Healthy Lifestyle

Most people cringe slightly when they think about changing to a healthy lifestyle; however, I hope to change that. Living a healthy lifestyle is not about depriving yourself of your favorite goodies, or about spending hours every day at the gym. A healthy lifestyle is about finding new, healthier versions of your favorite foods without sacrificing flavor. It's also about making simple changes that will transform your life for the better. I am by no means an expert, nor do I claim to be, but here are some changes that I have made to my life that have helped me become healthier and stay motivated to exercise regularly. 

  • Exercising is not supposed to be a painful experience.
I may be the only one to say this to you but going to the gym is not for everyone, in fact I used to hate going to the gym. I always felt inferior because I was not lifting the biggest weights and I did not run on the treadmill as long as others. I had to learn to love going to the gym, now I go because I genuinely enjoy it and when I don't go I don't feel good. You have to find the right exercise to you. There are so many ways to exercise without going to the gym. Make an awesome playlist and go for a walk or a run, practice yoga, join a zumba or cycling class with a friend, swim laps at the local pool or gym, try out a home workout DVD, play basketball with some friends, and I could write quite a list because the possibilities really are endless. 

  • Eliminate processed and packaged foods.
The grocery store is full of foods that are filled with fake ingredients, lots of unnecessary chemicals, and preservatives that lengthen shelf life of products. The fake ingredients that are put in the foods add lots of sugar, unnecessary fats, and more calories to your diet. Fresh foods, like fruits and vegetables, are the ones you should be filling your diet with. 

  • Shop the perimeter of the grocery store.
The perimeter of the grocery store is where all the fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy products are. The middle aisles of the grocery store are filled with processed, packaged foods that are not good for you. When shopping the perimeter of the store organic is the best way to go; however, I am a college student so I do understand cost is a huge factor. I can not afford to buy everything organic but I do buy organic when I can. Some foods are not necessary to buy organic, like bananas because you peel the skin off anyway so any pesticides used you would not be consuming. I do try to buy most of my fruits organic because a lot of fruits are genetically modified to make them grow bigger. For example, grapes are genetically modified to make them grow bigger. Grapes are naturally small, while GMO grapes can become as large as a ping pong ball. Peaches are another fruit that should always be bought organically. Peaches are highly susceptible to  pesticide residue, so even if you wash a regular peach before eating it the chemicals can penetrate the skin and in turn you consume the pesticide as well. Why fill your body with harmful chemicals when it is unnecessary to? 

A few items that I always buy organic are: peaches, carrots, grapes, bell peppers, strawberries, celery, spinach and lettuces, potatoes, and meat when on sale. I fully understand that going organic is much more expensive, however always look for sales, some stores have coupons (there is no shame in coupon clipping!), or try finding a local farmers market. Local farmers markets are a great way to support the local community and get the freshest produce possible. 

  • Learn to read nutrition labels.
Look at label of any given jar of peanut butter in the grocery store, chances are it will list ingredients like partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, icing sugar, mono-and-diglycerides, etc. When you go to make a peanut butter sandwich you don't pour vegetable oil on your sandwich, so why consume it in the "fake" overly processed peanut butter? This is why you should learn to read nutrition labels and the ingredient lists. Real, sometimes referred to as organic peanut butter, contains roasted peanuts and no partially hydrogenated anything. PB2 is an awesome substation for the peanut butter lovers out there! It does not contain the unhealthy ingredients and the added fat of store brand peanut butters and it tastes like regular peanut butter! When grocery shopping look for the USDA organic seal on products because there are tighter restrictions on the pesticides used (they have to be natural pesticides), and the food cannot be bioengineered or treated with any growth hormones.  

  • Meal Plan
Meal planning may sound painful but its really not. I plan out what I am going to eat every meal for every day of the week, this way making my list for grocery shopping is much easier. I do not have to wander aimless around the grocery store and buy a bunch of unhealthy food that I do not need, and no food that I buy will go to waste. When I meal plan I write down all the ingredients I will need for that meal, this way making the grocery list is even easier. I do include snacks on my meal plan. 

