In the chaos of everyday, it can be really challenging to have a healthy lifestyle. We are always so busy, it is hard to set time aside and focus on living a healthier lifestyle. The best advice I got was just to improve 1% a day instead of trying for perfection. Honestly, that is how real change is made, just a little everyday.
In trying to improve my everyday to be healthier, here are my favorite hacks that are not always used to their full potential but were total game changers for me. They allowed me to fix some of the biggest mistakes I was making.
1. Not all hours of sleep are created equally
I think most people know that sleep is important for health and for weight loss. But what I didn’t know was that the hour you go to bed matters!
Basically, you have two types of sleep, REM and non-REM. Both are important and both have health benefits. You sleep in 90 minute cycles. So, 90 minute REM cycles and 90 minute non-REM cycles.
However, as the night progresses, you have more REM cycles and fewer non-REM cycles. And this is true regardless of when you went to bed. So, if you stay up late, you are missing out on non-REM cycles, which are deeper and more restorative.
For those of us who want time to ourselves once our children are asleep, you might want to consider setting that alarm clock to wake before them.
Your action item
Start moving your bedtime earlier. Since the early night hours are so important for sleep, try to wake up earlier if you are having a hard time falling asleep.
Work on falling asleep faster after you hit the sheets. I turn off my phone an hour before I want to be asleep. Create a bedtime routine (not only for kids). Creating a routine is proven to help you fall asleep faster.
2. Find more options to eat
Let’s say you wrote down a lot of vegetables (or really any food) you like but really struggle at putting them into meals that you enjoy and taste good to you. Like I said before, do not eat salads if you don’t like them. Instead find a meal you like.
I also find that a lot of times, new healthy food goals fail because you end up eating the same 5 or 6 go-to meals too many times. That type of repetition isn’t healthy for your taste buds or your nutritional needs.
Your action items
Each week, pick one food item on your list that you really like. Now type that into search engines (Google, Pinterest, etc.) and find a meal that fits your tastes and level of cooking. For example, if I really like lentils but have no idea how to make a meal with them, then I would type: simple lentil meals or lentil dinner recipes. Pick one, add the ingredients to your grocery list and make it one night that week.
I suggest only doing one new meal a week. It could be a breakfast, lunch or dinner and pick a fun night to do it. Don’t do it on a stressful night. I like to do a new dinner recipe every Saturday night. I now look forward to it.
Another thing I do is buy one new fruit or vegetable a week. Or at least one we haven’t had in a long time if I can’t think of any new ones.
Add a new fruit or vegetable to your grocery list each week. Research or google 100 of the most nutritiously dense foods. Work your way down the list. Be sure to have a recipe or way to eat the food ready so you buy everything during your grocery trip. I find that not having ingredients will result in me not eating vegetables since most are usually prepped and cooked before eating.
3. Eat when you are hungry
This might seem silly but when “dieting” or trying to lose weight, you try to cut the amount you eat. However, if you are hungry, then you need to eat. If you don’t, your body will start different metabolic pathways to prepare for famine. The result is now you have your body working against you and trying to hold on to its weight.
The real trick is what you are eating. Grab healthy options you like (you like being very important). This is also a mind trick. I find that the more volume I eat and the more frequently I eat the fuller I feel (even if I ate way less calories). What is actually probably happening is that I am “fuller”. I loaded up on nutrition instead of calories which actually gives my body “more food”.
Your action item
Always have healthy options (especially fruits and vegetables) on you. They will keep that metabolism going but be less calorie dense. I love having fruit and vegetable only smoothies since they are so filling. They don’t need to taste bad, get online and find some that you love.
I find that having an apple at 3 PM helps me since it gives me a boost in the day. Another snack I am always sure to have are quick sources of protein. When my energy dips, I will have a hard-boiled egg or peanut butter on an apple or banana.
