Healthy eating starts at the market. Avoid these grocery shopping mistakes to ensure you get the best foods for your health and budget.
Shopping at eye level
A lot of research goes into product placement at the supermarket. The next time you visit, pay attention to the products at eye level. They are often prepared foods or meal kits and they are not always the healthiest option. Look high and low for less popular foods and generic brands with lower prices, which are often less processed. For example, regular dried beans are almost always on the bottom shelf.
Shopping when hungry
It takes self-discipline and commitment to resist the temptation to splurge when surrounded by unhealthy foods. Arriving at the supermarket hungry, makes it even harder to resist grabbing a quick, high-calorie snack. Avoid this scenario and shop right after a meal, or pack a healthy snack to eat on the way. If you must get something at the store, opt for a piece of fruit, a single serving bag of unsalted nuts, or a low-fat yogurt.
Not consulting the staff
Don’t settle for produce that isn’t at its peak. Ask members of the produce department if there is more available. If you know you will use it quickly and it hasn’t completely passed it’s prime, ask for a discount. At the meat counter, ask for the cuts with fat trimmed or smaller portions. Inquire about where the food came from, how it was raised, and when it was harvested. Fresher, more natural foods are often the most nutritious.
Rushing through the supermarket
Poor choices are often made when under pressure. While it is difficult to avoid a quick stop at the store for a last minute item, make food shopping a priority on your to-do list just like you do for your workout. Committing time to search for foods, reading labels, and asking questions will help you find the healthiest options. Sprinting down the aisle will only lead to impulse purchases that you may regret later.
Missing an opportunity to stock up
Fruits, vegetables, and lean meats freeze well for up to two to three months. When these foods are on sale, plan to buy extra to freeze and use throughout the coming weeks. Stock up on berries to add to smoothies and oatmeal. Freeze broccoli and cauliflower for soups and stews. Grab extra naturally-raised meats and sustainable fish when you find the best prices.
It’s frustrating when you find a great sale, but you have to pass because you aren’t headed home right afterward. Keep a small cooler in the trunk of the car and add ice packs before you leave each day. When you run into an unbeatable deal on cold foods, you won’t have to skip out on stocking up. Also, always come to the market prepared with a list. Even if you don’t follow it exactly, it will serve as a guideline for the foods you need to stay on track with your eating plan.
Help keep your community clean by volunteering with a local committee to remove trash near the creek or refurbish an empty urban lot into a park or garden. These events get you moving, and research also shows that there is a significant relationship between volunteering and good health. It can lead to greater overall satisfaction with life and reduced rates of depression.
Sign up for a fitness event
Training to compete in a fitness event encourages you to create an exercise plan that has purpose and a specific goal. A 5K race or triathlon are good choices, but consider thinking beyond a road race. Golf scrambles, sand volleyball leagues, disc golf, hikes, and dog walks all provide opportunities for fitness and they can challenge your training in new ways.
Try a new recipe
Incorporating new recipes into your daily menus is necessary to avoid falling into a rut with healthy eating. The more exciting and flavorful your meals, the less likely you will be to stray from your healthy habits.
Buy new athletic shoes
Quality athletic shoes are important for exercise safety and trying a new pair can motivate you to hit the gym. Old, worn out shoes stress the joints, which can lead to injury. A new pair with a good fit designed for your choice of activity can help keep you safe and healthy. (See Athletic Shoes: A Buyers Guide.)
Clean out the kitchen
An organized kitchen that is filled with nutritious foods makes healthy eating easy. Toss out any unhealthy snacks that have been tempting you. Organize whole grains and dry beans in clear containers so that you can find them quickly. Keep storage containers in one place to fill with single servings of leftovers for a grab-and-go lunch. If you need some help with organizing and stocking your healthy kitchen, see The Healthy Kitchen Test and How to Select and Store Fruits and Vegetables.
Get to work in the yard
Landscaping, gardening, and lawn mowing are big calorie burners. A day of sprucing up the exterior of your home can easily blast the same calories you’d burn during your workout at the gym. Yard work also meets the criteria to count towards the 30 minutes of daily exercise recommended for health. (See The Best Home and Garden Chores for Burning Calories for exercise ideas.)
Recognizing hunger cues is the key to controlling your appetite and reaching weight loss goals, but hunger can be deceiving. Pay attention to how these four things affect your appetite to prevent overeating.
Too many cocktails
Despite the grumbling stomach you might feel after a few drinks, most research doesn’t directly link alcohol to increased hunger. But alcoholic drinks gradually decrease your inhibitions making it much easier to order nachos instead of a salad or add dessert at the end of a meal. These extra calories, plus the calories in your drink, can result in weight gain. Pay attention to how much you snack while sipping.
