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Recently, I started taking steps to make my life healthier. This is a long process – it is certainly longer than the internet (and recently government policy) would let you believe. Social media promotes the notion that you can grow abs in seven days and lose fat in a click of a button. However, any change worth making is not that simple. Yet we are still bombarded with articles/videos/social media posts that promise immediate results.
Hence, I thought it would be helpful to debunk these myths and share my own simple (and not so simple) tips on how to be healthier. My advice includes a mixture of the steps I personally took, the advice I wish I had known beforehand and the really important elements of health that diet culture overlooks. The ‘simple’ steps are easy to implement steps that will make your diet healthier, but it is the ‘not so simple’ steps that will help you prioritise all aspects of a healthy life. It is these difficult and longer-term steps that I am currently trying to focus on. Emphasis on ‘trying’ because they are hard!
Not so Simple – Focus on Your Mental Health AS WELL AS Your Physical Health
This is the most important piece of advice I have to give. A lot of advice on being healthy seems to only consider people who don’t prioritise eating nutrient-dense foods, but there is much more to health than just what you feed yourself. I am not just talking about exercise; I am talking about mental health. Your mental health should not be harmed by trying to focus on physical health. This is something that is often overlooked when considering advice on how to be healthy. If healthy eating becomes an obsession then it isn’t healthy eating, it is restrictive eating. While some of my tips are about eating healthy foods, they aim to highlight ways to add more nutrients to your diet rather than provide a guideline of how to eat. For whatever reason you want to make healthier choices, you need to make sure your mental health is not taking a hit.
Simple – Protein for Breakfast and Every Meal If Possible
Protein is great for muscle growth, but it also makes you feel fuller for longer. Therefore, having more protein in your meals makes for a more satisfying meal. This is particularly important for your first meal of the day as it sets you off on a good start. I personally have Greek yogurt with my breakfast, but other options of protein to include in your breakfast are eggs, salmon and avocado. I find Greek yogurt works for me as it is easy – unlike other options it requires no cooking.
Not so Simple – Separate Exercise and Eating
A lot of the time exercise and eating are presented as relational and while in some ways they are, you shouldn’t consider them as such on a day to day basis. You should exercise because you enjoy it and eat because you enjoy it. How much you have exercised shouldn’t impact how much you are willing to eat and how much you have eaten shouldn’t impact how much exercise you do. Eat to fuel your workout not to punish your body for eating. Both eating and exercising are fun if they are not motivated by the other.
Simple – Eat Whole-Wheat Alternatives
Eating wholemeal bread is an obvious choice for a healthy swap. However, whole-wheat options exist for a lot of the white carbs we eat. You can get whole-wheat pasta, whole-wheat noodles and much more. These options are more complex carbs and add fibre to your diet, hence they keep you fuller for longer.
Not so Simple – Don’t Obsess Over Numbers
Health isn’t a number. It is not a number on the scales, it is not the number on your clothes, and it is not the number of calories we eat. Despite what diet culture may want us to believe, we should not obsess over numbers. We are all individually different and we don’t naturally weight the same or need the same number of calories.
Also, there are much better ways to assess your progress than your weight or clothes size if you feel like you need motivation. You can focus on specific goals such as being able to do a certain stretch or move you couldn’t previously do. Or if you want to focus on numbers you can focus on how much you can squat, the pace of your run or the number of sit-ups you can do.
Simple – Drink Herbal Teas
Herbal teas can be a great swap for if you drink a lot of caffeine in the day. While coffee and tea are not unhealthy drinks, some variations such as flavoured lattes are high in sugar. So swapping it for a different hot drink might be an option.
Herbal teas are not just great as a low-calorie drink, they also provide a variety of great health benefits depending on the specific tea. For example, chamomile tea relaxes you, peppermint tea aids digestion and ginger tea helps muscle pain.
Not so Simple – Find Healthy Role Models
You might initially think that this sounds easy, but it can actually be really hard – especially when it comes to social media. It is far too easy to find social media accounts that have a rigid view of what health means. You will also find some people who seem to be promoting a healthy lifestyle but are often promoting unrealistic and harmful change.
Finding social media accounts that promote and equate all parts of a healthy lifestyle will take some time. I would particularly recommend finding some accounts that highlight that progress isn’t linear and try and dismantle fitness culture myths. Who you follow on social media can affect your mental health in various different ways. Following people who try to be honest, helpful and realistic about health will provide you with a healthy mindset to approach your physical health.
Simple – Swap Out Chips
If you eat chips nearly every day it is a good idea to swap it out for some alternatives occasionally. This will add fibre to your diet and exclude some unhealthy fats. One option is to simply swap chips for a different form of potato such as jacket potato or mash. You can also swap it for a variation of sweet potato as this has other benefits besides fibre. It can be an easy way to include another vegetable in your diet. They are also high in fibre and various vitamins. This is an easy swap as you can cook it in the same way you like to cook your white potatoes – you can eat them baked or as fries for example.
Not so Simple – Don’t be afraid to Snack
For whatever reason snacking has been given a bad name, but snacking itself isn’t unhealthy. Obviously, having a healthy snack such as fruit is a healthy choice, but even having a snack of a traditionally perceived unhealthy item can be a healthy choice. If you are hungry, eating a snack is what your body needs. You wouldn’t deny your body water when it is thirsty!