4. Drinks are key
So many diets only focus on the food but what you drink is so key. Just start to think of all the calories you intake via drinks. I am talking about everything from your morning cup of joe to the wine at night.
If you are really looking for a way to cut easy calories, then drinks are it. They provide little nutrition compared to eating whole foods. They also do not create the “full” effect you would feel if you instead ate those calories.
One thing I did was switch my morning glass of orange juice to eating a mandarin orange each morning.
I was also one of those people who doesn’t love plain water. So, I got creative. I would add lemon and other citrus fruits to my water. I really like carbonated water (unsweetened seltzer) so I had one of those a day.
I also decided to explore the world of tea. I originally hated tea but changed my attitude. It would be fun and exciting to try all sorts of new teas. I just kept trying new ones until I found ones I liked. Now, it’s a habit and I enjoy tea especially with some honey.
I recently gave up coffee (I know I’m crazy) but it resulted in me drinking so much more water throughout the day and fixing all of my sleep issues. Staying hydrated and sleeping well were key for how I felt every day. You don’t need to go that far, instead try to make that cup of coffee be only a few calories instead of a whole lunch worth of calories.
Your action action
Keep a drink log for a week and try to track the calories you intake from drinks. I bet you will be surprised (I was!). Now, decide what your worst offenders are and decide what you can realistically take out from your diet. If you can’t get through your day without your afternoon latte, then don’t start there.
Next, be sure to replace your drinks with better alternatives (or just water). Dehydration can wreak havoc on any solid weight loss plan.
5. Two things to absolutely avoid
Motivation and feeling good are key to success. The minute my energy dips or my mood gets really low, I’m in danger of having a very large ice cream sundae. Therefore, I ensure my diet is clear of two things: artificial sugars and trans fats. Not only are they unhealthy but they also can have dire effects on your mood.
Artificial sugars can be the cause of your headaches. Now while artificial sugars have less calories than sugar, if it is causing you headaches, it needs to go. If you really want to know, cut them out for two weeks and then try a drink that is based on artificial sugar. Aspartame gives me a headache and I couldn’t figure out where my headaches were coming from until I did this.
Trans fats can boost your risk of depression. Depending on how much trans fats are in your diet, you can have up to a 48% increased risk for depression. No matter who you are, trans fats are not a good idea. Your body will thank you as will your weight when you remove them from your diet.
Your action item
Start reading labels. Avoid at all costs anything that says: partially hydrogenated (this is trans fats).
If you want to remove all artificial sugars out of your diet. Here is a list of the FDA approved artificial sweeteners:
- Acesulfame potassium (Sunett)
- Aspartame (NutraSweet or Equal)
- Sucralose (Splenda)
- D-Tagatose (Sugaree)
- Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low)
6. Creating a meal plan is an individualized process
It is imperative to have a meal plan. When you don’t know what to eat, you start eating junk. Junk food is not satisfying and not nutritious, so you must overeat to feel full and satisfied. Thus, this was my second huge step in losing weight. As a bonus, meal planning is the number one way to save money at the grocery store.
I would always try to follow either a pre-made meal plan or a diet where you only eat certain foods. Neither were good ideas because I never found one that fit me perfectly. Simply because everyone has different nutritional needs and tastes.
Additionally, the amount of work it was to buy everything for the specific meal plan and learn how to make the specific meals was overwhelming. After just reading the meal plan, I was ready to quit.
So, based on the advice of a nutritionist, I created a meal plan that fit my tastes and I could easily change and update it as I saw fit. Therefore, I would be eating what I wanted. In the action item I explain just how to do this.
Your action item
Start by making lists of the fruits, vegetables, proteins and grains you like. Spend some time exhausting this list. Go to the store and travel the border of the store writing down every food you like. I emphasize the border because that is usually where the real food is kept. The isles are made up of less healthy food. Next, start pairing them together to make breakfasts, lunches, snacks and dinners.
