You don’t need us to tell you that summer is right around the corner, and you also don’t need us to tell you to start punishing yourself if you’re not “bikini-ready.” With the weather changing, there comes a lot of anxiety over getting ready for summer, and we’re here to tell you that you can chill out. We recently met up with Registered Dietitian Melissa Litwak, the founder of Chickpeas and Chocolate, who told us that kick-starting your healthy eating isn’t about diets or restrictions, but rather about loving your body and listening to what it needs. So if you haven’t exactly been on a health kick all winter-long, don’t beat yourself up about it. Here’s what Melissa suggests to start getting ready:
1. Be Kinder to Yourself:
One of the best things you can do for your health is to work on being kinder to yourself. Thinking about the arrival of summer can be stress-inducing and anxiety provoking for many. Try letting go of all the negativity and any feelings of guilt surrounding food and overall body image. It’s important to learn to embrace, support and love yourself and your body. Instead of focusing on the number on the scale, redirect your attention to feeling your best, physically, emotionally and mentally. This also means avoiding restriction, deprivation, extreme dietary alterations and other behaviors that can lead to disordered eating patterns.
2. Listen to Your Body:
Taking the time to really listen to what your body wants and needs is a huge part of having a healthy relationship with food. It’s essential to learn to eat mindfully, taking the time to really chew and enjoy your food, while paying closer attention to your hunger and satiety cues. It’s easy to overeat or under-eat, and ignore your internal regulators when talking on the phone, watching television, or doing other activities while eating. We are all so different, with individual needs, so it’s important to honor your body and yourself. Plus, you’d be surprised how much better food tastes when you really take the time to enjoy it.
3. Indulge, Guilt Free:
This goes back to listening to your body and allowing yourself to indulge mindfully in foods that you love and enjoy. All foods fit into a healthy lifestyle. Enjoy occasionally and let go of the guilt. I’m currently obsessing over these vegan “cookie dough” cookies made with chickpeas and cashew butter.
4. Boost your fruit and vegetable intake:
Increase the produce in your life (especially, vegetables): challenge yourself to include a fruit or vegetable every time you eat (meals + snacks). Doing so will give you an automatic antioxidant/nutrient boost. (i.e. spinach + eggs, fruit + yogurt, arugula + sandwich…). Eating seasonally is also a great way to ensure you’re eating produce that is picked at its peak, meaning the vitamin, mineral and antioxidant profile is maximized. Plus, it’s a great way to support local farmers and is better for our environment and your bank account.
5. Drink More Water
Dehydration can mask itself as hunger, so it’s always a good idea to stay on top of hydration when the weather starts to warm up. Find a water bottle you love and keep filling it throughout the day — great for you and the environment (Institute of Medicine recommends upwards of 9 cups daily for women and 13 for men, but use your thirst as a guide – this all depends on your daily activity and food intake and is therefore very individualized). Drinking adequately is such a simple health goal, yet very difficult for many in practice. Try adding fresh fruit and herbs to your water bottle to boost the flavor and quench factor. I love doing lemon + mint, watermelon + mint, fresh berries, etc.
6. Eat Whole Foods:
Ditch processed foods and see how great you feel. The majority of what you put in your body should be whole-food based. Always read the ingredient lists when buying ready made products, and ditch items that contain any dyes, colorings, additives, stabilizers or ingredients you don’t recognize. You can learn a lot about the quality of the food you are eating by taking some time to read what’s inside. You’ll be doing yourself a big favor and you’ll feel the difference.
7. Keep Tabs On Added Sugar
Added sugar (sugar added to products during processing; i.e fruit juice concentrate, ingredients ending in “ose”) is a big part of the processed food world and it’s not doing any of us any favors. High intake of refined sugar is directly related to heart disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases. Reading ingredient lists will come in handy as you act as your own detective. Remember that foods are listed in order of quantity (the first ingredient being present in the highest amount). Sugar and sweeter foods are delicious and we should certainly enjoy and indulge intentionally. The key is avoiding extra sugar during regular meal and snack times. Unfortunately, this isn’t so easy, since tons of seemingly healthy products on the market utilize sugar in some form (think tomato sauces, bars, cereals, granola).
8. Plan Ahead:
You’d be surprised how far a little planning can go in terms of your overall health. Thinking ahead about meals for the week and doing a grocery shop before the week starts will set you up for delicious, wholesome food, so that you won’t have to scramble last minute. Try to plan meals with overlapping ingredients to keep it simple and affordable. For example, a big pan of roasted veggies can be incorporated into eggs, grain bowls, pizza, meat dishes and more. And don’t stop there; think about your week and plan days and times that you can fit in some physical activity. This makes it more realistic for you to follow through with your health goals. Planning ahead is also a huge help when spending the day at the beach or park during the summer. Bring some delicious food with, or check out the nearby restaurant scene ahead of time so you’re not forced to make hangry decisions. I love making my own trail mix to bring with me on the go (mix your favorite nuts, goji berries, dark chocolate chips, and lightly salted pumpkin seeds).
9. Nourish Your Gut:
Our gut plays a major role in our overall health and well-being and that’s why it’s so important to take care in what we put into our bodies. Aim to incorporate more fermented, probiotic (friendly bacteria) rich foods to help support immune and digestive health. Unfortunately, the Standard American diet is naturally very low in probiotics. Some of my favorite probiotic rich foods are sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, brine cured olives and miso soup.
10. Don’t Forget About Omega-3’s:
Fat is an important macronutrient that provides us with energy and supports important bodily functions including brain development, controlling inflammation, blood clotting, vitamin absorption and much more. Our bodies depend on consumption of essential fatty acids (since our body can’t make them on their own), the two primary being Omega 6 and Omega 3. Unfortunately, The Standard American Diet is pretty insufficient in Omega-3 Fatty Acids and we’re missing out on some pretty amazing health benefits as a result. Some benefits include promoting brain growth and development in infants, decreasing inflammation, improving heart disease risk factors among many others. If that’s not reason enough, Omega 3’s are also great for your skin and may even help protect skin against sun damage. Boost your intake by consuming fatty fish like wild salmon 2x week (note: smaller, cold water fish tend to have lower concentrations of mercury as compared to the larger, deep water varieties). Some other Omega-3 rich foods include flaxseed oil, walnuts, chia seeds, grass-fed beef, hemp seeds and egg yolks.