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Anybody else experiencing information overload?
With the year just starting, I’m sure you are being bombarded with tons of new products, diets, and trends. It seems every day you hear a new recommendation about what you should or should not be eating. It's very easy to get caught up in the small details of health and wellness, and it gets frustrating when it keeps changing. Even as a fitness professional, sometimes it's hard for me to keep up with the latest do’s and don’ts.
So, I decided to narrow the information down to just seven basic things that will probably never change. It is counterproductive to worry about whether or not you should drink alkaline water or should be eating organic fruits and vegetables when you're not even covering the basics. Even if you only follow these seven rules, you can see huge improvements in your health without having to stress over the details.
- Limit Highly Processed Foods
Highly processed foods include most packaged foods, like sweets, snack foods, frozen meals, sweetened drinks, and most convenience foods. These foods have tons of ingredients listed on the back of the package. They are highly processed because the food industry wants to make food cheap, quick, and taste good. They create different chemicals, flavors and colors to make an item look and taste the way they want it to look and taste. These additives make your body crave that food over and over again. These chemicals can also affect your hormone levels to make you feel hungrier and crave other foods.
Going even deeper, highly processed food items can make your body store fat, increase your stress levels, and control your sleep patterns. Aim to limit highly processed foods to keep your health in check.
- Eat as fresh as possible.
Eating fresh means to eat food as close to nature as possible and to prepare your own meals. Then, you can control how it’s prepared and what goes into it. When you eat fresh, you can better ensure that you are not consuming many of the extra additives added to highly processed foods. And the fresher the food, the higher the nutrient content, so you’re able to pack your body with vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
I know we can easily get caught up in whether or not the food should be organic, cage free, grass-fed, et cetera. Those are details we can worry about later. As for right now, eat your food as fresh as possible, as fresh as you can get it.
- Drink more water.
A question I commonly hear is whether or not we should be drinking alkaline water... Or purified... Or spring… Or artesian… or any of the other millions of choices…. But my question is whether you are even drinking two cups a day. Again, let's master the basics and make sure we are focused on increasing our water intake in general. Your body uses that water to distribute nutrients throughout your body. And if you don't have enough, then you get dehydrated and it makes it harder for your body to be at its best.
You've probably seen many people walking around carrying the gallon water containers. But the thing is, everybody does not need the same amount of water. The general recommendation now is to drink half of your body weight in ounces. For example, if you weigh 160 pounds, that would be 80 ounces of water. If you take 80 ounces and divide that by eight, that gives you 10 cups (or 5 bottles). So, you would need a minimum of 10 cups of water a day. And then if you’re going to be sweating more or working out more often, then you would need more than 10 cups.
To calculate your recommended water intake, take your weight and divide that by two, divide that number by eight, and then you'll have the number of cups that you need for a day.
- Limit sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages
I know a lot of people are addicted to sweets, sodas, coffee drinks, fruit juices, and other beverages that have high fructose corn syrup and tons of sugar added to them. You’re pretty much drinking water and sugar.
If I take some water and put 10 teaspoons of sugar in it (like most sodas) and drink it, my blood sugar is going to skyrocket. Insulin is secreted to pull that sugar out of your blood into the cells. And when you eat so much sugar all the time, you keep repeating this cycle of spikes and drops in blood sugar, making you constantly crave sugar.
This constant cycle is increasing your chances of becoming insulin resistant because insulin has been secreted so often that the body starts to ignore it. Your body may still create the insulin, but it's not going to be pulling the sugar out of your blood as effectively as it did before. Over time, the sugar starts to create damage in your body because it's toxic and damages your cells, causing aging and disease. Insulin resistance increases risk for diabetes, high cholesterol levels, and heart disease.
Limit the sugar-sweetened beverages and drink more water. If you need to flavor your water, do it as naturally as possible by adding fruit, lemons, limes, mint, herbs, and spices.
- Increase your servings of fruits and vegetables
We need at least five combined servings of fruit and vegetables per day, but most people only consume two servings daily. If you are not currently getting five, here’s a quick tip- eat a fruit or vegetable every time you eat a meal or snack. If you have one with your breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, and dinner, that’s easily five servings. If you eat three times a day, aim to get two servings every time you eat. Eating enough servings helps keep your body flooded with nutrients that fight against inflammation and disease and give you more energy.
- Cook more often.
We used to sit down with our families and eat at the dinner table. We’d packed our lunch to take to work or school. But nowadays, we eat out all the time. These foods are normally high in calories, sodium, fats, and/or sugar, but low in nutrients. By cooking more often, you can control what you put into your body and ensure you're getting the best foods that your body needs. And you can also control the portion size to make sure you are not overeating.
- Get more sleep.
When you are sleep deprived, your body starts breaking down. Your stress levels increase, your appetite increases, and it also affects your immune system. So then you’re stressed, hungry, and get sick more often.
Make sure you're getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep a night. It will help control your sugar cravings. You will feel more rested. You will have more energy. Quite often, people tell me that they are tired all the time and I ask how much sleep they are getting? Most say 5-6 hours. Increase that to at least seven. Research shows that people who get less than seven hours of sleep decrease their life expectancy. People will say I'll sleep when I'm dead. Well, if you're not sleeping now, you may get there a little bit quicker than someone who's getting seven to eight hours of sleep. Make a point to increase how much sleep you are getting consistently because it has a big impact on your overall health.
These are seven very basic things you can do to improve your health. Remember, don’t get lost in the details before you master the fundamentals. To keep from being overwhelmed, pick a couple to focus on first. Make those a habit before adding on more. Once they have become a normal part of your routine, then you can dig into the details.
Joy Diggs, MS, CPT, RD, LD
Certified Personal Trainer
Registered and Licensed Dietitian
Digg Deep Fitness & Nutrition
"I Came. I Trained. I Conquered."