Now the important part is picking whole foods you like, not junk food you like. For example, your snack options are yogurt, peanut butter and apple, or hard-boiled egg. Not pop-tarts, granola bars, or fruit roll-ups.
By using only whole foods you already like, you have increased your odds of actually sticking to it and you will feel more like yourself (and less like you are restricting yourself or dieting). You should look forward to meal time and enjoy it.
Now, you should have a list of breakfast options, lunch options, snack options and dinner options.
7. Always bake never buy
This was an important rule for me. It served as a check point. If I really wanted a specific sweet or dessert, then I would have to make it. If I wasn’t willing to make it, then I must not REALLY want it.
The other reason this rule helped me so much was that I started realizing what was in sweets or desserts. I had a hard time eating handfuls of cookies knowing I was really just eating a stick of butter coated with sugar. I also started finding healthier recipes that resulted in the same wonderful yumminess.
And, desserts tasted SO MUCH better when I made them that I didn’t want store bought anymore. I actually started eating less because I only wanted my homemade versions. So, “I can’t have” that cookie, truly turned into “I definitely don’t want” that cookie.
Your action item
Get online and start finding dessert recipes. I know this seems crazy because you are trying to lose weight. But eventually you are going to want something sweet, so start now. Then when your sweet tooth kicks in, you will have options. Remember “diets” only work when it becomes your new lifestyle. You can even go a step further by finding some “healthy” versions.
8. I never did workouts I hated
Working out purely for the sake of losing weight sucks. I have been there and won’t do it again. Additionally, it didn’t help much because it was so hard for me to work out just to lose weight. I would be instantly bored and hate every minute of it.
Instead, I had to find ways to be active that I enjoyed. The first thing I did was change the type of working out I did. I used to go on the elliptical or another machine for hours and then lift weights. I didn’t truly enjoy either. I never looked forward to them.
For working out to be fun, it had to feel not like a workout. I changed two things in particular that made working out fun.
The first was I changed the type of workout. I started doing jazzercize, Zumba, yoga, swimming, and outdoor walking. I kept changing until I found classes that had energy, instructors I loved, and activities that were fun. I love to dance so I found Zumba and jazzercize a blast. I also made sure I found multiple things I loved doing so I wouldn’t burn out of just the same routine.
The second thing I did was that I made it social. I would go to classes with a friend or I would get out of my comfort zone and start finding friends in these classes. Once I had a friend in a class, then I would be excited to catch up next week. I would look forward to it. Additionally, inviting friends to go to classes resulted in keeping me accountable. I had to show up.
Your action item
Make a plan on how to make working out fun and find a way to stick to it like including a friend. A plus is if you join a gym, be sure to make use of the relaxing sauna or hot tub they might have.
9. Avoid empty calories
The term empty calories mean essentially eating foods that have calories but no nutrition. Fruits and vegetables are the opposite of empty calories. They carry a lot of nutrition for a few calories. Fried food on the other hand is a lot of calories and not so much nutrients.
Now this doesn’t mean you just need to eat fruits and vegetables. You need more than that. You need fats, proteins and carbs.
It is just important to be aware of the term, “empty calories”. It is a way to judge and choose what to eat. While that bag of skittles has zero fat and only 100 calories. Those calories provide no nutrition. You have to obtain so much nutrition every day in order for your body to operate and feel full. By eating empty calories like those skittles, you now have to fit in your daily dose of nutrition in with 100 fewer calories.
Your action item
Try to always pick the more nutrient dense option.
10. Quit going on the scale
I strongly feel the scale is a big reason for failing. Once you want to lose weight, you want to lose it all immediately. However, that’s impossible. True weight loss happens slowly. Your weight will fluctuate. It will go up and down hourly. If you are losing weight, then over time you will start to see the overall number decrease.
Now, if you keep getting on the scale to check, you are guaranteed to be sad at least 50% of the time. Don’t weigh yourself every morning. When you weigh yourself that often, you won’t see progress as fast as you want.
