Despite the colder weather and shorter days, there is something undeniably energizing about January. The New Year presents such opportunity and hope; a blank slate to let go of the missteps of ‘last year’ and take action for a better one.
While more of us are resolving to do things like save money and reduce stress, there are still three resolutions that remain supreme: lose weight, exercise more and be healthier. And we put tremendous pressure on ourselves to make it happen STAT. “Starting January 1st, that’s it! No carbs, sugar, dairy, gluten, alcohol or caffeine, no eating before 8 am, no eating after 6 pm, no days off at the gym.”
It’s like we expect this missing willpower to suddenly kick-in once we “no” ourselves to diet misery. Doing even one of these things can be a tall task, never mind attempting to do them all at once. Maybe that’s why 80% of us throw in the towel after 30 days.
Instead of trying to upgrade your health in one fell swoop, consider making small changes that are sustainable, fun and will add up to a big difference in the long run (because you’ll actually stick with them!). Here are 9 of our favorite habits for a healthier you to get you started:
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#1- KEEP A FOOD MOOD JOURNAL
That’s right – a food-mood journal. Unlike a regular food log, there’s no calorie or macro counting here. Instead, eat as you normally would for seven days and write down in a notebook:
- Everything you eat and drink (including oils, sugars, salts and condiments)
- What time you consumed it
- How you feel 30 and 60 minutes later (Tired? Bloated? Gassy? Irritable? Hungry? Munchy? Satisfied? Alert? Focused?)
We focus so much on weight, that we overlook how food affects other areas of our health like our energy levels, mood, cravings and digestion. After a few days of tracking, you might find that you’re regularly bloated an hour after eating your protein bar. Use this intel to make a swap: the next day, try an apple with nut butter and see how you feel. Creating your own proof helps change habits naturally as it shifts your thoughts from “I can or can’t have this” to “I do or don’t like how this makes me feel”.
If this process is really eye-opening for you, track until you find a go-to lineup of meals and snacks that make you feel great. Amazon has some great food-mood journals to help keep you motivated!
#2- MAXIMIZE YOUR COMMUTE
This has been a game changer for me. We spend so much time in our cars, on the train, or walking to where we need to go every single day. Why not utilize that time to learn more about health, fitness and nutrition?
I’ve been hooked on the Feel Good Podcast with Kimberly Snyder, Healthier Together with Liz Moody and The Model Health Show by Shawn Stevenson. They each view health through a holistic lens and bring in experts from all over the world to speak about a variety of topics, from what sugar does to our body, to ways to support gut health, to how essential oils can help manage stress. I walk away from each episode with a better understanding how my body works and feeling empowered to make simple, impactful changes.
You can access podcasts through Apple/iTunes, Spotify or by downloading the Podcast app. There are thousands of health and wellness options to choose from – you’re bound to find a few that you love!
#3- ADD IN VERSUS CUT OUT
Cutting out a long list of foods might bring short-term weight loss, but fast forward a few weeks and it’s usually a recipe for cravings, binging and ultimately, returning to old habits.
When we focus on adding natural, whole foods to our diet instead of taking foods away, cravings for less-healthy foods will naturally diminish. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, grass-fed meats, herbs and spices pack a huge nutritional punch, which allows our body to register that it’s full and has everything it needs. When you’re satisfied and nourished by real food, you’ll crowd-out junk and overeating.
On the flip side, refined or processed foods like soda, white bread, crackers and chips contain few nutrients and additives, dyes, artificial sugars and salts. So while our stomach may get physically full from eating these foods, chemically we’re still hungry as our body searches for missing nutrients.
#4- START EACH MORNING WITH A WARM GLASS OF LEMON WATER
Anyone who knows me knew this was coming. Don’t worry – it doesn’t mean getting rid of your morning cup of coffee. It has a lot of great health benefits, just be weary of drinking it on an empty stomach.
Our bodies need nourishment after fasting all night, and coffee is a diuretic. With nothing else in our system, it can promote dehydration, jitters, lightheadedness and anxiety; actually lowering alertness. Coffee also triggers the production of stomach acid, which on an empty stomach, can damage stomach lining over time and cause symptoms like indigestion, heartburn, gas, bloating and acid reflux.
So before you have that cup of coffee, rehydrate and rejuvenate with a glass of warm lemon water. It’s great source of antioxidants and vitamin C that aids in digestion, reduces inflammation and promotes hydration; giving you natural burst of energy to start your day right.
#5- RECREATE YOUR FAVORITE RESTAURANT DISHES AT HOME
I know – easier said than done when balancing work, family and other commitments. I hear you, but here’s why it’s important. When you cook at home, you control exactly what goes into your food. Many restaurants, even those marketed as healthier options, add-in low-quality oils, sugar, butter and salt to enhance the flavor of the food, and the health impact can add up quickly.
Take Panera’s Modern Greek Salad with Quinoa for example. The ingredients on the menu are: Romaine, kale, quinoa tomato sofrito blend, diced cucumbers and kalamata olives, Greek dressing, feta and toasted almonds.