  • Stop mindlessly eating and set a time limit.
Wandering into the kitchen at any point during the day can be dangerous. It is so easy to be tempted to grab that one snack that you don't really need. With meal planning mindless snacking is essentially stopped. If you plan out what your snack for the day is then you have no need to wander into the kitchen and be tempted by anything. Also meal planning helps cut out the mindless snacking because if you do not write it on the grocery list, and you don't buy it then there is nothing bad in the kitchen for you to be tempted by. 

Don't get me wrong I love to snack, but I do it responsible. I workout early in the morning after breakfast so I burn off most of, if not all of my breakfast. I like to have a snack between breakfast and lunch after my workout that will hold me over until lunch. I like to have a protein bar between breakfast and lunch so I only buy seven protein bars, one for each day, that way there is no way for me to eat two or three a day. Snacks should be healthy and contain protein which helps keep you full longer. Unsalted almonds, fruit, veggies (no dip though!), a protein bar are just some ideas of healthy snacks that will satisfy your snack craving without ruining your diet. Also, restrict eating after a certain time. I know this is hard but it really will stop those midnight cravings that add a lot of extra calories to your diet. I do not allow myself to eat anything after 7pm, this helps prevent mindless eating and then I do not go to bed with a full stomach which makes me feel sick. 

This has got to be one of the biggest problems with America, which is why there is a huge obesity epidemic. Serving sizes are not posted on nutrition labels to fill empty space, they are there for your benefit! Learn to keep measuring cups and measuring spoons handy so you can actually follow the recommended serving size. Just piling food on your plate will drastically increase the number of calories you consume, following the serving size allows you to see actually what the caloric intake of the food actually looks like and it keeps you from over eating.

  • Cut out the condiments!
I am just as guilty as anyone else at piling on the ketchup. However condiments are full of added sugar, unhealthy fats, and lots of unnecessary calories. Cut back on the condiments and eventually learn to live without them, I promise your food will taste even better without the pounds of melted butter, and your body will thank you too! If you must use some butter find an alternative like promise, which contains less calories and is not horrible for your body. And if you must use ketchup switch to an organic ketchup where there are no added ingredients, it's made from purely tomatoes. Find a healthy alternative to use until you can wean yourself off of the condiments, remember that every once in awhile it is ok to treat yourself and allow ketchup or butter but do not be tempted back to your old ways!

  • Frozen Food Frenzy
Many college kids survive off of frozen pizza and microwaveable meals, however they are horribly unhealthy. Don't think the whole freezer section is bad though! There are a lot of good foods in the freezer section. I usually buy frozen strawberries with no added sugar and vegetable steamers (green giant has a lot of healthy vegetable mixes that are really good). Organic frozen yogurt can also be found in the freezer section, which is a good substitution for the ice cream lover (healthy choice has frozen yogurt cups that are only 100 calories and come in a variety of flavors!). 

In the freezer section stay away from the frozen meals, frozen breadsticks, frozen pizzas, and foods of that nature. If you are feeling lazy and want a microwaveable meal look for something by Healthy Choice. Many of their meals are lower in calories and aren't carbohydrate based. Not all of their choices are truly healthy so be sure to read the nutrition label! Aside from frozen meals, try to stick to frozen fruits and vegetables and check to make sure they contain no added sugar. Stores often carry their own brands of frozen fruit and vegetables which are almost always cheaper than a name brand and often just as good. 

  • Keep a food log.
Keeping a food log is not for everyone. I keep a food log to keep myself accountable for what I eat. I know that if I treat myself to something I will have to work twice as hard at the gym the next morning to make up for it. A food log is also a way of cutting back on what you eat. When you keep track of what you eat you are more likely to skip that extra slice of pie because then you won't have to log those extra calories. I use the fitness tracker app in the iTunes store, it's free!, to keep my food log. I love this app because not only can I keep track of what I eat, I can scan barcodes and it will automatically pull up the food and its nutrition facts for me to add to my log. I also log my cardio and strength training that I do in the app. It really is an awesome app and I highly encourage you to check it out, besides the price is right!

