As we journey towards a healthier self, making good food choices is essential. Making good choices requires educating yourself about food, being consistent with your eating habits and realizing and accepting there will be moments of discomfort and stress as you change eating habits (you’ll be stepping out of your comfort zone). Your ability to make the right choices will take time, similar to someone who begins investing with the goal of making a million dollars, it won’t happen overnight. Like the beginner investor who has to learn how to invest, you too will need to learn how to eat healthy. The investor must make consistent/regular efforts to manage their money; you must be consistent with the food choices that you make. And sacrifice will be part of the process. The investor might need to sayno to a new flat screen, in order to save to reach their goal; you will need to forgo the convenience of takeout and begin to regularly prepare your meals (reminder: eating out includes workday lunch).
There are many reasons why poor food choices exist, some common ones include:
- Busy schedules make the decision to buy instead of cook the go-to option.
- Don’t enjoy or know how to cook, so little time is spent preparing meals.
- The lack of knowledge and understanding on how to eat healthy.
- Trusting the food industry’s packaging (“low fat”, “fat-free”,“certified organic”, etc.) as the marker for making choices.
We can easily list more reasons, but for now the “why” isn’t as important as the “how to do better”. Let’s focus on changing so that better food choice becomes an easier option. Learning what you need to know about food is beyond a single blog post…it’s a process that takes time and effort. Like someone new to running and have the goal of running a marathon one day, the process begins with simple steps like a run around the block, then onto 1K, then 5K, then 8K and then 10K and so on. Finally one day you arrive at the start line for a 42K race. Along with the stamina to complete such a distance, you would have also gained:
- the ability to manage your schedule to include regular training and exercise.
- the capacity to understand, treat and recover from injury.
- the fortitude to work through discomfort whether it be waking at 4:30 am for a morning run in the cold or getting past cramps 3KM into a 15K training run.
- a greater understanding of how to develop muscle, strength and stamina.
- the knowledge of how to select the proper gear for running (watches, shoes, attire, etc.).
- the ability to choose the right foods to help with your performance.
So, like that of a marathon runner, how do we arrive at the starting line of making the right food choices? I should remind you that these suggestions and opinions are that of my own and do not imply any level of expertise like that of a professional health or nutritional practitioner. The information I share is basic and general and is derived from my own research and conversations I have had with those whom I believe have a good foundational knowledge of food. There are many useful tools that will help you on your journey, whether they be phone “apps”, physician-recommended programs such as Weight Watchers, nutritionist-led plans, or suggestions offered by your local gym or a personal trainer. I encourage you to do your own research and seek out professional advice as the need arises.
Okay, so back to some first steps to becoming better at food choice – here are a few considerations as you get started. And remember, like someone new to running, you won’t be race ready from the start. Begin with small steps and just keep moving forward.
My suggestions on 6 things to consider as you get started:
1. Elimination – remove bad options from your current food selection.
- Get rid of processed foods and replace with whole food, i.e. No more McDonald’s at noon, instead pack a lunch for work. This is a difficult one for me. If you cannot completely cut out all of these meals can you limit them to once a week?
- Identify the bad items in your cupboard and throw them out and make the commitment not to bring them back into your home. If I don’t buy the chips, I won’t eat them!
- Avoid certain ingredients like trans fats, sugar and high fructose corn syrup (in Canada it can be referred to as “fructose-glucose”). For example, I regularly used to take sugar in my tea. I took it out about a year ago. It only took me about two weeks to adjust and I have not looked back.
2. Develop a relationship with food – treat food like you’re on a first date, get to know it! Make it a personal quest to learn as much as you can about food. The average person doesn’t understand the importance of food – its purpose goes farbeyond satisfying hunger. Food can be:
- age defying.
- for strengthening and healing.
- used to correct behavioural issues.
- leveraged to prevent illness.
- and so much more.
3. Increase Nutrient-Rich Sources – do you currently eat enough of the right foods to reap the benefits that good food offers? Fruit and vegetables are important but so is fibre, good fats and drinking enough water. Knowing where to find sources of nutritional content is essential.
4. Change Your Perspective – once you understand the importance of food, it will reshape the way you interact with it. You’ll begin to think twice about consuming fast or processed food and begin to enjoy preparing whole foods.
5. Grow Your Food Awareness – the food industry is largely driven by profit, companies tell you what you want to hear by packaging products with labeling like “Fat-free”, “Gluten-free” and “Organic”. We need to look past the hype and trends and study what’s in our food. Looking for the Nutrition Facts box, it’s right there on the package. You’llbe surprised by what you see – for example if you need to lose weight you reduce your sugar intake so automatically choose “zero-fat” options when you shop. But did you know that fat adds flavour? If the fat is taken out, more sugar is added to make up for flavour, so low or no fat doesn’t always mean fewer calories.