Sounds pretty harmless, right? Now take a look at the detailed ingredients listed on their website:
Romaine Lettuce, Quinoa Sofrito Tomato Blend (Red And White Quinoa Blend (Cooked Red And White Quinoa [Water, Red Quinoa [May Contain Mustard, Soy And Wheat], White Quinoa], Extra Virgin Olive Oil), Roasted Tomato Sofrito Blend (Tomatoes, Onion, Canola Oil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Dried Garlic, Vinegar, Salt, Sugar, Thyme)), Greek Dressing (Soybean Oil, Water, Distilled Vinegar, Olive Pomace Oil, Cider Vinegar, Salt, Organic Gum Blend [Organic Gum Acacia And Organic Guar Gum], Xanthan Gum, Dehydrated Garlic, Black Pepper, Lemon Juice Concentrate, Dehydrated Tarragon, Dehydrated Oregano, Citric Acid, Dehydrated Parsley, Dehydrated Rosemary, Dehydrated Thyme, Dehydrated Bay Leaves), Kale, Cucumber, Feta Cheese (Pasteurized Part-Skim Milk, Cheese Culture, Salt, Microbial Enzymes), Toasted Almonds, Kalamata Olives (Olives, Water, Red Wine Vinegar, Sea Salt, Grape Must)
Five different oils, four areas of added salt and some fun stuff like gum blend creates a salad with 44 grams of fat and 820 mg of salt. FYI – there are 33 grams of fat and 1,000 mg of salt in a Big Mac. If places like Panera are doing this to a salad, you can only imagine what’s going on in other dishes elsewhere. When it comes down to it, the nutrient-dense salad is still the healthier alternative to the Big Mac, but you could make a healthier and equally as delicious version at home for much less money.
To make cooking more enjoyable, grab a great cookbook (I love Healthier Together and Dining In), a glass of wine and bump some tunes. Also look into grocery delivery services like Instacart and Peapod or meal services like HelloFresh and Blue Apron (subscribe with email to get amazing New Year’s promos!)
#6- ADD GREENS TO EVERY MEAL
It’s easier to do than you might think, and is a sure-fire way to improve your health. Dark leafy greens are among the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, with kale, spinach, Swiss chard, collard greens and watercress making most expert’s top 10 lists. They’re packed with vitamins (K, C, E and some B), minerals (magnesium, calcium and potassium) and fiber to help our bodies perform hundreds of essential functions from digestion to detoxification to boosting our immune system.
Add a handful of kale or spinach to your morning smoothie, like the Mango, Pear and Spinach Smoothie (you won’t even taste the difference) and put your normal lunch over a large bed of spring mix. For a snack, bring veggies with hummus instead of a granola bar. Making pasta for dinner? Sauté a bag of spinach and throw it in, then top it with basil.
For more inspiration, check out Greatist’s list of 40 Unexpected Ways to Add Veggies to Every Meal.
#7- SCHEDULE WORKOUTS LIKE MEETINGS
Nutrition and exercise are a powerful one-two punch when it comes to better health. In addition to the physical benefits, exercise is one of the best ways to improve stress, anxiety and mood. The key to maintaining an exercise regimen for the long run is to find a form that you actually love and look forward to doing. Do a simple Google or Yelp search of “gyms near me” to find out what’s in your area – spinning, boxing, weight training, barre, martial arts, boot camp, high intensity interval training (HIIT), yoga, Pilates, Zumba, hiking, walking or swimming. Most will offer a free class or week, take advantage of this and try out a few before committing.
Once you find one you love, schedule time for working out into your calendar like you would for a meeting. Let your spouse, boss and family know that every Tuesday and Thursday, you will be attending class at your spin studio from 6 -7 pm. With everyone knowing this upfront, you’re much more likely to make it happen!
#8- HEALTH-IFY YOUR GET TOGETHERS
We’ve become so programmed to think that getting together with friends or family has to involve dinner and drinks, but there are so many other options that can also benefit your health.
Instead of a boozy brunch, ask a friend to join you for a hike, followed by a coffee date or a farmer’s market run. You might even find some fun and interesting produce that inspires you to create new recipes together at home (hello #4!). If you’re looking for something more adventurous, try out a local rock-climbing gym, trampoline park or roller rink. It’s still fun, quality time, and you can feel great knowing that you did something extra to improve your health.
#9- SPEND TIME IN NATURE
Ah, the best for last! In today’s world, we get so caught up in work, technology and social media that we spend up to 80% of our waking hours on a screen, which can significantly impact our health and happiness. Spending time in outdoors is said to be “natural medicine”, because it’s one of the best ways to ease stress, decompress and restore our natural rhythm. When we’re outdoors, our bodies naturally increase the production of serotonin, our “feel good” hormone, and slows the production of melatonin. Plus, it’s one of the best ways to get a big dose of Vitamin D, a component of our diets that we are often deficient in.
Aim to spend even 10-15 minutes a day outdoors to significantly boost your health– walk your dog before work, step outside during lunch or eat dinner on your deck. You’ll be surprised at how much more alert, relaxed and grounded you’ll feel!
What are your favorite ways to integrate healthy habits into your daily routine? We’d love to hear from you! Connect with us at www.healthwellstyled.com or on Instagram @healthwellstyled.
Looking for some nutrient dense recipes after this post? Check out Carrot Ginger Soup, Strawberry Smoothie Bowl, Healthy Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup, Simple Gluten-Free Chicken Piccata, Autumn Harvest Juice, Almond and Mandarin Quinoa Salad, Polynesian Power Grain Bowl, Roasted Vegetable Quesadillas, Kale Lemonade and Quinoa with Brussels Sprouts and Pomegrante.