Crucial First Steps to Eating Healthier

A Woman Eating Healthier - with Apples!

Apples are one of her preferred healthy foods. Discover Yours!
Image courtesy of Microsoft Images

An assessment I previously created exclusively for clients, you can get your own personal copy of the JM Wellness “Healthy Food Preference List” by clicking here.

Eating healthier is a clichéd term that benefits from greater specificity.  In previous posts (Part 1 & Part 2) I’ve discussed the idea of organizing foods by nutrient density: “the amount of nutrient bang for your calorie buck.”  In essence, all foods can be generally categorized into one of four categories:

1. Low Calorie, High Nutrient Foods: Most fruits and vegetables

2. High Calorie, High Nutrient Foods: High starch vegetables (potato, sweet potato, corn, etc.), whole grains, avocado, nuts, seeds, legumes, beans, minimally processed oils, low-fat dairy, lean meat, fish

3. Low Calorie, Low Nutrient Foods: Lo-cal/”Diet” foods, hard candy, Popsicles

4. High Calorie, Low Nutrient Foods: Doughnuts, ice cream, candy bars, cake, cookies, fried foods, triple bacon cheeseburgers, alcohol

Eating Healthier

Eating healthier is a two-step process:

Step 1: Move from lower-nutrient foods to higher-nutrient foods.

Step 2a: If looking to lose weight, focus more on the low-calorie, high-nutrient foods and portion control of the high-calorie, high-nutrient foods.

Step 2b: If looking to gain weight, get in your low-calorie, high-nutrient foods, but also focus on increasing your portions of high-calorie, high-nutrient foods.

Makes sense, right?  But of course, common sense isn’t always common action. (A great quote I got from my Wellcoaches training, I’ll be using it a bunch in the future.)

When confronted with the general task of eating healthier, I found people typically respond with general questions like, “What’s healthy?” or “What foods should I eat?”  And my response is: high-nutrient foods you like.  There’s no point in me telling you to eat cabbage, lima beans, plums, and almond butter if you hate cabbage and plums, and are allergic to almonds.  However, I quickly realized that people still wanted a little more specificity – a little more guidance – so I created my “Healthy Food Preference List” assessment form which has been a huge hit.  A form I previously created exclusively for clients, you can get your own personal copy by clicking here.

The Healthy Food Preference List provides you with a relatively comprehensive list of healthy foods (guidance), while still allowing you to choose which foods you like, or dislike, or have never tried (flexibility).  From this assessment form, you’ll have an extensive list of foods that you can use as a springboard for meal, snack and recipe ideas.  

When you download the file, you’ll notice the assessment is broken down into separate sections: grains/starches, veggies, fruits, lean proteins and healthy fats.  Veggies & fruits can generally be considered low-calorie, high-nutrient foods while grains/starches, lean proteins and healthy fats will fall under the high-calorie, high-nutrient food category.  Obviously, if you’re allergic to a food, avoid it.

*Note: Depending on your eating philosophy, you may feel that certain foods on the list aren’t “healthy” and that’s your decision to make.  I tried to provide a comprehensive list of foods that are generally accepted as healthy to reach, and benefit, the greatest number of people.  If you feel differently, feel free to mark it as “Don’t Like.” 

Taking It a Step Further

If you’re up to a challenge, consider doing the following with the results of your Preferred Healthy Food Assessment:

1. Find three to five recipes using some of your preferred healthy foods that look good to you and you can imagine yourself preparing given your current schedule.  If you can, aim to use a fruit or vegetable in most, if not all of the recipes.

2. Select at least two menu options at all of the restaurants and take-out places you frequent that primarily focus on your preferred healthy foods.  Take a moment and sit down with the menu (either online or on paper) and mark the selections.  Then consider making an easy-to-access comprehensive list on a single piece of paper.

3. Consider trying a new food each week (a food you marked at “Never Tried”) – this can expand your healthy food repertoire, promote variety, and help avoid burnout from eating the same five foods every day.

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