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Alli Rainey: Stepping Stones (Part 3)

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

Celebrating National Physical Fitness and Sports Month: 10 Steps to Help You Craft a Healthier Lifelong Eating Plan
Alli Rainey: Stepping Stones (Part 3) | prAna LifeMay is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, sponsored by the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition. To celebrate this month-long event, my next three Life entries will provide suggestions (many self-tested) on how to approach several different fitness/sports-related types of major life changes in smaller, single-step ways that can make them more fun, manageable and ultimately, sustainable.
First up in today’s entry, you’ll find ideas about how to create a healthier lifelong eating plan. Keep in mind that these suggestions are not intended as a comprehensive diet plan, nor should they replace consulting with a nutritionist or food-science professional. Rather, the following is offered in an effort to pass along some simple and effective tips and tools that could help jump-start or reinvigorate your journey toward an improved relationship with food and your body, both.
1. Establish realistic weight-maintenance, weight-loss, BMI, and/or body-fat-percentage goals.
Use a body mass index (BMI) calculator for guidance on what might be a realistic target weight for your height and build. Realize that for muscular athletes, BMI measurements may not be the best indicators of a healthy weight. Healthy, sustainable weight loss (fat loss) usually involves losing 1 to 2 pounds per week, as explained by Adjust your overall weight-loss timeframe accordingly. To lose weight at this pace, you’ll need to create a daily caloric deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories, usually accomplished by both increasing your activity level (the topic of my next Life entry) along with decreasing your caloric intake. Weigh yourself on the same scale once or twice a week at the same time of day. Don’t freak out if the numbers on the scale don’t add up exactly every week; this is a lifelong process. Remember that starving yourself isn’t the answer; conscious eating over the long-term is.
Alli Rainey: Stepping Stones (Part 3) | prAna Life2. Taking body-fat measurements can help provide you with a clearer assessment of your body composition as it changes or maintains, depending on your goals (cheapest to do with body-fat calipers, much more accurate but usually more expensive options are out there as well).
If fat loss and gaining strength/lean muscle mass are both goals, you might trade some muscle for fat without netting any weight loss in the process. Use caliper measurements to track changes once baseline measurements have been established. Though the actual caliper measurements may not be entirely accurate (they have an estimated percentage error of plus or minus 4 percent for 70 percent of the population, according to the National Council on Strength and Fitness), if you, your partner or a fitness professional takes the measurements at the same places every time, you can likely get a fairly accurate representation of any significant changes in body composition over time (or lack thereof).
3. Keep a daily food journal, at least for starters, to help you track your nutritional habits.
You can do this easily online through sites like FitDay and LIVESTRONG, among others. This can help you hone in on areas of nutrition in which you may have consistent deficiencies without realizing it, even if your overall eating habits are pretty decent (or even relatively amazing). Don’t be obsessive about it – if you miss recording for a day or two (or even a week), no big deal. Once you get a better feel for nutrition, you might even just record your eating habits for a three-day period each month or so, just to double-check on yourself.
4. Whether your nutritional goal is weight loss, athletic-performance enhancement, or just a more health-conscious and health-promoting eating plan, educate yourself about food.
Know what you’re putting in your body. Learn the nutritional values of your favorite foods – not just caloric content, but also, nutritional composition. Nutrition apps, such as those listed in’s 10 Apps for National Nutrition Month, can help you acquire instant information about specific foods relatively easily. Learn how to properly fuel your body for your age, gender and activity level. For example, despite what some diets might claim, carbohydrates aren’t the enemy of the active person/athlete, as explained in the United States’ Anti-Doping Agency’s Optimal Dietary Intake Guide. Neither are fats or protein. Understand that balance is the key, and fuel your body appropriately with the proper proportions of essential nutrients to support your activity level and lifestyle.
Alli Rainey: Stepping Stones (Part 3) | prAna Life5. Consider what foods you feel you cannot live without.
Don’t demonize or eliminate particular foods or food groups, especially the foods you love and crave regularly. Disallowing them tends to only make you crave them more and sets you up for failure. Nearly any food, no matter how “bad for you” it may be, can fit into an overall healthy eating plan. Moderation is the key. If you’re going to sustain and maintain a healthy body for the rest of your life, your plan can’t eliminate the foods you love the most. What it can do is include them in moderation – not necessarily daily, but regularly – so that you can at least enjoy them on a weekly basis.
6. Don’t keep lots of less-healthy, ultra-tempting, diet-busting eating choices on hand around you.