You might see the same number for three days in a row. That is very normal when you work on weight loss. It does not mean you aren’t losing weight. The only thing that number will do is hurt your self-esteem and therefore hurt your progress. Instead, if you absolutely must weigh yourself, stick to every two weeks.
Or ditch the scale all together, let your clothing tell you. More importantly, if you start working out, you will see an increase in the scale number at first. However, your clothing will show the improvement.
Your next step
Find a way to measure success without a scale or at least not just a scale. Focus your mind on other steps such as finding new meals, trying out a gym etc and the weight will just drop.
11. Quit chewing gum
I know this seems super random but I found that I was always really hungry after chewing gum. Maybe it was because my body was expecting food from the chewing. I don’t know.
However, I had to add it because I gave it up and saw a difference.
12. Get ready every morning
By now, you have probably realized that I emphasize feeling good and being in good spirits. When I feel great about myself, I feel like I can achieve anything. Having this attitude helped me through so many days that would have otherwise been a disaster on reaching my weight loss goals.
Even if I wasn’t the size I wanted to be, I would still make an effort to look my best. I would boost my self-confidence with a new hairstyle or change up my makeup routine. When I felt like I looked good, then I wanted to eat well. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Your action item
Make a morning routine that makes you feel awesome every day. Take a shower, try some new makeup, get a haircut and ask to learn how to style it before leaving.
Go get new clothing that fits you now. Dress the body you have now (and not the only you want). Love yourself every day. Be your number one cheerleader and reach your goals.
13. Be conscious of your mindset
A lot of times, people go on a diet to either lose weight or to live a healthier lifestyle.
I came to the realization that once I was on a “diet” I felt denied, like I was missing out. I was miserable. The first thing I learned was that a diet creates a feeling of “I can’t”.
If I wanted a cookie, then I would tell myself “I can’t, I’m on a diet.” The result: I NOW wanted that cookie more than anything. And seriously, even days later I would still want that cookie. I would then finally break down and have that forbidden cookie. I would then be upset at myself and eat five more cookies.
So, the first big step I took was changing my mindset. I wouldn’t live in an “I can’t” world. First, try switching to “I don’t want that”. It is crazy to see the power of word choice.
Also, if there is something you REALLY want to eat but think it is unhealthy, get on Pinterest and find a healthy way to make it. There are so many fantastic “alternative” ways to make literally anything.
I found that if I actually ate what sounded good to me instead of just the most diet-friendly option, then I would be more satisfied.
If I ate a salad because I was on a diet and “can’t” eat anything else, then I was miserable (and still hungry). However, if I ordered what I wanted (even if it was the exact same number of calories), I would be full. I started to listen to my body and its nutritional needs in addition to becoming more creative in my cooking so I could make things I really like to eat healthier.
In fact, I found that if I did this, then I ended up eating less overall throughout the day.
Your action item
Your first step: Start realizing what your mental chatter is around food. Understanding your relationship with food is key. Do you only want to eat when you feel sad? How many times are you looking for a snack because you are unsettled or bored? Do you always feel guilty every time you eat?
After you observe it, then you can change it. Make your relationship with food positive. Eat because you want to eat to fuel your body. Even if you are on a “diet”, you should get hungry. You goal is to eat healthy options that you want.
Pursue Healthy Living Today
Hopefully, you found a healthy living lifestyle hack that speaks to you and are able to try it. Living a healthier lifestyle is definitely a journey. There will always be bad days but as long as you work toward your goal, you will make progress. The best advice I got was improve 1% each day. I felt that I could wake up every morning a do that. So maybe today, you try a new food or go for a fun workout with a friend. Let me know in the comments which tips you may have tried already or what ideas you liked!
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I am a wife and mother to two awesome girls. After having my babies, I wanted to create a space to help moms since motherhood doesn’t come with instructions. With a background in teaching, I put my love of to-do lists and action items into creating bump, birth and baby resources for my readers.