  • Get enough sleep.
Most people do not get the sleep they truly need and in turn their body suffers. Getting enough sleep every night will keep your immune system strong and your body energized. On days when I do not get enough sleep I will tend to eat more because my energy is lacking. To ensure a good nights sleep I always turn off all electronics an hour, sometimes more, before I go to bed and I always read before I turn in for the night. It has been proven in studies that using electronics, such as your phone, laptop, or watching TV before bedtime, can actually prevent you from falling asleep and getting a good nights sleep. So to ensure your best nights sleep unplug from digital media, read a book before bedtime, or try some simple yoga stretches to help de-stress and bring the body to a relaxed state. Also, keep a regular bedtime. I know I need a lot of sleep to feel rested so I make sure I go to bed early so I can feel rested when I wake up.  

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day hands down. Breakfast helps wake your body up and feeds your brain which has not gotten any food since 7:00pm the previous night. That is a long time to go without food, and for those who skip breakfast they are depriving their bodies of vital nutrients needed to feel energized for the day. Skipping breakfast will also slow down your metabolism causing you will eat more throughout the day (hello mindless snacking!). 

Eating a nutritious breakfast is super important too. Skip all the sugary breakfast cereals and try a greek yogurt parfait, eggs, a slice of toast with a tablespoon of peanut butter, or my personal favorite a protein smoothie.

  • Prepare meals ahead of time for easy grab and go.
I know finding time for breakfast can be difficult in the morning, especially if you are not a morning person, so I always prepare a week worth of breakfasts on sunday night. I cut up and freeze all the ingredients for my protein smoothie in individual labeled bags for each day of the week so when I wake up in the morning all I have to do is throw it in the blender before I head off to the gym or to class. Preparing meals ahead of time really does save time in the morning and allows me to still have a nutritious breakfast on the go. The same goes for snacks, have individual containers that you can prepare a few days at a time so you can grab a snack and go. 

While it might seem that preparing meals ahead of time would take longer it really doesn't. Take twenty minutes out of your sunday night to prepare a weeks worth of healthy breakfasts that are healthy, easy, and quick that you can grab and head out the door. 

  • Drink a lot of water, then drink some more
Our bodies need water to survive, it's a simple fact. Water is important because it helps flush toxins out of our system, it helps keeps us hydrated, and it helps us to stay focused. Try to drink seven to eight glasses of water per day. Get creative on ways to make sure you are getting those eight glasses in a day. You can even buy water bottles that have lines on them that say "drink by 9am," "drink by 10:30am," "drink by noon," etc. Those are great ways to keep yourself on track and make sure you are drinking enough water. 

  • Fast food, cafeteria food, vending machines galore!
To be simple, don't eat it. You will save yourself a lot of unnecessary calories by avoiding the foods these places offer. If you MUST eat from such places here are some tips to avoid the calorie trap.

Fast food:
-order a salad with no dressing or a light dressing on the side 
-get water instead of a soda
-refrain from ordering a burger, there's lots of calories and avoiding the temptation to pile on the condiments might be hard
-order fresh fruit or vegetables instead of a shake for dessert

Cafeteria food:
-always check the meal schedule ahead of time so you can pick out the healthy meals and pack lunches on the days when all the choices are unhealthy
-don't grab a slice of pizza just because your friend grabbed one. Go for the healthy choice and if they make fun of you for it tell them you are taking charge of your health so you can have a healthier, happier life.

Vending Machines:
-do not grab the candy bar, chips, or pop!
-some vending machines offer trail mixes, dried fruits, granola bars, and pretzels. Go for those options and you won't have to feel guilty about it later

  • College Eating
Forget the freshmen 15 because eating healthy while in a dorm is possible! I did not get the college meal plan and instead I bought my own food and prepared my own meals. I was lucky and had an apartment style dorm so I had a mini stove in my room, but even without a stove eating healthy in a dorm is possible! If you do forgo a meal plan you will want to invest in a good microwave, blender, toaster, and mini fridge.

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