Lack of sleep
Surveys show that most people get only five to six hours of sleep per night, but research suggests you need seven to nine. Skimping on sleep causes an increase in appetite stimulating hormones and a decrease in hormones that signal fullness. The increased cravings and hunger that result can lead to a higher calorie intake and weight gain.
Stress causes spikes in cortisol levels, which lead to increased hunger and emotional eating. Cravings for high-carbohydrate, high-fat, and high-sugar foods are common during times of stress because these foods trigger feel-good chemicals in the brain that help relieve tension. Without alternatives to relieve stress, like deep breathing exercises and physical activity, emotional eating becomes difficult to resist.
Refined carbohydrates like sugar, white bread, and pasta can cause a spike in blood sugar that is quickly followed by a drop, often called a crash. This crash results in hunger making you feel as if you didn’t eat an hour ago. You can help to stabilize your blood sugar and reduce spikes and crashes by eating complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, and including lean protein with your meals and snacks.
Living a fit lifestyle doesn't have to take a lot of time. Small actions here and there throughout the day add up to big results. Here are a few healthy changes you can make in minutes.
Do a wall sit or plank instead of browsing your social media account
Time: 1 minute
The day is filled with short one minute segments that allow you to squeeze in simple exercises like the plank or wall sit that will tone your core and strengthen your lower body. The next time you are put on hold during a call or wait for a webinar to start, get yourself into position and hold for 60 seconds.
Take a stress break instead of tackling the next issue
Time: 5 minutes
Taking short breaks to ease stress throughout the day can reduce your blood pressure and the urge for emotional eating. Sit at your desk, clear your mind and breath deeply, or step outside for a five minute walk. Give your mind the chance to escape from what is causing you stress and you can return to it refreshed with new ideas for problem solving.
Prep your lunch instead of spending the time sitting at the drive-thru
Time: 15 minutes
It takes only 15 minutes in the evening to pack a healthy lunch for the next day. It will save you money and improve your nutrition. By having food ready to eat, you can also use the rest of your lunch hour for a short walk or stretching session. Throw together a salad, make a wrap or divide and package leftovers to reheat.
Exercise instead of watching television
Time: 20 minutes
It only takes 20 minutes of exercise three to seven days a week to stay healthy. The key is to pick up the intensity to get the heart rate elevated, build muscle, and burn calories. Try high-intensity circuit training (HICT) or create your own circuit that challenges you, but that is also a good match for your fitness level.
Cook dinner instead of waiting to be seated and served at a restaurant
Getting seven to nine hours of sleep each night helps control spikes in stress hormones and the food cravings that result. Adequate sleep will also help you feel more rested and alert so that you will be ready for tomorrow’s challenging day while working towards maintaining a healthy weight. (See Sleep, Stress and Weight Loss.)
Cravings can be caused by a rise in cortisol from increased stress or inadequate sleep. Eating high carbohydrate foods that cause a spike and drop in blood sugar can also trigger cravings. As you adopt healthier practices, like exercising to reduce stress and eating healthier foods, your cravings will decrease. They may not disappear completely, but you will be able to control them and the amount you eat when you decide to treat yourself.
Hunger and Fullness
As you become a mindful eater, you will begin to recognize when you are truly hungry, which will help you to stop eating when you are full. After years of unhealthy dieting, it can be difficult to recognize true hunger and fullness again so consider this a big step to improving your health.
Healthy foods are rich in fiber and protein that help stabilize your blood sugar and prevent the spikes and drops that can zap your energy. Adopting healthy habits will boost your energy levels throughout the day. Pay attention to changes in how you feel at different times. You will likely find that your afternoon slump no longer occurs and that you awake each morning ready to take on your day.
Research shows that regular exercise promotes restful sleep as long as you complete your workout at least four hours before bedtime. Staying well hydrated, avoiding caffeine in the afternoon, and limiting alcohol intake can all improve your sleep patterns. Healthy foods can ease stress and anxiety further helping you to get the rest you need to feel your best. Consider keeping a sleep journal that tracks how quickly you fall asleep, how long you sleep, and how you feel when waking. Compare this to your food diary and exercise log to determine the positive changes you’ve made to improve sleep.
Moving with Ease
As you become fit, daily activities will become easier. Pay attention to your breathing when you climb a flight of stairs. Note improvements in joint pain during your workouts. As the weight comes off and you become stronger, your body will begin to move more easily. The aches and pains you once felt will lessen and often disappear.