Five healthy eating habits to improve your nutrition

Healthy eating habits coming at you today!

Should I be tracking my macronutrients or not? Which diet should I be following? Do I need to be eliminating food groups? These are questions that we’re all sitting around wondering, right?

Here’s what I will tell you after becoming a certified Precision Nutrition coach and spending a lot of time in the wellness world: There isn’t only one best diet. And nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated or involve meticulous tracking. 

Although vegans, Paleos and keto-followers will tell you that being vegan, Paleo or keto is the only way to be, it’s not. Don’t listen to any of them. It’s not about what others are doing, it’s about what you do — and most importantly, it’s about what you do consistently.

What really matters is that you pay attention to what you put into your body, at least 80 percent of the time, and hopefully more than that.

Oftentimes, when someone adopts a specific “diet,” they start to pay attention for the first time — thus all the positive changes they get they attribute to that particular diet. But what’s actually happening is they are just improving their intake overall, because they finally begin to look at labels and consider their choices.

That being said, I wanted to share some tips for your own life on how to step up your healthy eating habits and improve your nutrition …

Five healthy eating habits to improve your nutrition

Five healthy eating habits to improve your nutrition by A Lady Goes West

#1 How you eat matters: Slow down and eat your meals mindfully, at a table, without the distraction of technology.

Isn’t it funny that one of the biggest nutrition tips isn’t even about what you eat, but about how you eat. This one is huge, and this is a change I’ve finally been able to make in my own life after years of having lunch in front of the computer. (Moms, I feel ya, this one takes some work, when you barely have a minute to yourself and need to prepare food for others too.)

When you slow down how quickly you consume your meals, you will appreciate your food more, notice the taste more and feel more satisfied too. The best way to do this is to sit down at a table and mindfully eat each bite, while putting your fork and/or utensils down between each.

It’s shown that when you eat slower, you’re actually able to notice when you get full. Whereas when you eat too fast, you’ll sometimes eat past fullness, because that full feeling won’t have even had time to show up yet.

In addition to helping you notice and appreciate your food more, slowing down how fast you eat helps you digest your meals better. Your body operates better when you eat mindfully, instead of eating under stress or hurry. In fact, we’re born with appetite awareness as children, but once we become adults, sometimes that awareness gets lost, as we start emotionally eating when stressed, skipping meals because of work and ignoring our hunger cues — or when we begin eating way past the full point because we’re chowing down while driving and talking on the phone all at the same time. Mindful eating helps you notice these things and become aware of them.

This incredibly simple step of eating at a table, slowly, with no distractions, can make a big change in how much you eat and how your body reacts to the food.

Here’s a tip: Think about every meal as a wine tasting. Spend time on each bite. Pause. Taste. Breathe. Reflect. Continue until you are full. Then stop.

Eating habits to improve your nutrition - by A Lady Goes West - May 2020

#2 You don’t need to follow a “diet”: There is no one-size-fits-all diet or eating plan, so listen to your body, keep track of how you feel, and base your eating decisions off your own body and system.

“But that one girl on Instagram claims to do intermittent fasting, and she has an amazing body, so I should do it too.” False.

First of all, seeing someone’s picture does not tell you if they have deep health, good energy, good digestion and are truly operating optimally. All a picture does is show you that someone can manipulate their food enough to have visible muscles or get lean. You don’t know what else is going on behind the scenes, nor should you care. We’re talking about YOU, not her.

The truth is, intermittent fasting is really not a great idea for women who have more sensitive systems or any history of disordered eating or hormone problems. I fall into that bucket. I messed up my hormones years ago, and I will not be doing any intermittent fasting, as I worked to hard to get my hormones in check. 

Intermittent fasting basically means that you time your meals and increase your “non-eating window” so your body starts to burn more fat. It’s become incredibly popular, because it seems to be effective for fat loss. However, many women find that it makes them irritable, miss their menstrual cycles and have no energy. If those things are happening, then that style of eating is not working for you — regardless of the aesthetic benefits. It’s about how you feel, not just how you look.

I often have people reach out to me and ask me which diet they should do. And usually my response is this: You don’t have to do a specific diet. You just have to pay attention to what you’re eating, when you’re eating and see how you feel.

There’s usually not a need to eliminate food groups or place strict eating rules on yourself (unless you have a medical condition or food allergy), you just have increase your intake of veggies, reduce your consumption of highly processed packaged foods and sugar and make sure your portion sizes of all the macronutrients are around appropriate for your age/gender/weight/height and activity level. (You’ll probably want the help of a registered dietitian or nutrition coach to assist you in finding these exact numbers, or you can try the approximations on tools like MyFitnessPal for a baseline, but we will touch on portion sizes in the last tip of this post too.)

