While it’s easy to decide that it’s time to start pursuing a healthier lifestyle, knowing exactly how to do so is an entirely different matter. Having faced the ever-changing landscape of diet strategies, celebrity-endorsed programs, and the moving target of what’s good for you and what isn’t (and what is again), it’s no wonder most of us throw up our hands in defeat before even getting started.
But I’m here to help.
In my many years as a personal trainer and nutrition coach, I have worked with hundreds (!) of clients; each having their own unique body types, athletic backgrounds, nutritional knowledge, and overall body composition goals. And while I customize each plan to accommodate all of these diverse factors, there are five steps that never seem to change. No matter who you are – whether couch potato or professional athlete – following these five steps are guaranteed to lead you to better health and a healthy body fat range.
Here are just a few messages from clients who have cleaned up their lifestyle doing these 5 basic things:
“Just wanted to share my good news with you since your guidance has definitely helped to make it possible. Got results of all the blood tests yesterday. A1C is still in normal range, even a little better. Glucose is no longer in pre- diabetes. Went from 112 down to 89. Total cholesterol went from 195 to 126. LDL went from 126 to 55. HDL increased 1 point from 58 to 59. All other readings normal. Thanks for all of your excellent help.”
“Heather, your knowledge of nutrition and exercise has resulted in meeting many of my goals. Working with you I changed my diet and the weight I have been struggling to lose slowly came off. We all know that as we age our metabolism slows down so we need to compensate for it by changing our diet and exercise program.”
“Heather, even though this was a hard and long journey, I am grateful you stuck with me working on such simple rules and strategies to better my life. I remember the first time I stepped on that scale after month 1 to see I lost 8 pounds simply (and I say simply loosely…chuckle) by cutting out soda, drinking my water and eating whole foods. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for not giving up on me”
I know we all want the magic pill to lose weight without having to change our habits but guess what, there isn’t. So read on, make a plan and stick with these 5 habits to maintain long term fitness success.
1. Don’t Drink Your Calories, Drink Water Instead
If you are looking for an easy way to immediately reduce calories in your diet, cut out beverages that contain them. Sodas, fruit drinks, and even teas are heavy with sugar, synthetic colors, artificial sweeteners, and loads of calories. Most – even fruit or vegetable juices claiming otherwise – offer very little nutritional value and do more harm than good. Water, on the other hand, is everything those sweetened drinks aren’t. It is not only calorie-free, it keeps our cells, tissues, and organs hydrated, allows for optimal digestion and nutrient absorption, provides hormonal stability, increases energy levels, removes waste and toxins, and maintains brain health. Drink. More. Water. Even when you aren’t thirsty (just make sure a bathroom is nearby).
Pro Tip #1 : I find that having an insulated tall cup like a Yeti or a Bubba cup with a reusable straw helps myself and my clients drink more water. You are more likely to keep taking little sips of water when you have a straw and the liquid stays cold! A lot of little sips adds up!
Pro Tip #2: Don’t like water? Try using a product like True Lemon, a flavor additive that does not contain artificial sweeteners or dyes. Steer clear of crystal light! Also try an electrolyte tablet like Nuun for added flavor and nutrients.
2. Eat Your Veggies
If there’s one thing we can all agree on regardless of the latest food documentary or current dietary trend, it’s that we really need to work on including more plant-based whole foods in our diets. The value of vegetables is not a new concept; but recognizing just how important they really are in today’s society is. Vegetables especially – offer micronutrients that are completely void from processed foods that monopolize grocery store shelves and restaurants nationwide. These micronutrients (aka: vitamins and minerals like vitamins A, B, C, iron, magnesium, etc) are an essential component for cells, hormones, and neuropathways to perform as they should, while also combating free radicals, inflammation, and diseases that our bodies may face. Vegetables also offer a heavy dose of fiber, which not only keeps us regular, but also helps maintain lower cholesterol levels, balance blood sugar, and keeps us feeling full longer (since their fibrous composition takes longer for our bodies to digest). If adding veggies to your life has been an ongoing battle, try steaming or roasting them for a more-palatable texture, or grind them up and add them to soups, smoothies, sauces or casseroles.
Pro Tip #1: Not a big on non starchy vegetables like lettuce, broccoli or cauliflower? Try adding spinach to a smoothie. It does not impart flavor and most don’t even know its in their smoothie.
