March is National Nutrition Month, which makes it a perfect time to celebrate all the ways that good nutrition, combined with other healthy lifestyle choices, can help us thrive and enjoy life. Here are a few tips for changing your nutrition and health – both physical and mental – for the better.
Change Your Definition of “Diet”
When most people hear the word “diet,” they think of a restrictive program to help people shed massive amounts of weight. But in order to maintain good health throughout your life, you need to establish good habits around food and eating that will sustain health in every part of your life. Don’t think of your “diet” as a temporary set of restrictions or a time of deprivation but as your lifelong pattern of eating and enjoying food. This means making sustainable changes if needed. A balanced diet doesn’t mean endless deprivation but rather healthy discipline and regular, deliberate indulgences. It may mean making small changes slowly rather than drastic changes quickly and choosing habits that you can not only maintain but also enjoy.
Temporary diets can also be overly complicated, which makes them all the harder to stick with. You don’t need to learn a complex system of points or follow strenuous rules in order to construct a healthy diet. Instead, think in simple terms about your food. Choose whole, unprocessed foods. Opt for freshness and flavor in your ingredients. Add color and variety to your meals. Learn how to eyeball healthy portion sizes instead of trying to count every calorie. If you add some basic cooking skills to your repertoire, using simple ingredients and spending a little time in the kitchen will open up a new world of delicious, healthy dishes for you.
Slow Down and Savor
In addition to changing your food choices, how and when you eat can make a big difference to your nutrition and health. Avoid eating while sitting in front of the computer or watching TV, because this can easily lead to mindless overeating. Slow down and enjoy what you eat, which will help you feel more satisfied than eating without paying attention.
Make a point of eating with other people. This can provide great health benefits beyond simple nutrition. If you don’t live with family members, roommates or other people you can regularly share meals with, make a point of getting together with friends for meals when you can.
Exercise is necessary for good health. But, like diet, exercise sometimes gets a bad reputation, with people envisioning grueling hours in the gym every day in order to make any real progress.
It doesn’t have to be that bad – unless you really enjoy pushing your physical limits. A general guideline is to be active for 2.5 hours every week. That breaks down to a simple half hour for every weekday, or you can trade some weekdays for weekend days. Find an activity you really enjoy so spending half an hour doing it every day will feel like a reward, not a chore.
Stress can be a big factor driving other unhealthy choices, such as eating poorly or not exercising. Some degree of stress can help us achieve and learn skills we need in order to cope with challenging situations, but constant stress at high levels is bad for both the body and mind. Taking steps to manage stress and extra tension may help all of your other healthy lifestyle goals. Make sure to get enough sleep, take regular time away from work, spend a little time every day doing something relaxing and spend time with friends and family. Taking regular action to unwind can pay off in big ways throughout your life.
Remember that great health is always a choice, and no matter what your current diet or level of activity, you can always choose to make a change for the better!