Good nutrition looks like this: You try to make small changes to your eating patterns, and you see how your body and health reacts to those changes. You take note, then you move forward. You don’t have to launch into a specific diet, you just have to care about your overall choices. And you have to remember what you eat is unique to you, and you shouldn’t try to base it off of other people’s choices.

Here’s a tip: Throw out the idea of “diet.” Listen to your body and take note of how you feel when you eat certain foods. Develop your own manual of what works for your system and go from there.

Five helpful eating habits - by A Lady Goes West - May 2020

#3. Planning is key: You do need to spend a little bit of time planning, preparing and prioritizing healthy eating in order to do it properly and make better choices.

The thing is, every single meal can’t be a last-minute quick thought, if you want to change your eating habits for the better. You can’t always wait until you are super starving, then run through a drive-through and chow down and expect to feel good. This doesn’t mean you have to prepare every single meal in advance, nor always know exactly what and when you are going to eat, but you have to have a plan.

A plan can be as simple as knowing that you will bring leftovers from dinner for lunch to work the next day all week. A plan can be as simple as ordering a healthy meal-kit delivery service to make fresh veggie-full dinners every night of the week. A plan can also be knowing that every Sunday you will go on a big grocery shopping trip to ensure you have veggies, fruits, healthy snacks, lean proteins, frozen produce, fresh produce and more at your home. 

(May I recommend Daily Harvest frozen smoothies, flatbreads or bowls for a veggie-full breakfast or lunch? You can use the code ALADYGOESWEST for $25 off your first delivery too.)

The fact of the matter is that you will eat what you have around. And you won’t ever make the best choices with food when starving and rushed. Plan, prepare and think about your food in advance, at least a little.

I will be honest and admit that I don’t do any meal prepping. But I do always have a full fridge and freezer and have a pretty good idea of what my meals will look like during the week, so I don’t have to put a ton of thought into it.

Here’s a tip: Spend time at the beginning of every week thinking about most of your meals for the week and ensure that you have healthy food on hand. Bonus points for preparing some of it yourself at home.

Improve your nutrition - by A Lady Goes West - May 2020

#4 More colors, less packages: Aim to eat more fruits and veggies at every meal, and reduce your consumption of highly processed, packaged and fast foods.

If you make a conscious decision to eat more veggies and fruit at every meal, you will have less room for junk. And you’ll be filling your body with hydration, vitamins, minerals and the ever-important micronutrients, found in produce, or “nature’s medicine cabinet.”

How do you incorporate this into your life? Shop for fruits and veggies every week, throw away any processed junk that you don’t want anymore, and fill your plate with mostly colorful produce every time you sit down to eat. 

Try to eat more produce every single day, and try to eat less packaged, processed junk. Easy as can be. Because, fun fact, even if the label says it is vegan or gluten-free, if it’s in a package and has a million ingredients on the label that you can’t pronounce — it’s most likely junk disguised as healthy food. It’s so much better to fill up on label-less stuff, much of the time. (Not always, of course, because that’s just not realistic.)

Here’s a tip: Buy more produce. Fresh or frozen. Aim to add more colorful fruits and veggies to every single meal. Eat one less highly processed product a day.

#5 Don’t get obsessed with numbers: Improving your health with nutrition doesn’t mean you need to be a slave to exact numbers. Learn to eyeball your meals to check for proper portions of macronutrients, most of the time.

I’m going to be totally straightforward with you and tell you that I do not track my macronutrient intake. However, I have a general idea of my macronutrient intake, and for a regular person just wanting to feel good and eat enough — that’s all you need to know.

Sometimes we start trying to make nutrition too complicated. And unless you’re an elite athlete, professional model or preparing for a physique competition, you don’t have to overcomplicate your nutrition and think too hard about it.

You don’t have to weigh your food, weigh yourself or keep tabs on every calorie you consume if you want to feel healthy and have healthy eating habits. (Side note: If you are someone who is working with a doctor for a health issue, if you’re a performance athlete or if you’ve had a history of significantly under- or over-eating, then you may require precise tracking, so this tip is not for you.)

