People are often curious about how to break down the many nutrition messages out there into three essential steps. To answer this critical question, I offer three strategies for healthier living that I truly believe lead to a better relationship with food, help maintain a healthy weight and, ultimately, enable individuals to reach nutrition and diet goals. Yes, all of this can be achived from just three principles.
Strategy #1: Learn what it means to be hungry and full. With only three tips to give, I start with this skill that you may believe you mastered more or less from birth. But, think about it. Do you truly only eat when you are hungry—and by hungry I mean the feeling that starts in your belly and grows gradually until you are moved to prepare yourself something healthful to eat?
It is important to realize there are several reasons we feel hunger. Sometimes, we may be hungry for more sleep or a less chaotic day. Or, maybe we are hungry for peace or to settle something in our life. The point is hunger is an easy thing to feel, especially when tougher emotions are uncomfortable and difficult to feel. Use a Hunger-Fullness scale like this to identify when you are truly hungry and appropriately full. Ideally, you will always fall between a 4 and 7.
Strategy #2: Make food a priority. It’s a common fact: For most people life happens, chores get done, work is completed on time and somehow between it all we eat. Last-minute decisions, poor choices and usually a less nutritious dinner than we would prepare for ourselves is the common result. You may think that while trying to prepare food ahead of time is a good idea, you don’t think it should be on my list of “top three” nutrition tips. However, the reason it is so important to make food more of a priority is because it leads to greater consciousness about food choice; a slower, more mindful approach to eating; and yes, a greater likelihood that you will be healthier overall.
Approaching your day with food as a priority simply means making sure you have simple, wholesome snacks on hand and a plan for your meals. It means using a plate rather than eating directly out of boxes, bags or bowls. Lastly, it means sitting down at a table and taking a moment to breathe and truly be present for meals. Do these simple things and you will have made food a priority in your day—and help your body work on achieving strategy number one.
Strategy #3: Check your facts and trust only experts. There is so much nutrition information available through popular TV programs, magazines, the Internet and most other media. In some cases, a strong argument is made for a food, product, program or other diet tool. But have you ever noticed that the study on just how good a food is for you is often sponsored by the association for the food? Naturally, this presents a potential conflict of interest. If a TV personality suggests you try something, do you immediately buy it or do you ask yourself why exactly you need it and what it will do for your body?
Seeking reliable nutrition information is critical because not only can following the wrong advice be dangerous, it also distracts you from staying on track with the tips and habits we know work. I suggest fact-checking information on websites that are developed by well-respected institutions, such as the Harvard School of Public Health, the National Institutes of Health or the Mayo Clinic, among others. Or, in some cases, check the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website. Academic websites, from colleges and universities or university medical systems, are also generally good resources.
Allison Stowell is a registered dietitian. She enables individuals to make positive, sustainable changes in their eating habits by stressing conscious eating, improving relationships with food and offering a nondiet approach for reaching and maintaining ideal body weight. She is a consulting dietitian for the Guiding Stars (www.guidingstars.com) team to help people in a number of sectors (grocery, hospitals, schools and universities) to understand how to use the Guiding Stars nutrition navigation program to make healthier food choices.