 1-ounce (28-gram) servings of whole foods. Try foods like: 100% whole grain breads and pastas, brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, millet, and barley.
Drink the right fluids. Aside from food, drinking the right fluids can also help you have a healthier diet. Although water does not provide any nutrients, it is an essential part of your diet.
Water is important for a variety of functions in your body including regulating body temperature, maintaining acid-base balance, lubricating joints, and controlling blood pressure.
Most health professionals recommend consuming 8 to 13 glasses of water a day. This will differ for everyone based on gender, age, and activity level. However, it is advisable to be hydrated so that you do not feel thirsty at any time during the day.
Stick to crystal clear, sugar-free, and caffeine-free beverages. Try: water, flavored water, tea and decaffeinated coffee without sugar.
Limit sugary drinks and alcohol. These contain excess calories and provide little or no useful nutrients. Keep alcohol to a maximum of one serving or less a day for women and 2 servings or less for men.
Snack smart. Snacks can get a bad rap in terms of “healthy eating.” Many people associate snacks with foods like chips or candy. However, eating a snack can help improve your overall diet.
Snacks are a great addition to your diet when you’re hungry and your next meal is in a few hours, to help you fuel up for exercise or recovery from an intense workout.
Snacking can result in harmful weight gain when you eat when you’re not hungry, eat later in the day, or make unhealthy food choices.
Snacks, like your meals, should be well balanced and contain either a lean protein, fruit, vegetable, or a combination of those foods.
Limit processed foods, foods with added sugars, or those that are high in fat and calories. Desserts, sweets, cookies, cakes, or chips should be limited. You don’t have to avoid these foods entirely, but you should only eat them in moderation.
Examples of nutritious snacks include: ½ cup of yogurt with ½ cup of fruit, 4 whole-grain crackers with 1 ounce (28 grams) of low-fat cheese, 4 celery sticks spread with ½ tablespoon of peanut butter, or an apple with a low-fat cheese stick.
Prepare healthier versions of your favorite foods. Many times people perceive healthy eating as “boring and bland”. However, it’s the opposite, especially if you take the time to prepare foods that you truly enjoy.
Don’t misunderstand healthy eating as just eating salads, boiled vegetables, or lean baked protein without any flavor. Spending a little time researching different ways to prepare healthy foods that you enjoy will benefit you.
If you don’t fully enjoy the foods you eat, chances are you won’t stick with your healthy eating pattern long-term.
Start reviewing recipes for some of your favorite foods or dishes. You can always add more vegetables to baked dishes like pasta, meatballs, meatloaf, and even cakes. Use 100% whole wheat flour when baking and swap the sugar for applesauce.
For example, if you like macaroni and cheese, add some pureed butternut squash to the sauce and add some of your favorite vegetables with the noodles. You could also try making homemade sweet potato fries instead of regular French fries. Add shredded carrots or zucchini to cakes, cookies, and muffins for an extra touch of nutrition.
Incorporate physical activity
Plan what exercise you will do. As your meal plan for healthy eating, spend some time thinking about what types of exercise you’d like to include in your activity.
There are many different ways to be active. The more you enjoy your workouts, the more likely you are to stick with them long term.
Consider what types of activities you might want to include. Health professionals generally recommend doing both cardio and strength training each week for the best overall exercise.
Gyms are a good place to join if you want to work on adding physical activity. You have access to group classes, cardio machines, weight machines, and a staff of personal trainers.
If the gym isn’t for you, consider what activities you can do at home. You might want to buy exercise DVDs, plan a walking or running route, or find free videos online.
Find activities you want to do each week and schedule them into your day and week.
Include regular, moderate-intensity physical activity each week. One main type of exercise is aerobics. These activities have many health benefits when included regularly and weekly.
The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) recommends getting about 150 minutes to 2 1/2 hours of moderate-intensity cardiovascular activity each week. Moderate-intensity activities are those that make you sweat and raise your heart rate for at least 10 to 20 minutes.
Benefits associated with cardiovascular exercise include: weight loss or healthy weight maintenance, lower risk of diabetes and high blood pressure, lower risk of obesity, better mood and sleep habits.
Do a combination of the activities you have planned. They can be anything from swimming or dancing, to hiking, walking, or taking an aerobics class at the gym.
Add resistance and strength training. In addition to cardio exercises, you should do strength training every week. These exercises offer different health benefits than cardio exercise and will help round out your physical activity regimen.
Strength or resistance training exercises aim to help build lean muscle mass. Benefits include denser, harder bones, reduced risk of osteoporosis, increased lean muscle mass, and increased metabolism.
Activities like weightlifting, yoga, or Pilates can count as strength training. Pick your favorite activity and include it 2-3 days a week in addition to your cardio.
Increase your referral activity. The last main type of activity is referential or lifestyle activity. Although not considered planned or consistent exercise, there are still a variety of benefits to increasing your baseline activity.
Lifestyle activities are those that you already do as part of your daily life. These may include walking to and from your car, doing laundry, piling leaves, or taking the stairs.
These types of activities don’t count toward your 150 minutes of planned cardio each week. These are performed in addition to these.
Studies have shown that these activities may provide similar benefits to more traditional, planned physical activity (such as going for a 30-minute jog). You can also increase or support these benefits if they are done in combination with planned physical activity.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle
Visit your doctor regularly. In addition to eating healthy and being physically active, visiting your doctor regularly can help you support your goals for being healthier.
Talk to your doctor about your new plan for a healthier diet and physical activity routine. He or she will be able to tell you if your plan is healthy and appropriate for you.
Talk to your doctor about why you want to eat healthier and exercise more often. He or she might have some advice for you and might be able to let you know in the long run if your plan has had a positive effect on your health.
Your doctor may also be able to refer you to a registered dietitian or personal trainer to help you get additional guidance for your goals.
Try new things. When you start a new type of diet and exercise plan, it can be exciting and fun. Over time, you could get bored with your routine, which could make it more likely that you will abandon it.
Trying new things to keep your routines fresh can help you stay motivated and interested in your plan for a healthier lifestyle.
A few ways to keep your healthy eating plan fun and fresh are: try new recipes, buy a new ingredient or product you’ve never tried, or try to recreate your favorite restaurant or comfort food at home.
You might also get bored with your fitness routine. Like your diet, there are a few ways you can keep things fresh: sign up for a race or competition, find a friend to work out with, sign up for a new class at the gym, or listen to a good audiobook while you work out.
Start writing in a journal. Starting to write in a journal is a good way to help you stay on track with your new diet pattern and fitness routine.
Try keeping a journal about your old eating habits, what you want to change, and how you’re doing with your new eating habits. A food diary can give you great insight into why you eat, when you eat, and how certain foods affect your body.
You can also use your diary to map out your meal and fitness plan for the week.
It could also be a good place to track your progress toward your goals. You can take notes on how easy or difficult it was and how your goals change over time.
Measure yourself regularly. No matter what your ultimate goal is, measuring yourself could help keep you on track with your long-term healthy eating and activity plan.
When you eat healthier and are more active you could lose a little weight. Regular weigh-ins can help you see how your new goals have affected your weight. Keep weighing yourself once a week; you’re more likely to stick to your plan if you weigh yourself regularly.
It would also be advisable to monitor your clothing size, waist and hips. If you notice any of your measurements go up or down too much, you can go back to your journal and make any changes you need to your eating and fitness plans.