Get Healthy and Fit, Part 1

Post written by Leo Babauta.

J.D. over at one of my favorite finance blogs, Get Rich Slowly, posted recently about how he used a wellness coach to get healthier and fitter. He shares his experiences and some excellent tips, and I recommend a read.

It got me to thinking: I’ve learned so much over the last year, from reading and from trial and error, that I could be a decent coach myself with a little more training. I don’t think it’s something I’ll really pursue, but I thought I’d share some things I’ve learned.

Today I’ll look at the first part of getting healthier and fitter — eating healthy. (Also see See Part 2 of Getting Healthy and Fit – Exercise Edition)

Rules for Eating Healthy

Eating healthy is something a lot of us want to do, but we have such a hard time because of temptations at home and work and on the road. I won’t lie and say that making changes in your diet is easy, but I will advise against making drastic changes and in favor of making gradual changes.

For example, I eat pretty healthy right now, but my current diet is a cumulation of small changes I made over time. I first started eating leaner meats, and trying to incorporate more fruits and veggies. Then I added in healthier breakfast cereals, oatmeal, whole grain breads. I switched to lower fat milk and other low-fat options. I ate more nuts, and tried things like flax seeds. Eventually I had a fairly healthy diet (except for the sweets), but then I became vegetarian. I cut out meat completely, including chicken and fish. Eventually I started to phase out dairy and eggs, and started using soymilk and other soy products. I slowly tried out vegan recipes, to the point that I am now nearly 100% vegan, and loving every minute of it. Lately I’ve been trying to cut out caffeine and sweets, but gradually. If you try cutting one little thing out at a time, eventually you will get used to the change and it will become normal for you. Then repeat the process.

Healthy Eating Rule #1: Pick one or two things to change about your diet, and start simply with those. Every week or two, try something healthy and incorporate it into your daily or weekly menu.

Another thing I’ve learned is that when I am trying to cut out something bad, it helps to replace it with something healthy and tasty that I come to enjoy. Like caffeine — I am cutting out coffee and replacing it with water. I did that before with colas (although I’ll have an occasional cola now, but not nearly as often). Now I love drinking water instead of the more sugary stuff. I replaced milk with the much healthier soy milk, and now I love soy milk. Same thing with veggie burgers, healthy cereal, whole grain bread and more. Find healthy options that you love — make a list and keep them close by.

Healthy Eating Rule #2: When cutting out something bad from your diet, replace it with something healthier and tasty.

I’ve also learned to incorporate a variety of not only fruits and vegetables, but nuts, calcium-rich foods (like soymilk, calcium-fortified OJ and tofu, almonds, and leafy greens), foods with good fats (like olive oil, flaxseeds, almonds, etc), high protein but lean foods (like tofu, soy protein, nuts, beans), and high-fiber foods. What I avoid, like the plague, are things high in saturated fats or too sugary (like I said, I’m cutting this out more and more now).

Healthy Eating Rule #3: The first things to cut out are fried, fatty foods (like McDonald’s) and stuff that’s too sugary (donuts, colas, candy) and other junk food. Don’t cut it out completely, but start to phase it out gradually and replace it with healthier, tasty stuff (see first two rules).

Another important concept is to eat small portions. I used to pile my plate high, but that’s a sure way to fatness. I slowly cut back on my portions by adding healthy snacks in between meals. The key here is to plan it out so that you not only have your three squares, but maybe a yogurt in between, and fruits, or instead of having a large lunch, do what I do and have two smaller sandwiches.

Healthy Eating Rule #4: Eat smaller portions and more often during the day. If you wait until you’re really hungry, you’ll pig out.

This leads me to another great concept: if you’re going to be on the road, you have to plan ahead, or you’ll end up eating something convenient (read: fast food) which won’t be as healthy and will definitely be more expensive. When you go grocery shopping, look for healthy snacks that you like and then pack them when you go to work or on the road. Blue corn chips, nuts, raisins, fruit, veggies, low-fat pretzels and the like are good things to pack and easily portable.

Healthy Eating Rule #5: Pack healthy snacks to take with you, and plan for meals when you go on the road.

Yet another important point: these things won’t make a noticeable difference right away, at least not on your waistline. Losing weight — especially fat — shouldn’t happen overnight, or you will easily gain it back. Be patient, and think long term. Don’t look for quick fixes.

Healthy Eating Rule #6: Set long-term goals, and don’t expect quick results. Be patient!

There are many more tips, but these are the basic rules for eating healthy, which is the foundation for getting fit. Incorporate these rules one at a time, slowly, and you’ll see a big change over time. You’ll love yourself for it!

See Part 2 of Getting Healthy and Fit – Exercise Edition.