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Tips to get you on your way to healthier eating habits

(Erica Lowenkron/ Daily Collegian)

I hear many people talk about how they should eat healthier, get up off their couch and go to the gym. It’s commonly said that being ‘healthy’ is a ‘good’ thing, but why? When I go to eat at dining hall with someone new, or even some of my friends, they often comment on the healthy mix of foods on my plate. “Wow, are you on a diet or something?” is often a common question I get. Looking at my plate, I might see some kind of whole-grain carb (and a lot of it), a heaping pile of guacamole, a couple chicken breasts with hot sauce and some colorful veggies. This mix doesn’t seem like anything anyone would be on a ‘diet’ for.

I never comment on what other people are eating because it’s a very quick way to scare them away. Sometimes, friends will ask me if what is on their plate is good or not; I often will give them a modest and neutral reply. But on occasion, friends have asked me for serious advice on how to eat healthier. I’m no expert dietician; I can’t tell you exactly what or how much you should be eating, but I can provide simple guidelines and tips to help get you on the right track. So here is some of the advice I have given to those friends about general healthy eating.

Fat is not bad. Carbs are not bad. Everything is good in moderation. Eat that cookie, but maybe not if you’ve already had one today. Eat some varied veggies with at least two meals today. Get a little protein in there too. Mix up fish, red meat and white meat. Vegetarian? Eat some eggs, Greek yogurt, tofu, beans, lentils, quinoa, peanut butter. Maybe don’t go for that second glass of juice or chocolate milk. Try a little less ketchup or barbecue sauce.

I would never advise anyone to give up certain foods completely; that is unrealistic and unpleasant. The key to a healthy, regular diet is eating unhealthier foods in moderation, not in prohibition. The lack of healthy eating habits in the United States is not caused by laziness or a culture of temptation, but a lack of knowledge.

Here are a few simple guidelines for choosing healthier foods at the dining halls. 1. When choosing a rice, grain or sandwich bread, brown carbs are comparatively healthier than white carbs, as they have a comparatively higher fiber and nutrient content, as well as a lower glycemic index. 2. Make your plate a little more aesthetically pleasing with some colorful vegetables. Eating a variety of colors helps ensure that you’re getting enough vitamins and nutrients. 3. Get some protein on that plate — chicken, eggs, milk, yogurt, beans, fish, etc. — your body needs protein to function! 4. Choose healthy fats such as canola and olive oil, guacamole and nuts over creams, cheeses and fatty meats. 5. Lastly, try substituting a regular dessert or sweet snack for a piece of fruit.

Now that you have some basic information, in my opinion, the best way to improve your eating habits is by keeping a food diary. I am not talking about tracking your calories and macronutrient split (though that may be helpful if you are actually trying to lose weight), but simply keeping a daily log of the foods you are eating. Keeping a written log of what you are putting into your body will make you much more conscious about what goes onto your plate and help you restrict the frequency and quantity of snacks and desserts you know are not so healthy.

“I’m here for a good time, not a long time,” one of my friends joked while in a conversation about healthy eating. But does limiting sweet and savory foods really make you that unhappy? Realistically, it probably will not be very pleasant at the beginning. Many Americans are used to foods with a lot of sugar and a lot of salt: when beginning to make dietary changes, many people have trouble sticking with their new ‘bland’ foods. One trick is to try and ease your way into ‘healthy’ foods. For example, when I began to turn my diet around, I began mixing my instant-oatmeal packets with unsweetened oatmeal to gradually reduce the amount of sweetened oatmeal. Now I regularly eat oatmeal with no sugar and look forward to my daily bowl with peanut butter, cinnamon and sliced banana every morning!

Making small, gradual changes to your diet is the best way to begin eating healthier and actually stick with it, but knowledge and persistence will get you to your goal. The guidelines in this article are a good starting point, but for more detailed information try the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans from health.gov. A better diet leads to better health, and hopefully you’ll be on this planet for a good, long time!

Nicholas Remillard can be reached at nremillard@umass.edu.

Comments
One Response to “Tips to get you on your way to healthier eating habits”
  1. Stephanie Higgins says:

    I think this is so helpful as a way of reframing healthy eating, putting diet culture out of the frame!

    I want to recognize that the lack of healthy eating habits in the United States is not caused by laziness or a culture of temptation, a lack of knowledge, AND the price of healthy fruits and veggies due to corporate farming. T

    Thank you for writing this piece; I think that this is really affirming for folks struggling to be on this planet for a good, long time!

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