6. Convenience is often a trade-off for good food choices – sustenance shouldn’t be derived from convenience. Good food requires preparation with the rewards immensely outweighing the effort. Scrap the drive-thru, packaged meals and the microwave. Take the time to prepare your food. Practice will not only make cooking easier but it will also become your new normal no longer feeling like “extra” effort. Cooking whole foods is one of the best investments you’ll make towards your quality of life.
The list of considerations may seem like a lot to take in at once (it can be overwhelming) – but don’t let that stop you from getting started. How you start depends on your physical condition and goals. Are you overweight, underweight, dealing with illness, low energy level, lacking strength, struggling with mental health, chronic pain, digestive issues, etc.? Determining your physical status may require outside professional help in which case you may want to make an appointment with your doctor or a nutritionist. Some additional resources:
EatRight Ontario is here to answer your nutrition and healthy eating questions.
York Region offers a range of nutrition programs, resources and services to promote healthy eating, access to healthy food and the development of supportive nutrition environments.
Diet, Nutrition and Weight Control – York Region: Diet, nutrition and weight control programs evaluate an individual’s nutritional history and dietary intake to develop a plan which ensures that the person’s nutritional needs are met.
Jenn Pike (www.jennpike.com) is a Holistic Lifestyle Expert on a mission to cut through the over-complicated B.S. around food, health and well-being. Her focus is on women but a lot of the information she shares applies to anyone interested in living a healthy and happy life. She resides and works in York region.
Try these 3 steps to get started on your journey:
1. Choose Whole Foods over Processed Foods
The term “processed” means it’s been prepared in some way versus unprocessed (or whole food) which is food in its natural state, i.e. an apple is whole food (unprocessed), it’s simply picked and eaten (remaining in its natural state until consumed). Processed food, on the other hand, is food that’s prepared and this falls into two categories (mechanical and chemical):
- Mechanically processedmeans its raw state has been altered. For example, crush up some apples, place them in a jar and you have apple sauce – this is considered a processed food. And, if nothing else is added, this version of “processed” is fine. However, the manufacturing process sometimes goes further with the addition of artificial and refined ingredients.
- Chemically processed is the adding of artificial and refined ingredients. Citing the apple sauce example, adding ingredients like artificial flavouring, preservatives, sweeteners, etc. creates an end-product that’s no longer in its raw form. This can make it less healthy and often UNHEALTHY. Unhealthy because there are many risks associated with the ingredients used in processed foods. Risks include overeating, heart disease, sugar addiction and disease to name a few, so make every effort to avoid chemically processed foods.
2. Read the Nutritional Label – Find the white box titled “Nutrition Facts” that appears on all packaged food. It shows the amount of calories, fat, sodium, fibre, trans-fat, sugar and more. This label provides immense insight into what’s in your food!
3. Pay attention to ingredients
It’s difficult to eliminate all packaged food from your diet so when you do buy packaged food, don’t rely on the labeling to provide true insight into what’s in the food…you need to look at the ingredients list:
- The order of ingredients listed reflects the ratios of eachwith the first having the highest proportion.
- A few ingredients to look out for (this list doesn’t include all offenders but it’s a starting point). To find out more about a particular offender, simply google it:
- High Fructose Corn Syrup or Fructose-glucose (the label name in Canada) should be avoided.
- Sugar – limit consumption to 9 teaspoons (38grams) per day, for women that’s 7 teaspoons (25grams). A can of coke contains 39grams – don’t believe me, check out a label. And sugar is hiding in things you wouldn’t even have guessed like ketchup and a can of tomato soup. Remember 4 grams=1 teaspoon.
- Sodium-although your body needs some of this mineral, limit consumption because too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure. Try to limit consumption to no more than1,500 – 2,000mg per day.
- Numbered food colouring – avoid ingredients like “red #2”, “blue #1”, etc. Numbered colouring is linked to many high-risk health issues.
- Hydrogenated Oil – avoid this oil. You’ll find this ingredient in processed foods.
- Trans-fat – avoid this ALWAYS!
The simplicity of real food was created by God. The journey to a healthier you is not an overnight process but you can get there. It will happen over time, just remain consistent and be open to change despite being uncomfortable. The discomfort is just you moving out of your comfort zone. Wishing you blessings as you take your first steps. Got a question? firstname.lastname@example.org.