Stock your cupboards with healthy snacking and main-dish options, and fill your fridge with plenty of lean proteins, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables. Consider joining a local food co-op, such as Bountiful Baskets, to make fresh produce more accessible and less expensive. And if you love desserts (like I do!) work to substitute healthier sweets for high-fat/high-calorie sweets, as explained in “Sweets That Don’t Kill Your Diet.” Apply the same principle to salty or fried snack foods and sides – reach for the lower fat, lower-sodium baked options (or better yet, learn to make them yourself) at every opportunity.
7. Understand portion sizes and portion control.
Measure out portion sizes of foods you commonly eat until you have a feel for what a real serving size is – again, you can let this one go after you “get it,” but it’s great to double-check on yourself ever so often so that your “one tablespoon” of peanut butter doesn’t turn into three over time. Measure out portion sizes of easily overeaten foods in reusable containers when you get home from the grocery store. This makes them both convenient to use as grab-‘n’-go snacks and easier to eat in moderation.
8. When you’re eating out, avoid sugary soft drinks or blended coffee drinks.
Order your salad dressing on the side. Substitute a salad for chips or fries. Ask the waiter to hold the mayo and substitute mustard. Forgo appetizers and desserts or split them among the entire table. Avoid menu options that are fried or made with cream-based sauces, among other less-healthy options (unless you’re consciously splurging, of course – there’s a place for everything). Have the waitperson doggie bag half of your meal before serving it to you – it’s much easier to exercise restraint before you’re presented with a delicious but vastly over-sized entrée, especially when you’re hungry.
Alli Rainey: Stepping Stones (Part 3) | prAna Life9. Don’t embrace fad diets unless they’re healthy and sustainable in the long-term (most aren’t).
Unless otherwise instructed by your doctor (i.e. for medical reasons), don’t take on a gigantic diet or nutritional overhaul all at once. Instead, incorporate gradual changes into your daily eating habits that you feel like you’ll likely be able to sustain as part of your lifelong eating plan. Strive to make one (or a handful of) change(s) at a time and to make each change permanent. This one-step-at-a-time approach often yields a far greater and lasting impact in the long term. Small changes often yield the greatest successes; huge and restrictive dietary changes often lead to binging and failure.
10. I’m cheating here by including a 10 more small steps as step 10 – but these all represent minor, diet-related tweaks that together can yield great results.
• Wait at least 10 minutes before you take seconds or have dessert;
• Put a small mirror on the fridge or in the cupboard, or even just a brief reminder note to yourself (one that only makes sense to you is fine) about your dietary or nutritional goals;
• Learn one (or more) new way(s) to prepare or eat one unfamiliar but healthy food you’ve “always wanted to try” each month
• Think before you eat (or eat more), and ask yourself if you’re truly hungry or just bored
• Make a shopping list before you go to the grocery store and stick with it – and don’t grocery shop on an empty stomach
• Stay hydrated, drinking plenty of water regularly throughout the day
• Get plenty of sleep – at least seven hours a night (as explained in Sleep Less, Eat More, Gain Weight)
• Eat a healthy breakfast every day
• Aim to eat the recommended MyPlate servings of each food group for your age and gender at least five days a week – you can start with one or two food groups and work up from there
• Don’t give up your healthy eating habits after one day (or even one week!) of splurging. Gradually rein yourself in and forgive yourself – food is, and should be, delicious and sustaining.
Alli Rainey: Stepping Stones (Part 3) | prAna LifeThe word “diet” has so many negative connotations in our culture. People say, “I’m going on a diet,” and this implies that it’s something they can go off of, too. Instead of embarking on a restrictive diet that you plan to only adhere to for a given period of time in order to lose weight, and then aim to quit following it and somehow miraculously sustain that weight loss, it makes more sense to make gradual changes to your diet – changes that you intend to and will likely be able to realistically sustain in the long run. Take it one step at a time, gradually and slowly transforming your relationship with food and never judging yourself or getting down on yourself for enjoying food – food is meant to be savored; it’s our source of energy, and it sustains our lives and beings. Food is not the enemy. Eating poorly is.
Meals should be a celebration of our vitality and life, a flavorful experience of fueling our human machines to keep them running smoothly. Reward yourself for every nutritional adjustment you make in the plus column, however small – but don’t reward yourself with poor food choices. Instead, let yourself splurge on a gourmet variety of a newly discovered healthy food, enjoy a spa treatment (at home or at a spa, depending on your budget), or select some other small indulgence as a reward that brings you happiness without self-sabotaging your diet…or should I say, your lifelong eating plan. And finally, as you make changes to your nutritional world, don’t forget to have fun with this adventure, remembering always to both eat for energy and enjoy your food.
~ Alli Rainey, prAna Ambassador
Learn more about Alli 

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