Most of us will do fine with using a basic hand approximation for portion sizes, much of the time. We all have totally different needs, so once again, this is just a generalization you can take back to your own situation and make work for you in your own way …

  • Protein: Around the size of the palm of your hand. One palmful for most women, for each meal. (Eggs, chicken, steak, tofu, yogurt, cottage cheese, etc.)
  • Non-starchy vegetables: Around the size of the fist of your hand. One fistful for most women, for each meal. (Leafy greens, peppers, tomatoes, cabbage, etc.) The biggest portion.
  • Carbohydrates: Around the size of a cupped handful. One handful for most women, for each meal. (Rice, lentils, oats, or starchy vegetables like potatoes, etc.)
  • Fat: Around the size of your thumb. One thumbful for most women, for each meal. (Oils, nuts, seeds, nut butter, etc.)

Once again, this is where we all get so worried about the numbers. And if you like to use a tracker and know exactly how much you are eating, that is totally up to you. Go for it! But for the majority of the population, it’s not something you need to do. Use your own hand to eyeball most of your meals to check for appropriate portions of all the necessary macronutrients, and don’t get too hung up on it.

Here’s the tip: When you look at your plate, about half of it should be covered with vegetables, about a quarter with protein, then carbs and fat should fill in the rest. 

Thank you for reading the blog today, my friends! I hope you found this valuable. And I also hope, whatever you do, know that your food choices, diet, weight and activity level do not define you as a person.

You don’t ever have to make any changes if you don’t want to. But if you feel like you want a little more energy, you want to improve your digestion and you even want to sleep better and have a little more pep in your step when you exercise, you may need to look at making a few small tweaks to your nutrition and eating habits.

I highly recommend working with a nutrition professional to do just that. 🙂

Five healthy eating habits to improve nutrition - by A Lady Goes West - May 2020

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Hope to see you over on Instagram, friends!

Questions of the day

Do you eat your meals at a table distraction free?

What are some of your biggest questions around nutrition and diet?

What’s one thing you do really well in your healthy lifestyle?

What’s your favorite healthy food?

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10 Comments

  1. I loved this post! So many great tips, and although they are simple and seemingly obvious, we often forget about them. I follow a mostly vegan diet, with the exception of a little cheese when I eat out. I feel alot healthier, but that is because I cut out junk food, processed food and alcohol. I also increased my vegetable, fruit and water intake – it didn’t have anything to do with “being vegan”. So I love that you emphasised that it isn’t your “diet” that makes you healthy, but rather the better choices you are making. Have a great week Ashley!

    1. Hi Shelby! That’s so awesome you cut out a lot of processed junk food — such a simple and positive change. It’s all about making better choices most of the time — not about strict labels or diet names. Thank you for saying hi and sharing with us! 🙂 How are things in your neck of the woods now??

      1. We’ve gone from a level 5 lockdown (only leaving the house for essentials) to a level 4, where we have a 3 hour outside exercise window and more people can go back to work. So we’re heading in the right direction but I still think we’re all bracing for the worst to come! But staying positive and healthy so all is good ♡ hope you have a great day!

        1. Hi Shelby! Well, you are moving in the right direction indeed. Definitely a lot more strict than it is here, but hopefully you are in good spirits and staying healthy. 🙂 I bet you are excited for some outdoor exercise, though, right?

          1. So excited! It’s funny that it takes something like this to make people appreciate their health and ability to exercise freely. I have so much more gratitude for the everyday things I used to take for granted. I’ve also been enjoying the workouts you’ve suggested or shared links too. You’ve motivated me to keep changing things up and it’s definitely been good for my body – so thank you!

          2. I feel exactly the same way — I’ve definitely gained some gratitude for so many everyday things. We are all getting so much stronger! 🙂

  2. Great habits! I stopped following a specific diet years ago and always feel awkward (that seems like too strong of a word but anyway…) when I’m around others talking about limiting something in their life because of carbs or calories. I suppose we’ve all been there, it’s part of the cycle of learning to figure our how to be healthy for you, right?

    1. Hi Jessie! That’s great! And yessss — we all go through our own journeys of finding what works for us, and you can’t rush anyone through their own. 🙂 Thanks for saying hi! Hope all is well! 🙂

  3. Great article! Previously, I tried to keep some sort of a rigid diet, which adversely affected my physical and mental health. I constantly caught up and ate what was forbidden, but then I stopped restricting myself, and it became much easier for me. I still adhered to some rules about junk food. It helped me lose weight and feel better, I will definitely try your other tips, have a nice day!

    1. Hi Sheri! I think a lot of people end up starting strict diets, fail, and get upset, repeat the cycle and finally realizing that the restriction isn’t doing them any favors. I’m so happy you lived and learned! 🙂

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