Five Nutrition Habits to Help With Weight Loss Or Weight Maintenance
What if I told you that you never had to diet again? Would you be relieved? Dieting can take a lot of mental energy, but I’ve learned three things in the course of my journey and five habits that have made my nutrition sustainable forever.
Three things I’ve learned:
1.) I can’t out exercise a bad diet.
2.) I have to create a way of eating that works for me…forever.
- (If you are currently following a diet that you can’t do forever, keep tweaking it until you can.)
3.) Follow the 5 habits 80-90% of the time and leave room for my favorite foods.
I’ve talked about how I grew up eating hamburger helper, Kraft macaroni & cheese, cheese sandwiches, Cocoa Puffs, and just about every snack you can buy in a box or a bag. I really didn’t start to change my way of eating until I graduated college and started gaining more knowledge in the nutrition field. I wouldn’t change how I grew up because it allows me to see how much I’ve grown in the last seven years!
In my younger years, I used to exercise constantly so I could continue to eat junk food. After hitting 25, this didn’t work anymore. I knew I needed to incorporate some better habits. The good part of the five habits is it has allowed me to keep my favorite foods. Striving for 80-90% compliance still gets great results! I’ve found if I can leave in a few pieces of chocolate, a cookie or going out to my favorite restaurant 1-2x a week, I find myself not feeling deprived.
Finding a way of eating that works for you takes some time and patience but it’s definitely do-able. Here is what has worked for me and individuals I work with.
Habit 1: Make vegetables a staple in your diet. Strive for at least 3 servings a day. 5+ servings is ideal.
This isn’t breaking news. We all know we need to eat vegetables daily for weight loss, great energy and a way to get a great source of fiber, vitamins and nutrients in. Plus, vegetables fill you up without adding a ton of calories. Learn more here on how I increased my vegetable intake over time.
What’s a serving of vegetables?
1 cup of leafy greens (spinach, kale, romaine, butter lettuce, etc.)
1/2 cup of cooked or raw vegetables
Don’t want to measure? A fist is roughly the size of a serving. In order to hit the recommended servings, focus on getting at least one serving with every meal.
Habit #2: Eat a source of protein with every meal
Protein helps you stay full for several hours, stabilizes blood sugar and helps maintain & increase lean muscle mass. Practice incorporating protein at every single meal. Strive for at least 60 grams of protein a day (20 grams per meal if you eat three meals a day). I personally do best when I eat closer to 80-100 grams a day.
Servings and examples:
Read your labels for serving sizes or use the size of your palm for a minimum amount of protein with each meal (about 20 grams).
Protein examples: eggs, egg whites, turkey, chicken, beef, pork, bison, fish, shell fish, game meats, dairy products like cottage cheese, cheese, Greek yogurt or a high quality protein powder.
Vegetarian or vegan? Plant based proteins include beans, quinoa, nuts, seeds.
Habit #3: Make water your beverage of choice
I have come a long way in this department. For most of my teenage and early adult life, diet pepsi, propel, diet snapple, mountain dew and fruit juice made up my liquid consumption. There are so many benefits to drinking water. I notice healthier skin, improved energy, preventing muscle fatigue, and most of all, it keeps me hydrated. When I was drinking fruit juice and diet drinks, my taste buds were so elevated to sweet. I remember trying something unsweetened and hating it! After switching out diet drinks and juice and drinking more water, I automatically desensitized my taste to sweet. Now, the diet drinks taste too sweet!
1.) Strive for half your body weight in ounces of water (150 lb person should drink 75 ounces of water) If this seems like too much, make sure your pee is clear or a light yellow so you know you’re hydrated.
2.) Use a straw to help get the ounces in. This was a game-changer for me! For some reason, a straw has helped me hit my goal daily.
3.) Slowly switch out your normal drinks for water. If you love soda like I did, start weening yourself and replace it with water.
4.) Start your day with a large glass of water.
5.) Don’t like plain water? Add lemon, lime, cucumber or a few pieces of fruit for flavor.
6.) Try sparkling water for something new. I enjoy drinking a can of La Croix a few times a week to mix things up.
Habit #4: Include healthy fats in your meal plans
Fat is great for your hormones, brain and cell membrane health, healthy skin, and feeling satiated between meals! Fat also gives your food (especially vegetables) flavor! Use it to roast or sauté vegetables.
Healthy fat examples: raw nuts, raw seeds, nut butter, olive oil, coconut oil, butter, avocado, fish oil, flax oil, olives, and animial fats like eggs and meat.
Be sure to read your labels if you’re buying something from a bag or box. Fats to avoid most of the time include vegetable oils and canola oil.
1.) Add 2-4 servings of healthy fat into your daily meal plan.
2.) Watch serving sizes. It’s easy to overeat healthy fats.
3.) If you’re looking for weight loss, cut down on the amount of carbohydrates and eat more healthy fat so you’re eating enough calories.
Example meal: Baked salmon with roasted broccoli (baked in olive or coconut oil).
Habit #5: Eat slowly and stop at 80% full
I’m a recovering speed eater. I would eat so fast that after my meal, I would immediately look in the refrigerator or cupboards to find what else I could eat. Shortly after, I would feel stuffed! It has taken some time to slow down my eating, but now I’m much more in tune with feeling satisfied versus stuffed.
1.) Eat on small plates. If you put an appropriate portion size on a dinner plate, it looks small and your brain might automatically think you’re depriving yourself. By eating on small plates, your meal looks larger.
2.) Chew your food thoroughly. I’ve shared this with many people that I would always chomp, chomp, swallow. Now, I chew about 20-30x before swallowing. The texture should be a soft mash in your mouth. Some things (like raw vegetables) take longer to eat, while other great food choices may not take as much time.
3.) Set down your fork between bites. It’s easy to use your fork as a shovel. Try setting it down after each bite and chew thoroughly.
4.) Eliminate distractions. If you’re watching television, talking on the phone or working on a computer, it’s easy to overeat. Take some time to eliminate the distractions so you can enjoy your meal.
What about eating carbohydrates? Something to consider: If you’re trying to lose weight, eat starchy carbohydrates on days with challenging workouts . If you’re looking to maintain your weight, find how many carbohydrates you need to keep your weight stable.
Carbohydrates aren’t evil. As a matter of fact, we need them for energy! Eliminating carbs completely doesn’t work for most people forever. Individuals who exercise a lot need plenty of carbs to perform and keep their energy up. So, you need to find you’re sweet spot with how many carbs you need.
If you’re looking to lose weight, save your starchy carbohydrates (bread, oats, pasta, rice, potatoes, fruit) for days where you get in a challenging workout. They are best consumed after your workout. You can start with 1/2 cup to a cup at one or two meals. Trial and error until you find what keeps your energy up, hunger stable and cravings low.
On days that you don’t exercise or perhaps do a leisure walk, focus on using vegetables and low sugar fruit (berries, apples, grapefruit) to make up your carbohydrate intake. Be sure to eat enough healthy fat (3-5 servings).
If you’re looking to maintain your weight, pay attention to how many carbs help you maintain your weight. Some people can do well with some carbs at every meal (1/2 cup to 1 cup). Others may need to pay attention to their exercise intake.
Note: The most important thing to keep in mind is paying attention to your energy level. If you’re eating well and exercising, but have awful energy, you’ll need to increase your carb intake.