Pro Tip #2: Again, not a big veggie fan… try a greens powder like Amazing Grass or Life Times’ Life Greens (10% off: trainer ID 232708). They come in great flavors like mocha and berry that really add to smoothies!
3. Eat Protein at Every Meal
Just like water, many people underestimate the importance of protein in their daily diet. Yes, protein is important for building muscle, but it is literally the foundation of every structure found in the human body. Protein is what allows us to have bones, organs, tissues – anything that gives us shape – and it is also what repairs these things when damaged by injury, disease, or environmental factors. Protein also contributes to hormonal, enzymatic, and cellular health.
In other words, we can’t live without protein.
Many convenience foods today are lacking the amount of protein we need. Because our bodies store only limited amounts of protein, it’s something we have to actively provide our bodies daily for optimal health. We can do this by eating meat – a source of whole protein – but we can also find whole proteins in eggs, dairy, fish, quinoa, and soy products (my article on collagen goes into more depth about what a “whole protein” is if you’d like to know more about this). However, there are a ton of plant-based foods that have protein too, so don’t feel like animal-based food sources are your only option if this is a concern for you. Simply Google “plant-based protein sources” and you’ll discover all sorts of ideas.
To ensure you are getting enough protein each day, I recommend that women include a minimum one serving of protein with each meal and snacks (about 4-6 servings daily), while men should try for at least one to two servings at mealtimes and snacks (about 6-9 servings daily). One serving is equivalent to about 25-30 grams of protein which you can get from 4 ounces of chicken for example. Again, these can be in the form of animal-based or plant-based proteins; the choice is up to you. Fill in the rest of your meal with healthy fats and minimally processed carbs like fruits, vegetables, beans, and legumes.
Pro Tip #1: Having a hard time getting in your 4-5 or 7-9 servings of protein per day? Make a smoothie and add 1-3 servings of protein to it. That is a fast and easy way to increase protein intake in your diet. Click here for one of my favorite smoothie recipes.
4. Take Your Vitamins
I already mentioned the importance of vitamins and minerals in the “Eat Your Vegetables” section above, but these micronutrients warrant a section all of their own. While we can obtain micronutrients from what we eat, the reality is that questionable or unknown manufacturing processes and transport times can affect the bioavailability of these vitamins and minerals to our bodies. As a fail-safe, I suggest taking a high quality multivitamin and Omega 3 supplement each day. The multivitamin can help fill in any micronutrient gaps resulting from what you ate, while an Omega 3 supplement helps provide an essential nutrient most of us don’t get from food in the first place. Omega 3 is a fatty acid essential for cellular and brain health, but one that most of us are completely lacking in. Fish is the best food source for Omega 3, but because of toxic pollutants like mercury, eating too much fish can have negative implications. While there are some plant-based sources of Omega 3s, they are not absorbed very effectively by the human body. Thus, an Omega 3 supplement is a great addition to your daily diet.
Pro Tip #1: Make sure your multi vitamin has bio available ingredients such as Life Time Fitness’s Women’s AM and PM vitamin. Make sure its in a capsule form not a tablet and no gummies!
Pro Tip #2: Fish oil supplements can get tricky! Many are already rancid by the time they hit the shelf and contain heavy metals! Bleh. Look for a fish oil that is single sourced, process on site and is tested for heavy metals. My favs include Life Time Omega – 3’s and Carlson Norwegian cod liver oil.
5. Get moving!
In other words, exercise. We are a society that does a lot of sitting (often by necessity thanks to our jobs), we are also one who is struggling with growing rates of obesity. The only way to combat this is to move our bodies whenever we can. Consider walking or riding your bike to work or to a nearby store you need to visit. Take a walk during your lunch hour. Make a point of drinking a lot of water (see step 1) so you have to walk to the bathroom 50 times a day. The point is; if you struggle with exercise, find ways to work movement into your daily routine. I recommend not only 10,000 steps per day, but at least some sustained form of exercise three days a week. It doesn’t have to include a treadmill or even a squat rack; exercise can be found in many ways: mountain biking, kayaking/paddle boarding, swimming, hiking, or even a 30 minute trip to the roller rink. Find an activity you enjoy and get moving!
Do you have questions about any of these ideas? Need recommendations for a high quality supplement? Want personal guidance with a workout routine or a weekly meal plan? Are you actually doing all of the above but not seeing results…. Feel free to contact me and I can help!