As people working in a service profession, we often give so much of ourselves that there is little left for us at the end of the day.
Making sure our nutritional needs are met is essential for our health, energy and ability to give all we can to our clients.
How can we make sure these needs are met in our busy lives? By focusing on one small change at a time. Small changes can be easy to implement yet together those small changes create a domino effect, knocking down each bad habit until we are left with healthy habits.
You won’t have to worry about getting the right number of grams of protein, carbohydrates and fats.
A good strategy for building better health habits is to try to replace one bad habit with one good habit. We all know that bad habits are hard to break and good habits are hard to establish. This is due to the fact that the pathways have been laid down in our brain over time so we may do things without even thinking about them. In order to create a new habit, or a new pathway, we must change the way we respond to an event.
According to the work of Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, all habits contain three components: A cue, a behavior and a reward.
A cue or trigger causes a certain behavior that leads to a reward. Repeatedly receiving a reward for a behavior creates a craving for that reward. Duhigg explains that in creating a new habit you must find the right cue and the right reward in order for the behavior to become a habit.
Knowing why you want to create a habit can be helpful. If your why is to be stronger and have more energy, picturing what that will look or feel like can make that craving stronger. Imagining yourself living in a body that feels strong, healthy and vibrant may make the desire for a green smoothie greater than the desire for a doughnut, for example.
The more you choose the green smoothie over the doughnut, the easier that choice becomes. You have created a new pathway in the brain that will allow you to make the healthier choice without having to think about it. Your taste buds will also adapt to this food after a week or two, making it even easier to choose healthier options as you begin to prefer them. This reserves willpower as well, since now this choice is really a habit and no longer a decision to be wrestled with.
Having a visual reminder that you are succeeding in your goal is also a reward. While at a fitness convention recently, I heard a great idea from Mindy Mylrea—one half of Bruce and Mindy, the married duo behind the One Day to Wellness Program—to accomplish this.
She said if adding five servings of vegetables into your day is your goal, start your morning by placing five rubber wristbands on your left arm. Each time you have a serving of vegetables, move one of the wristbands to your right arm; signifying doing the right thing. By the end of the day, try to get all five of the wristbands moved to the right side.
This will help to strengthen the craving for the new behavior you are trying to create. Make it a game to see how many days in a row you can do the right thing, helping the virtuous cycle of good behaviors to continue.
Reward yourself for a job well done with a treat that does not involve food. Choose rewards that also de-stress the body and you will receive even more health benefits. Things to consider would include getting a massage, manicure or pedicure, or having lunch with a friend.
Some inexpensive or free rewards may be going to the library to check out a book or audio book that piques your interest, spending an afternoon at the park or gathering flowers for your table to make your mealtime more beautiful. Watch a movie that inspires you, soak in a hot tub with some lavender or spend time writing in a gratitude journal.
Moving in a way that feels good may also nourish and regenerate. Meet a friend for a walk outside rather than for a high calorie coffee drink, take a dance class that lifts your spirits, or begin yoga or Pilates practice.
The better you begin to feel, the easier it will be to continue to add even more healthy habits. These habits will continue to build upon one another, creating a lifestyle where health is a top priority. This will make it easier to let go of the things that no longer serve you.
Next, we’ll look at how making small changes to your habits can have a powerful impact on your health.
The body works hard overnight to rebuild and repair itself, which uses a lot of energy. How much more energy and mental focus do you think you would have if you started each day by rehydrating the body?
The simple act of drinking a tall glass of water in the morning to start the day helps the body rid itself of metabolic waste created overnight, and it allows for better digestion and absorption of nutrients from the food we eat.
Staying hydrated throughout the day also improves willpower when it comes to snacking. Taking a moment between clients to grab a few sips of water before beginning your next session can help to sustain energy and keep you going until your next meal.
Sometimes we are actually thirsty when we think we are hungry; our hunger and thirst cues can become confused. Try drinking a glass of water when that afternoon craving strikes and wait 20 minutes to see if that satisfies you. (Even better: take sips of water throughout the day for better absorption.) If you are still hungry after 20 minutes, have a reasonable snack that includes protein to avoid a sugar crash that may lead to overeating eating later.
Another way to improve your health habits is to focus on adding rather than subtracting. When we focus on what we can’t have, we feel deprived—and let’s be honest, a little resentful. If someone tells you not to eat a certain food, what will you obsess about? That food! There are so many diets out there that it is hard to know which one is right for you. Try not to follow any diet that restricts entire foods or food groups unless you have a medical issue that requires you avoid those foods.
Instead, focus on adding healthy foods to each meal and let those healthy foods slowly crowd out the room on your plate for the less healthy options.
Using your hand as a guide to portions will lead you in the right direction, and you won’t have to worry about getting the right number of grams of protein, carbohydrates and fats. The ideal meal contains a palm-sized serving of protein, a fist full of vegetables and a thumb-sized portion of a healthy fat. The meal following your most active portion of the day should also include a cupped handful of a starchy carb like sweet potato or brown rice.
Start small by adding one thing at a time so you don’t get overwhelmed. Just start. It doesn’t have to be perfect to make a difference.
Why have veggies at every meal? Vegetables are a virtual powerhouse of nutrition. Filled with vitamins, minerals and nutrients, they help the body ward off many of the chronic illnesses our society is faced with today by boosting the immune system.
These nutrient-dense foods are loaded with fiber, which helps us to feel full and helps with digestion and elimination. Adding vegetables to smoothies and sandwiches, snacking on veggies and hummus or guacamole, having a salad and a vegetable with dinner are all easy ways to add more vegetables to your day.
Try them raw, steamed, sautéed or roasted. Each preparation method brings out different flavors and health benefits. Try adding fresh herbs and spices for even more flavor. Adding a rainbow of colors to your meals each day increases variety so you don’t get bored, and it ensures you get all of the vitamins and minerals you need to function at your peak.
Why is protein throughout the day important? Protein is a building block for muscles, hormones, enzymes and immune chemicals in the body. Without adequate protein, all of our processes can begin to break down. Protein helps the body build and repair.
The body is smart and recognizes this need for protein to carry out these body processes, so if protein is not present in the diet your body may actually borrow it from your muscles. Since we can only absorb so much protein at one time, it is best to have a little bit with each meal rather than all of it at dinnertime.
Adding eggs, low fat dairy, lean cuts of meat, beans and legumes, or wild caught fish to each meal will help protect your immune system, balance your hormones and build lean muscle.
What’s the skinny on fat? For decades we have been warned about the dangers of eating a high-fat diet. While I don’t advocate eating a diet high in saturated fats, I do think a good amount of healthy fats is important at each meal.
Fats are the building blocks of our cell membranes, brain and nervous system, as well as a good energy source. They help to manufacture and regulate hormones and keep inflammation in check. Fats also help us to feel full longer so we don’t overeat.
A small serving of nuts, seeds, olives, avocados and fatty fish are excellent choices to add to your meals to get the fats the body needs. Make sure to include a variety, and remember the rule of thumb when eating fats: More than a thumb-sized portion at a meal is too much.
Whether you begin by drinking more water throughout the day, moving closer to the ideal plate, or just taking the time to slow down and enjoy meals with family and friends, you will notice an increase in energy and vitality. Which habit you want to initiate first is up to you.
Choose the one that will push the other habits down one at a time until you have added all of your new habits.
Your health, willpower and mental clarity will all thank you for taking the time to make these small, powerful changes—and your clients will thank you for a better experience because you will have more energy to share.
About the Author:
Amy Phillips is certified as a nutrition coach through Precision Nutrition. She is a PMA Certified Pilates Teacher and a Balanced Body Pilates Master Trainer and Educator with more than 13 years of experience, as well as a MELT Method Certified Hand and Foot Instructor. Phillips is passionate about helping people make small, sustainable changes in both nutrition and lifestyle that will help them find ease and comfort in movement as well as energy and vitality for life.